Among the many laws that affect small businesses across the country, none is more important than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA gives federal civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to protections on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal protection for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
The ADA went into effect on January 26, 1992, and prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from enjoying everyday activities such as buying an item at a store, watching a movie in a theater, eating a meal at a restaurant, exercising at a health club or gym, or even having a car repaired at a local garage or service station. For small businesses, compliance with the ADA is not difficult. To help businesses with their compliance efforts, Congress established a technical assistance program to answer questions about the ADA.
The Department of Justice operates a toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) and 800-514-0383 (TDD). To help offset some of the costs associated with providing access to people with disabilities, tax credits and special deductions were established by the Internal Revenue Service.
Also, because it has been established that many small businesses simply cannot afford to make significant physical changes to their stores or places of business to provide accessibility to wheelchair users and other people with disabilities, the ADA has requirements for existing facilities that were built before 1993 that are less strict than for ones built after early 1993 or modified after early 1992.
If you own, operate, lease, or lease to a business that serves the public, then you are covered by the ADA and have obligations for existing facilities as well as for compliance when a facility is altered or constructed. You must remove all physical barriers that are “readily achievable,” which means easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense. The “readily achievable” requirement is based on the size and resources of the business, which means that larger businesses with more resources are expected to take a more active role in removing barriers than small businesses.
In addition to removing barriers in the building itself, the ADA also requires that businesses provide designated accessible parking spaces. An accessible parking space must have enough space for the vehicle and an additional space located either to the right or the left of the parking space that serves as an access aisle. The aisle is needed to permit a person using a wheelchair, electric scooter, or other mobility device to get out of their car and van in a safe and convenient manner. A special sign with the international symbol of accessibility must be located in front of the parking space and mounted high enough so it is not hidden by a vehicle parked in the space.
And finally, after ensuring that its entrance is accessible, and that adequate parking has been provided, a business must consider how people with disabilities will get to the items that are sold or displayed. When businesses display sales merchandise on shelves for selection by customers, those shelves must be easily accessible by people with disabilities.
For more information, visit the official ADA home page.