By Purple Fox Legal
June 26, 2023
According to a report in the Center for Disease Control, approximately 61 million Americans have a disability that impacts significant life activities. Hearing and vision impairment combined represent over 11% of the cases. As people age, disabilities become more common, impacting approximately 40% of adults aged 65 and older.
Moreover, the discretionary spending power of individuals with disabilities amounts to $225 billion. Each of these individuals represents a potential customer for your small business.
Small business owners must understand and adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. This article aims to educate small business owners on becoming ADA-compliant, addressing essential aspects such as physical business location modifications, website accessibility, and managing employment activities in accordance with ADA laws.
The objective of the ADA is to guarantee equal access to goods and services for everyone in their communities. For small businesses, this means creating opportunities for customers with disabilities to patronize your establishment. For over 27 years, the ADA has mandated that businesses offering goods and services to the public extend the same level of accessibility to customers with disabilities.
The ADA has five sections:
Primarily, most businesses should focus on Titles I, III, and IV, while other concerns depend on the specific nature of the company.
Below are a few examples on what small businesses should consider offering to be ADA-compliant:
Under the ADA, businesses offering goods or services to the public are called “public accommodations.” The ADA sets requirements for 12 types of public accommodations, including businesses like stores, eateries, bars, services, theaters, hotels, recreational centers, private museums and schools, medical and dental offices, shopping malls, and more. Virtually all business types serving the public fall into these 12 categories, irrespective of their size or building age.
The ADA mandates that covered businesses modify their policies and procedures as needed to accommodate customers with disabilities and make efforts to communicate effectively with them. Additionally, companies must eliminate architectural barriers in existing structures and ensure that newly constructed or modified facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
There is no one-size solution for complying with ADA. Generally, physical businesses that rely on in-person customer interactions will want to focus on providing accessibility for customers to enter their store (i.e., easy parking, no barriers impeding entry to the store), as well as having ADA-compliant parking and bathrooms and ADA-trained staff.
Meanwhile, businesses that make most of their sales online will want to focus on ensuring their website is easily usable by those with a hearing or vision impairment.
In general, complying with the ADA requires your business to offer “reasonable accommodations” for individuals with disabilities. This may involve creating documented policies on workplace accommodations, performance expectations, and disability-related leaves or absences. Additionally, it may include making minor adjustments to standard procedures, allowing service animals and mobility devices, adjusting communication methods with clients, and removing physical barriers in existing structures when feasible without significant difficulty or expense.
The ADA requires that all new facilities built by public accommodations, including small businesses, be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
It may be best to illustrate how ADA compliance works by looking first at what NOT to do. According to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), here are examples of things to avoid having if you are a small business owner/manager:
By ensuring you have solutions for the above common issues, you stand a good chance of setting up your physical business for success when it comes to ADA compliance.
The ADA mandates that specific businesses provide accommodations for individuals with disabilities. This includes ensuring that web content is accessible to blind and deaf users and those who rely on voice navigation, screen readers, or other assistive tools.
A 2023 study by WebAIM revealed that most websites do not provide a completely accessible experience. In other words, fewer than 4% of the top one million websites globally are tapping into the disability market. According to the study, the chief culprit was the lack of high-contrast text (83.6% of the sample).
However, the ADA’s recommendations on website accessibility have led to some confusion due to the absence of clear-cut standards. As a solution, the ADA advises referring to existing technical guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Here are some specific measures businesses can take to address accessibility concerns related to their web content:
A small business with a website that follows the above best practices stands a good chance of being compliant with the ADA regulations.
Title I of the ADA mandates that employers with 15 or more employees offer equal employment opportunities to qualified individuals with disabilities, encompassing various aspects like recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, and social activities.
Title I of the ADA limits the questions about an applicant’s disability before a job offer and necessitates employers to reasonably accommodate known physical or mental limitations of qualified individuals with disabilities unless it causes undue hardship.
As another example, companies should create precise and comprehensive job descriptions and ensure the written descriptions accurately depict each position’s essential functions and qualifications. These essential job functions may encompass various physical activities, such as sitting, bending, standing, walking, reaching, and lifting. In addition, you should make sure that anyone who does hiring understands the limitations of ADA on disability inquiries during the overall hiring process.
In summary, companies should consider broadening their talent pipeline by including people with disabilities and ensure they are prepared to proactively follow measures that give equal access to employment opportunities and properly respond to inquiries.
A vital aspect of success that needs to be addressed is thorough and continuous staff training. Establishing sound policies is essential, but issues may arise without frontline staff being aware of them or knowing how to execute them. Businesses of all sizes must inform their staff about the ADA’s stipulations. Employees should be knowledgeable about policy modification, customer communication and assistance, and handling relay system calls. Numerous local disability organizations, such as the Centers for Independent Living, offer ADA training in communities. The Department of Justice or the ADA National Network can supply contact information for these organizations in your area.
Specifically, managers and supervisors should receive training to help them recognize potential requests for accommodations during employee meetings. They should be well-versed in identifying such requests and know whom to contact, typically the human resources department, when an accommodation request is made to them.
Businesses should ensure constant compliance with ADA laws to avoid loss of business, reputational damage, and litigation.
An ADA guide created by the Small Business Administration has further helpful information and is accessible here.