By Robert A. Martinez AIA, CASp, CASI
CASp Pro…Certified Access Specialists
More than 50 million Americans-18% of our population-have disabilities and each is a potential customer. People with disabilities are living more independently and participating more actively in their communities. They and their families want to patronize businesses that welcome customers with disabilities. In addition, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over age 65 by the year 2030 and will be demanding products, services, and environments that meet their age-related physical needs. Studies show that once people with disabilities find a business where they can shop or get services in an accessible manner, they become repeat customers.
People with disabilities have too often been excluded from everyday activities: shopping at a corner store, going to a neighborhood restaurant or movie with family and friends, or using the swimming pool at a hotel on the family vacation. The ADA is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and opens doors for full participation in all aspects of everyday life. This article provides general guidance to help business owners understand revised ADA regulations. The ADA applies to both the built environment and to policies and procedures that affect how a business provides goods and services to its customers. Using this guidance, a small business owner or manager can ensure that it will not unintentionally exclude people with disabilities and will know when it needs to remove barriers in its existing facilities.
Businesses that provide goods or services to the public are called “public accommodations” in the ADA. The ADA establishes requirements for 12 categories of public accommodations, which include stores, restaurants, bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreational facilities, private museums and schools, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, shopping malls, and other businesses. Nearly all types of businesses that serve the public are included in the 12 categories, regardless of the size of the business or the age of their buildings. The ADA also requires businesses to remove architectural barriers in existing buildings. “Grandfather provisions” often found in local building codes do not exempt businesses from their obligations under the ADA.
Policies and Procedures
Your business, like all others, has formal and informal policies, practices, and procedures that keep it running smoothly. However, sometimes your policies or procedures can inadvertently make it difficult or impossible for a customer with a disability to access your goods and services. That is why the ADA requires businesses to make “reasonable modifications” to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. Most modifications involve only minor adjustments in policies.
Customers with disabilities may need different types of assistance to access your goods and services. For example, a grocery store clerk is expected to assist a customer using a mobility device by retrieving merchandise from high shelves. A person who is blind may need assistance maneuvering through a store’s aisles. Usually the customer will tell you up front if he or she needs assistance, although some customers may wait to be asked “may I help you?” When only one staff person is on duty, it may or may not be possible for him or her to assist a customer with a disability. The business owner or manager should advise the staff person to assess whether he or she can provide the assistance that is needed without jeopardizing the safe operation of the business.
Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices
People with mobility, circulatory, or respiratory disabilities use a variety of devices for mobility. Some use walkers, canes, crutches, or braces while others use manually-operated or power wheelchairs, all of which are primarily designed for use by people with disabilities. Businesses must allow people with disabilities to use these devices in all areas where customers are allowed to go.
Devices categorized as wheelchairs must be permitted.
Communicating with Customers
Communicating successfully with customers is an essential part of doing business. When dealing with customers who are blind or have low vision, those who are deaf or hard of hearing, or those whohave speech disabilities, many business owners and employees are not sure what to do. The ADA requires businesses to take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities.
Because the nature of communications differs from business to business, the rules allow for flexibility in determining effective communication solutions. The goal is to find practical solutions for communicating effectively with your customers.
Many individuals who are deaf or have other hearing or speech disabilities use either a text telephone (TIY) or text messaging instead of a standard telephone. The ADA established a free telephone relay network to enable these individuals to communicate with businesses and vice-versa. When a person who uses such a device calls the relay service by dialing 7-1-1, a communications assistant calls the business and voices the caller’s typed message and then types the business’s response to the caller. Staff who answers the telephone must accept and treat relay calls just like other calls. The communications assistant will explain how the system works if necessary.
The rules are also flexible for communicating effectively with customers who are blind or have low vision. For example, a restaurant can put its menu on an audio cassette or a waiter can read it to a patron. A sales clerk can find items and read their labels. In more complex transactions where a significant amount of printed information is involved, providing alternate formats will be necessary, unless doing so is an undue burden. For example, when a client who is blind visits his real estate agent to negotiate the sale of a house, all relevant documents should be provided in a format he can use, such as on a computer disk or audio cassette. It may be effective to e-mail an electronic version of the documents so the client can use his or her screen-reading technology to read them before making a decision or signing a contract. In this situation, since complex financial information is involved, simply reading the documents to the client will most likely not be effective. Usually a customer will tell you which format he or she needs. If not, it is appropriate to ask.
Reading a menu to a customer who is blind is one way to provide effective communication.
Making The Built Environment Accessible
People with disabilities continue to face architectural barriers that limit or make it impossible to access the goods or services offered by businesses. Examples include a parking space with no access aisle to allow deployment of a van’s wheelchair lift, steps at a facility’s entrance or within its serving or selling space, aisles too narrow to accommodate mobility devices, counters that are too high, or restrooms that are simply too small to use with a mobility device.
The ADA strikes a careful balance between increasing access for people with disabilities and recognizing the financial constraints many small businesses face. Its flexible requirements allow businesses confronted with limited financial resources to improve accessibility without excessive expense.
