employee holding an open sign at door of business
From your physical location, to your website, to your business's policies, the ADA requires more than just making a few small accommodations. — Getty Images/fotostorm

As a business owner, you should work to accommodate all of your customers and employees — especially those with disabilities.

The best way to do this is to review and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law ensures that businesses that serve the general public do not intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against individuals who live with physical or mental disabilities.

Compliance can seem overwhelming at first; but when broken down, the ADA isn’t as complex as it might seem. To help get your business started on the right foot, here are five things you should know about the ADA.

1. Nearly 1 out of every 5 people in the United States has a disability.

Disabilities are more common than you might think. According to the CDC, nearly one in five Americans has some sort of disability. While some disabilities are obvious, others, especially mental ones, are not immediately apparent. It is crucial that you never assume a customer is able-bodied — or that people with disabilities don’t visit your place of business —just because their disability isn’t apparent.

2. ADA compliance is business-specific.

Depending on your business and its industry, you will have different requirements when it comes to compliance. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Primer for Small Business states that most businesses that serve the public in any way, from stores and restaurants to private museums and schools, must comply with the ADA.

The ADA has four main sections:

  • Title I: Employment
  • Title II: State and local government agencies and public transportation
  • Title III: Public accommodations
  • Title IV: Telecommunications
  • Title V: Miscellaneous

Most businesses need to worry about Titles I and III, but the rest varies by business. If you need help understanding your compliance responsibility as a business owner, refer to the primer as a guide.

Depending on your business and its industry, you will have different requirements when it comes to compliance.

3. Your website must be ADA-compliant.

Not only does your business, including its physical location, have to be compliant, your website does as well. You will want to ensure that any individual, like those coping with deafness or blindness, can navigate your website with ease. For instance, you can create alt text tags for images, audio files and videos to help these visitors understand the messages you are trying to convey. [How to Design an ADA Compliant Web Site]

4. Your business can face hefty fines for not being compliant.

If your lack of ADA compliance causes difficulties for a person with a disability, you may have to pay hefty fines or face a damaging lawsuit. For example, if a handicapped individual is injured because you do not have ADA-compliant surfaces or walkways, they could potentially file a premise liability claim.

5. ADA compliance is more than making physical and technical accommodations.

While making your storefront wheelchair-friendly and adding text transcripts to your website are important, businesses must also adjust policies and procedures and prepare proper communication for peoples with disabilities.

For instance, if you own a clothing store that prohibits more than one person in a dressing room at once, you’ll want to adjust these rules for customers who might need additional assistance due to a disability.

Ultimately, accommodating individuals with disabilities means being open and empathetic with your customers and employees, and understanding the challenges they face in their daily lives. Both legally and morally, it’s best to go above and beyond minimum compliance requirements to ensure everyone who interacts with your business feels accepted and safe.

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