As a small business owner, you want to reach every potential customer, including people with disabilities. This group may be bigger than you realize: approximately one in five American adults have some type of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It guarantees them equal access to employment, the ability to engage in government services and programs, and the opportunity to buy goods or services, according to the Department of Justice. What does this mean for small-business owners?
It simply requires the business owner to find a way to accommodate people with disabilities within reasonable bounds, says Diego Demaya, director of ADA technical assistance at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
The ADA requires that all places of business make these accommodations, within reason and with a common-sense approach, Demaya says. “It does not require that they spend a great deal of money to the point where it would cause undue hardships on their operation.”
Common barriers to access may include parking spaces that are too narrow for people with wheelchairs to use, an entrance with stairs and no ramp, and aisles that are too tight for a person using a wheelchair, walker or electric scooter to navigate, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
There are numerous ways to help make your business more accessible, Demaya says. Something as simple as rearranging your space can provide accommodation to people with disabilities. “I have gone to many restaurants where the passageway to go to the bathroom is full of obstacles that would completely block someone in a wheelchair,” he says. “These obstacles are basically manmade and can be easily taken out of the way.”
If your business has architectural or structural barriers that restrict access, there are options, he adds. For example, providing services at alternate locations or offering service deliveries may be cost-effective accommodations, Demaya says. You may also be able to bring something to a customer curbside if they can’t come in due to barriers that cannot be removed.
In addition to protecting customers’ rights, the ADA also prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. Under the law, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to ensure a disabled employee has an equal employment opportunity, according to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).
When accommodating an employee with disabilities, think creatively about possible solutions, says Linda Batiste, a consultant at JAN. For example, an employer may consider restructuring a job or making it into a part-time role, modifying work schedules, adjusting training materials or providing an interpreter to accommodate an employee with a disability, JAN says.
To learn more about how to make your business compliant, there are a number of free resources available:
Ultimately, the ADA is about more than just providing services to people with disabilities, Demaya says. “The ADA focuses on the principle of inclusion and universality. It is about businesses making their services available to everyone.”