Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, small business owners have struggled to meet ADA compliance requirements.
The issue isn't that they are resistant to making their businesses accessible to disabled customers – it's that ADA compliance usually comes at a cost that exceeds the budget parameters of the average small business.
The ADA recognizes the financial burden retrofits can create for smaller companies. To accommodate small organizations, existing structures are required to remove architectural barriers that are "readily achievable". The phrase "readily achievable" is intentionally vague, but means that ADA retrofits are required if they can be accomplished without undue difficulty or expense. In practice, the larger your company, the more retrofits you will be expected to make to an existing structure.
Exterior ADA compliance requirements can be much easier to achieve than internal retrofits. According to ADA guidelines, business owners should make their exterior space as accessible as possible, paying close attention to several key areas.
- Parking. Parking is a major issue for people with disabilities. Tight parking lots are inconvenient and dangerous, especially if people in wheelchairs aren't provided adequate space to enter and exit their vehicles. Several 8 ft. wide, handicapped parking spaces should be maintained close to the entrance, on ground that is level with the entrance. Additionally, at least one or two spaces should be dedicated to handicap van access with an additional 8 ft. wide section that allows wheelchair-bound customers to exit/enter their vehicles with the assistance of a side-mounted lift. Clear signage and enforcement of handicapped parking spaces is also required.
- Entrance areas. Exterior entranceways are a hot spot for ADA compliance. Compliance requirements mandate that these areas should be fully accessible to people who rely on canes, walkers, and wheelchairs for mobility. Ramps, handrails, and surfacing are all considerations, but must be installed in accordance with strict ADA guidelines. For example, ramps cannot exceed a slope of 1:12 (the ramp can only drop 1 unit for every 12 units of horizontal distance). The good news is that if your building has multiple entrances, you are only required to modify one entrance to meet ADA standards.
- Exterior doors. Exterior entrance doors are required to be at least 36" wide. That can be a problem since older entranceways were designed to accommodate 32" doorways. To meet ADA guidelines, doorways are usually expanded with a combination of construction and handicap accessible hardware solutions. Entrance door handles will also need to accommodate the disabled since traditional, round knobs aren't ADA friendly. In some cases, the installation of an automatic door-opening device will be necessary.