United States: Does Your Business Comply With The ADA's Accessibility Requirements?

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses that provide goods and services to the public to remove architectural barriers and ensure their facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Generally, businesses must provide goods and services to individuals with disabilities in an integrated setting the same as is provided to the general public.

The ADA regulations and Standards for Accessible Design establish the criteria for accessibility.  All new construction and alterations to commercial facilities commenced after January 26, 1992, must comply with the ADA guidelines for new construction. Facilities built prior to January 26, 1992, must remove architectural barriers and make required modifications that are "readily achievable," defined as "easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense" and based on the size and resources of a business.

"Grandfather provisions" often found in local building codes do not exempt businesses from their obligations under the ADA.  Commercial facilities, such as office buildings, factories, warehouses, or other facilities that do not provide goods or services directly to the public are only subject to the ADA's requirements for new construction and alterations.

Being proactive is the best way to ensure ADA compliance. Evaluate accessibility at your facility, train your staff on the ADA's requirements, and think about the ADA when planning an alteration or construction of a new facility. The ADA regulations generally recommend the following priorities for barrier removal:

(a) Providing accessible parking spaces and access to the business from public sidewalks, parking areas, and public transportation

If your business provides parking for the public, it must provide accessible parking spaces for cars and vans. People with disabilities should be able to arrive at  your site, approach the building and enter as easily as those without disabilities. Generally, one  accessible parking space at least 12 feet wide is required for every 25 parking spaces available. Small businesses with very limited parking (four or fewer spaces) must have one accessible parking space. 

Accessible parking spaces must be identified with accessibility signs and have an access aisle at least five feet wide, which allows a person using a wheelchair or other mobility device to get in and out of the vehicle  and access the business. The path a person with a disability takes to enter and move through your business is known as an "accessible route." This route and any curb ramps must be at least 36 inches wide with a 1:12 slope on any ramps.

Your business must also have at least one accessible entrance. Consider whether  there are stairs or other impediments to entry for people with disabilities.  If the entrance(s) prevent individuals using wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or other mobility devices from entering your business, you may be required to install a ramp or a lift or regrade the walkway to provide an accessible route. Also consider whether entry doors can open without much force. If not, they must be adjusted accordingly. If the main entrance cannot be made accessible, an alternate accessible entrance can be used. If you have several entrances and only one is accessible, a sign should be posted at the inaccessible entrances directing individuals to the accessible entrance. This entrance must be open whenever other public entrances are open.

(b) Providing access to the goods and services the business offers

Persons with disabilities should not require assistance to obtain goods or services. The obligation to remove barriers also applies to merchandise shelves, sales and service counters, and check-out aisles. Shelves and counters must be on an accessible route with enough space to allow customers using mobility devices to access merchandise. At least one check-out aisle must be usable by people with mobility disabilities, though more are required in larger stores. When it is not readily achievable to make a sales or service counter accessible, businesses should provide a folding shelf or a nearby accessible counter. If these changes are not readily achievable, businesses may provide a clip board or lap board until more permanent changes can be made. Restaurants and other food service facilities must provide accessible tables, food service lines, and condiment and beverage bars, as well as an accessible route no less than 36 inches wide to those areas. At least 5 percent of seating and standing spaces must be accessible for people who use wheelchairs.

(c) Providing access to public restrooms; and

If rest rooms are available to the public, they must also be accessible for persons with disabilities.  At least one restroom (one for each sex or unisex) must be accessible with appropriate door hardware and clear floor space for a person in a wheelchair to turn around (in a circle 60 inches in diameter). The mirror, coat hook, soap dispenser, hand dryers, and lavatory must be at required heights and provide sufficient space so that a person using a wheelchair can get close. Toilet(s) must be at an appropriate centerline and height, and there must be grab bars on the side and rear. The stall door must be operable with a closed fist, inside and out.

(d) Removing barriers to other amenities offered to the public, such as drinking fountains

If drinking fountains are provided they must have a clear floor space (30 inches wide by 48 inches long) for a forward approach. Pay or public use telephones must provide clear floor space of at least 30 by 48 inches in front of at least one. The phone may not be higher than 48 inches.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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