The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 introduced widespread changes in the way companies treated people with disabilities.
In addition to prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of a physical or mental disability, ADA required businesses and nonprofits to make their facilities more accessible to disabled customers.
Over the past twenty years, ADA accessibility requirements have been a mixed bag for business owners. Companies that could afford to embrace full ADA compliance have enjoyed legal security and the gratitude of their customer base. But for those companies who couldn't afford to retrofit their facilities to meet ADA requirements all at once, the road has been more difficult.
The issue of ADA compliance for your customers may be more important than you realize. A handful of highly litigious individuals make the rounds in the small business community, filing hundreds of nuisance lawsuits against small companies that do not yet fully comply with ADA regulations. Even when the lawsuits have little merit, defendants are often forced to pay a settlement to avoid a prolonged court battle. Full compliance is your company's best defense against litigation and penalties. Here's what you need to know about the ADA rules that impact small business customers.
Common Barriers to Access
ADA guidelines require business owners to remove architectural barriers when it is "readily achievable" to do so. As long it is doesn't place an undue financial burden on your business, you will need to address both exterior and interior barriers to access. Exterior barriers include areas like parking lots, sidewalks, and entryways. Interior barriers commonly include aisle space, shelving, counters, signage, and restrooms. The Small Business Administration (SBA) advises small business owners to start with the removal of exterior barriers and work their way to the inside of the facility.
Tips for Compliance
There are many things you can do to improve customer accessibility without spending a fortune. Although full compliance may require a more significant level of investment, it's better to take a piecemeal approach than to do nothing at all.
- Handicapped parking – Designate several spaces for handicapped parking, leaving room for side-mounted wheelchair lifts.
- Door handles – Replace round doorknobs with handles that are easier for elderly and disabled customers to use.
- Store layout – Reconfigure your space to increase the width of aisles and to facilitate mobility for those who walk with assistance.
- Handrails – Handrails are simple to install, but they can be a lifesaver for someone who struggles to maintain their footing.