Understanding ADA Compliance for Small Businesses - Purple Fox Legal

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Understanding ADA Compliance for Small Businesses

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. 

Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act 

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:

  • Title I: Employment
  • Title II: State and local government agencies and public transportation
  • Title III: Public Accommodations
  • Title IV: Telecommunications
  • Title V: Miscellaneous

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: 

  • Offering curbside service for take-out businesses with stair-accessible entries if installing a ramp at the entrance is not feasible
  • Protocols to communicate with deaf customers
  • Improved website accessibility for the visually impaired as blind individuals need screen reading software to access websites, but if a website has access barriers, it may be incompatible with the software that makes online reading possible for the visually impaired
  • Accessible restrooms
  • Having information on your website about how your business complies with the ADA
  • Accessible parking spaces for cars that have an access aisle that is at least five feet wide
  • Signage provided at an inaccessible entrance providing directions to another entrance that is accessible
  • Being ready to receive patrons with service animals 

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.

Designing Accessible Physical Spaces

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:

  • Inadequate building access, including overly steep slopes, missing ramps and grab bars, insufficient clearance for wheelchairs, and no signage for accessible entrances
  • Door-related barriers, such as excessive pressure requirements or high thresholds
  • Insufficient space for wheelchair navigation
  • Limited accessibility within the building
  • Elevated surfaces or appliances
  • Restroom issues: improper signage, insufficient stall space for wheelchairs, non-compliant or absent grab bars, high mirrors, and excessively high sinks, toilets, or dryers

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. 

Enhancing Website Accessibility for All Users

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:

  • Develop alt tags for all images, videos, and audio files. Alt tags enable users with disabilities to access alternative descriptions of content that might be otherwise unavailable to them. These tags describe the object and its purpose on the website.
  • Provide text transcripts for audio and video content. Text transcripts assist deaf and hard-of-hearing users in understanding content that would otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Specify the website’s language in the header code. Indicating the site’s language helps text reader users, as these readers can identify the codes and operate accordingly.
  • Provide alternative solutions for input errors. When users with disabilities face input errors because of different website navigation, your site should automatically suggest improved ways to access the content.
  • Maintain a consistent and organized layout. Menus, links, and buttons should be arranged clearly and easily navigable throughout the entire website.

A small business with a website that follows the above best practices stands a good chance of being compliant with the ADA regulations. 

Accommodating Employees with Disabilities

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. 

Training and Education: The Key to a Disability-Friendly Business

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