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ADA Requirements for Businesses

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ADA Basics

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes that people with disabilities must have equal access to workplaces, transportation, restaurants, and other businesses to be a part of their community and have purchasing power. The Act put ADA requirements for businesses in place to remove barriers and provide access to all people so that nobody faces discrimination. The Act also established guidelines for new business construction.

Who must comply?

  • Businesses with at least 15 employees.
  • Both the landlord and tenant of a commercial property. The responsible party can be determined through a contract or lease.
  • State and local government services, including public education and social services, state legislatures and courts, police and fire departments, employment services, and public transportation.
  • Commercial facilities that are open to the public.

The ADA requirements for businesses are somewhat flexible, and policymakers know that smaller companies may not have the resources to make the property compliant all at once. The ADA allows smaller companies to develop plans to remove any physical barriers over time as resources become available.

What is a “barrier”?

Jonathan Young from the National Council of Disability says that there are two types of barriers, including general access barriers to a commercial space and individual access barriers that require case-by-case accommodation.

The first type of barrier includes objects such as stairs and narrow doorways that do not accommodate someone in a wheelchair. The second type of barrier includes accommodation requests such as an employee who needs a standing desk rather than the traditional desk because of a previous back injury.

The ADA classifies a barrier as anything that limits entry into a business or the ease of maneuvering inside. This includes small or narrow parking spots, entrance steps, fixed tables in eating areas, and narrow aisles. The ADA prioritizes barriers where the high-priority barriers should be addressed and removed first, and the low-priority barriers should be addressed last. The list below shows high-priority to low-priority:

  • Access from the street or sidewalk
  • Adequate parking
  • Access where goods and services are provided
  • Access to bathrooms
  • Access to public amenities such as pay phones and drinking fountains
business with a step barrier preventing entry
business removed barrier to entry

Types of barriers

The barriers mentioned above are physical barriers. Physical barriers can be fixed fairly easily, but there are also “process barriers” and “psychological barriers” that can be quite difficult to overcome.

Process barriers may include requiring someone to present a driver’s license as identification verification. This could discriminate against the legally blind or someone with epilepsy who is unable to drive. Another example is limiting one person per dressing room in a clothing store because a person in a wheelchair may need help trying on different clothes.

The most difficult type of barrier to overcome are psychological barriers because this includes changing the way people think about disability. The ADA requirements for businesses wanted to increase the amount of disabled people in the workforce, but there has not been an increase since the ADA was created 20 years ago. ADA experts say that a huge source of the problem is the health care system because it discourages disabled people from working. Some people, for instance, need a personal assistant to do their daily activities. That is covered by Medicaid for the unemployed but not by workplace insurance providers. This creates an incentive to NOT work because the individual would be losing a benefit by joining the workforce. Creating a welcoming work environment and giving everyone a fair chance at job opportunities is key to reducing barriers. Here are tips to keep in mind when considering job candidates:

  • You cannot require an interviewee to take a medical examination before making a job offer. However, employers can inquire about the physical ability to perform certain functions required by the job.
  • Keep written job descriptions to avoid potential discrimination suits.
  • Make accommodations for disabled employees such as restructuring a job, modifying a work schedule, or providing readers or interpreters. However, if the accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” such as a large expense or an extremely difficult task, the employer is not required to accommodate. The employer can ask the employee to pay a portion of the cost for the accessibility or other accommodation.

ADA Compliance

The ADA requirements for businesses specify a minimum width for each handicap parking space, the location of handicap spaces in relation to the building, and a certain number of handicap spaces given the size of the lot.

The handicap spaces for cars should be at least 8 feet wide and 11 feet wide for van spaces. The 11-foot space gives room for an extendable ramp to come out of the van and land safely on the ground for the person in the wheelchair to exit. There should also be an aisle between the spaces that is 5 feet wide.

ADA compliant parking space size for handicap entry

The handicapped spaces should be clearly marked with a universally known handicap sign and should also be the closest to the entrance so that the disabled person can most easily enter the building.

Given that a company has a parking lot, there is a certain number of spaces required within the lot to service the handicapped. Below is a chart showing how many spaces there should be for parking lots of different sizes.

501-10002% of total spaces
1001 and up20, plus 1 for each 100, or fraction thereof, over 1000

To make sure that entryways are easily accessible, wheelchair ramps should be put in place whenever there are steps leading to the door. At least one entrance needs to be handicap-accessible, and there should be clear signage to indicate the location of the accessible entrance. Here are a few ramp specifications to comply with ADA regulations:

  • Ramps should have a slope that is no steeper than a 1:12 ratio, meaning that for every inch of rise in door height, 12 inches of ramp run are need. For example, if the door is located 26 inches above the ground, a 26-foot ramp is required.
  • Handrails are required for any ramp that is steeper than the 1:20 ratio.
  • A resting platform is required every 30 feet of ramp run. For a 34-foot ramp, at least one resting platform is necessary.
  • If you do not have room for a ramp, a mechanical lift should be installed.
  • If neither a ramp nor lift can be installed, other services such as home delivery or curbside pickup should be provided.

Doorways should be at least 36” wide to make sure that a person in a wheelchair can enter the building. Panel-type handles that require the user to grip tightly, round door knobs, handles with a thumb latch, and turnstile entrances can also make it difficult for people with disabilities to access buildings. Instead of those types of handles, use loop handles, lever handles, or open gates.

In addition to the 36” regulation, if a 180-degree turn is needed to exit an area, a 60” turning space is required. For a T-style turn, a 36” space is required.

Once the person is inside, he/she needs to have an accessible route to goods and services whether it is food in a grocery store or a help desk in a hotel. This route must be at least 3 feet wide to provide enough space for a wheelchair to turn around. It must also be free of items such as vending machines, furniture, display racks, etc.

To make sure that service counters or tables are accessible, they should be lowered. If it is impossible to lower the counter or table, you should provide a clipboard or lapboard. Also, items on the service area should be within reach whether it is a brochure or a condiment dispenser.

ADA compliant aisle for wheelchair
ADA counter height

These are just a few ways that we can start to break down barriers between the able-bodied and others. The goal is to make sure that everybody has equal opportunities within the community whether it is purchasing power at the local store or at a job interview. View the additional resources below for more information on how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additional Resources

ADA Ramps for Commercial Applications
ADA Steps for Commercial Applications
EASY ADA Guide for Small Businesses
Guide for Restaurants & Other Food Service Employers
Complete 2010 ADA Guide