Successful retail businesses make it easy for customers to enter the establishment and mingle with the merchandise. Sounds easy, right?
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But when you consider ADA compliance requirements and the special needs of disabled customers, accessibility suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 introduced federal legislation designed to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities in the workplace and in public areas. Commercial facilities that sell goods or services directly to customers are covered under ADA and are required to conform to specific ADA guidelines in their interior and exterior spaces.
Under ADA, new construction and remodeled facilities must fully comply with ADA. Existing structures must remove architectural barriers for the disabled when it is "readily achievable" to do so. If the removal of barriers is cost-prohibitive, the retailer must make accommodations now and create a plan for full compliance in the future. Although it's possible to push full compliance until a later date, doing so can leave your store exposed to ADA lawsuits.
Like it or not, you have a financial interest in making your retail business fully compliant as soon as possible. In ascending order of priority, here are the compliance-related areas you will need to address:
- Parking areas. Parking areas can easily be brought into full ADA compliance. In addition to designating several (clearly marked) handicapped parking places, you should set aside a few spaces with enough room to accommodate side-mounted wheelchair lifts.
- Entry access. ADA guidelines require facilities to have at least one entryway that is accessible to people who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and crutches for mobility. If your store entrance isn't on the same level as the parking lot, you'll need to build a ramp that meets ADA slope requirements.
- Store shelving/aisles. Inside store aisles should be at least 36" wide to facilitate full accessibility, with larger spaces (60" in diameter) at the end of each aisle. Store shelving doesn't have to be lowered for the disabled as long as store personnel are available for assistance.
- Signage. Your store should feature clear signage that indicates accessibility options for the disabled. For example, many retailers dedicate a checkout lane with a 36" tall counter for people with disabilities. These lanes and other accommodations (including emergency exits) need to be highly visible.
- Restrooms. Retrofitting restrooms and convenience facilities for disabled workers and customers can be costly, but it is required for full ADA compliance. Compare bids from various contractors to determine the most cost-effective way to convert your existing restrooms to ADA-friendly facilities.