Existing Facilities Readily Achievable Barrier Removal
The ADA requires that small businesses remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is “readily achievable” to do so. Readily achievable means “easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.” This requirement is based on the size and resources of a business. So, businesses with more resources are expected to remove more barriers than businesses with fewer resources.
Readily achievable barrier removal may include providing an accessible route from a parking lot to the business’s entrance, installing an entrance ramp, widening a doorway, installing accessible door hardware, repositioning shelves, or moving tables, chairs, display racks, vending machines, or other furniture. When removing barriers, businesses are required to comply with the standards to the extent possible. For example, where there is not enough space to install a ramp with a slope that complies with the standards, a business may install a ramp with a slightly steeper slope. However, any deviation from the standards must not pose a significant safety risk.
Determining what is readily achievable will vary from business to business and sometimes from one year to the next. Changing economic conditions can be taken into consideration in determining what is readily achievable. Economic downturns may force many public accommodations to postpone removing some barriers. The barrier removal obligation is a continuing one and it is expected that a business will move forward with its barrier removal efforts when it rebounds from such downturns.
Priorities for Barrier Removal
Understanding how customers arrive at and move through your business will go a long way in identifying existing barriers and setting priorities for their removal. Do people arrive on foot, by car, or by public transportation? Do you provide parking? How do customers enter and move about your business? The ADA regulations recommend the following priorities for barrier removal:
- Providing access to your business from public sidewalks, parking areas, and public transportation;
- Providing access to the goods and services your business offers;
- Providing access to public restrooms; and
- Removing barriers to other amenities offered to the public, such as drinking fountains.
In some instances, especially in older buildings, it may not be readily achievable to remove some architectural barriers. For example, a restaurant with several steps leading to its entrance may determine that it cannot afford to install a ramp or a lift. In this situation, the restaurant must provide its services in another way, if that is readily achievable, such as providing takeout service. Businesses should train staff on these alternatives and publicize them so customers with disabilities will know of their availability and how to access them.
When barrier removal is not possible, alternatives such as curbside service should be provided.
If your business provides parking for the public, but there are no accessible spaces, you will lose potential customers. You must provide accessible parking spaces for cars and vans, if it is readily achievable to do so.
One small step at an entrance can make it impossible for individuals using wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or other mobility devices to do business with you. Removing this barrier may be accomplished in a number of ways, such as installing a ramp or a lift or re-grading the walkway to provide an accessible route. If the main entrance cannot be made accessible, an alternate accessible entrance can be used. If you have several entrances and only one is accessible, a sign should be posted at the inaccessible entrances directing individuals to the accessible entrance. This entrance must be open whenever other public entrances are open.
Accessible Route to Goods and Services
The path a person with a disability takes to enter and move through your business is called an “accessible route.” This route, which must be at least three feet wide, must remain accessible and not be blocked by items, such as vending or ice machines, newspaper dispensers, furniture, filing cabinets, display racks, or potted plants. Similarly, accessible toilet stalls, dressing rooms, or counters at a cash register must not be cluttered with merchandise or supplies.
Shelves, Sales and Service Counters, and Check-Out Aisles
The obligation to remove barriers also applies to merchandise shelves, sales and service counters, and check-out aisles. Shelves and counters must be on an accessible route with enough space to allow customers using mobility devices to access merchandise. However, shelves may be of any height since they are not subject to the ADA’s reach range requirements. Where barriers prevent access to these areas, they must be removed if readily achievable. However, businesses are not required to take any steps that would result in a significant loss of selling space. At least one check-out aisle must be usable by people with mobility disabilities, though more are required in larger stores. When it is not readily achievable to make a sales or service counter accessible, businesses should provide a folding shelf or a nearby accessible counter. If these changes are not readily achievable, businesses may provide a clip board or lap board until more permanent changes can be made.
Food and Restaurant Services
People with disabilities need to access tables, food service lines, and condiment and beverage bars in restaurants, bars, or other establishments where food or drinks are sold. There must be an accessible route to all dining areas, including raised or sunken dining areas and outdoor dining areas, as well as to food service lines, service counters, and public restrooms. In a dining area, remember to arrange tables far enough apart so a person using a wheelchair can maneuver between the tables when patrons are sitting at them. Some accessible tables must be provided and must be dispersed throughout the dining area rather than clustered in a single location.
Restaurants must provide access to self-service items.
Where barriers prevent access to a raised, sunken, or outdoor dining area, they must be removed if readily achievable. If it is not readily achievable to construct an accessible route to these areas and distinct services (e.g., special menu items or different prices) are available in these areas, the restaurant must make these services available at the same price in the dining areas that are on an accessible route. In restaurants or bars with only standing tables, some accessible dining tables must be provided.
How do I comply?
SB 1608 and SB 1186 were developed to allow building owners and business owners the means by which they can comply with ADA regulations. The first step would be to conduct a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) field survey. At CASp PRO… Certified Access Specialists we can guide you through this process.
Contact us at: CASp PRO… by calling (760) 241-7858 or by e-mail: email@example.com