What is ADA Compliance?
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990, is a significant piece of civil rights legislation, striving to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against, but have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five different sections or titles. The ones with requirements that most concern people who run businesses are Titles I and III. The first section of the ADA is for Employment and covers private entities as well as government agencies that have 15 employees or more. Title III, on the other hand, is for Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities. The requirements for accessible design are ADA standards that your business, wherever state located, is obligated to follow.
Title III of the ADA applies to private places of public accommodation or any place where a business may have people drop in or receive potential customers. Because the ADA is a law on the state and federal level, it covers a non-exhaustive list of public accommodations like hotels, restaurants, retail stores, banks, laundromats, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, day care facilities, and schools. As long as you are dealing in goods and services in the United States, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act is applicable to you.
Title III includes minimum standards that all facilities must be built within order to accommodate people with disabilities. ADA standards’ main focus is on the removal of barriers that would make it impossible for users of mobile assistive technology to access certain facilities. You are expected to make “reasonable accommodations” to your usual way of doing business. These reasonable accommodations can be a design that is readily achievable by you without going through too much effort and expense. Title III guidelines are monitored and enforced by the Office of the Attorney General. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also responsible for releasing general standards for accessibility.
As more and more people use websites to search for basic needs and services, Title III has also been increasingly accepted to include the World Wide Web in its consideration of places of public accommodation. In 2018, the DOJ released a letter clarifying their stance on this issue, saying that website accessibility is in keeping with this section of the ADA. Because the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed before the internet became of wide use to everyone, the law’s text was not specifically written to provide accessibility guidelines for websites. Just the same, it is a good rule of thumb today to strive for website accessibility by adapting Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2. 0 and WCAG 2. 1) for your site. These ADA compliant requirements will not only provide website users with more information but will also help your company avoid unnecessary and costly accessibility lawsuits.
In 2019, over 10,000 ADA lawsuits were heard in federal courts and about a fifth of these new complaints was for web content accessibility. ADA compliance can be as simple as making sure that your business’ web page is adhering to standards of accessibility. Today it is almost free to search for information on the web and the numbers for accessibility violations can only be expected to rise as more people switch to online services to keep safe from the pandemic.
The first priority for ADA compliance involves the removal of “barriers” which may be anything that makes old or new businesses less available to people because of a disability. Some of these barriers are structural and will require replacements, such as doorknobs that are difficult to operate, or doors that are too narrow. For a website, ADA compliant standards mean making content accessible to a user who might have vision or hearing impairments. Some ways in which these barriers can be avoided are by providing subtitles for dialogue in videos or by making screen readers available for information and other text at your site.
Barriers can also be standards of behavior that unintentionally discriminate, or make it impossible for someone to get the service they need. For example, if a driver’s license is required to pay with a personal check this could be seen by courts as discriminatory against someone with a vision impairment. You should also include options for people with vision or hearing impairments that would allow them to better communicate with your staff.
For the most part, ADA compliance means every part of your business must be accessible for someone in a wheelchair. Examples of this include making ways for wheelchairs to move between floors like installing ramps and elevators. Doorways and pathways need also to be of proper width to accommodate the standard size of a wheelchair. An adequate number of accessible parking spaces should be allotted depending on the total available at your site.
Generally, every parking lot should have accessible spaces. For Title III compliance, there should be one allotted for persons with disabilities if there are 25 or fewer spaces in total. Two, if the total of parking spaces is between 25 and 50. These spaces should be close to the entrance and be larger to accommodate an access aisle. There must also be a sign marked with the international symbol for disability. Whenever possible, all doors should be 36 inches wide to allow a wheelchair easy access through it.
If you choose to exclude pets from your business, you must make an exception for service animals and this information must be properly communicated to both staff and customers. In general, a lot of accessibility lawsuits can be avoided by making sure that information about ADA standards are included in basic employee training. This is a must especially if your site deals in services that employees are able to provide.
For the most part, any business that serves the public is expected to do whatever it can to make sure all people, including those with disabilities, can have access to its services. The ADA does not mean to place an impossible burden on businesses and strives to enforce those goals which are “readily achievable,” or can be done without too much difficulty or expense. A decade ago, the DOJ even published the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to make it easier for many businesses to meet accessibility compliance requirements. This means that a large business is more expected to be compliant than a small one, and that old and new buildings meet the same level of accessibility.
Compliance can be an ongoing process. The federal government has provided leeway so you can create a plan to become more acceptable as more resources become available. You are expected to work towards removing barriers and increasing accessibility over time, but consideration will be made of what resources are available.
ADA lawsuits are not only inconvenient. They can also get quite expensive. In the State of California, you may be fined a minimum of $4,000 for each violation, on top of legal services that you need to pay for. But ADA lawsuits will only be just your worst-case scenario if you are able to follow ADA standards and strive for preventive measures.
A report by ADA Compliance Professionals can help you navigate these guidelines and work out a way to make your facility or your website more accessible. They can help point out potential problem areas with your current facilities, and walk you through the steps needed to fix these problems. ADA compliance is first and foremost for the benefit of people with disabilities but it can work to your advantage if you let it. By making your facilities, websites, and services free to access to more people, more growth can be expected of your business in the years to come.