Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), private businesses, including nonprofit organizations, are referred to as public accommodations or Title III entities. There are twelve general categories that cover businesses like:
restaurants hotels theaters zoos
doctors' offices gas stations retail stores health clubs
museums private libraries professional offices
private schools day care centers amusement parks
Private membership clubs and religious organizations are exempt from the ADA's Title III requirements.
Businesses sometimes unknowingly discriminate against people with disabilities. Requiring that a driver's license be the only accepted form of identification whenever a customer writes or cashes a check is an example. People who are blind or low vision, or who have seizures, cannot obtain a driver’s license because they are unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Removing barriers so that people who use wheelchairs can access public accommodations is required when it is "readily achievable", meaning “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." Examples include lowering dispensers, drinking fountains, shelves and telephones; removing loose gravel and prompt snow removal from accessible parking spaces.
When barrier removal is not readily achievable, businesses could assist customers who use wheelchairs by greeting customers at the door to receive or return dry cleaning, providing home delivery or removing items from high shelves.
The ADA requires that all new construction of Title III entities be accessible. Elevators are required in facilities with over three stories or with more than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a health care provider office, public transit station or shopping center.
Generally, providing accessibility in new construction accounts for less than two percent of total costs. The potential economic benefits to businesses likely compensates for providing accessibility. People with disabilities are more likely to spend their discretionary income in businesses that are accessible.
Facility alterations that increase usability by people with disabilities must be made accessible if the accessibility costs do not exceed 20% of the total cost. An accessible entrance and exit should be the first priority. If a doorway is being relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the new construction accessibility standards.
Secondly, sidewalks and service areas should be accessible. When alterations are made to a primary function area, such as the lobby of a bank or the dining area of a cafeteria, an accessible path of travel must be provided. Telephones and drinking fountains in those areas must also be accessible.
Third priority is accessible restrooms. Remember that good access is good business.
Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.
Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.
Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.
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