Signed into law today, 25 years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act is the most comprehensive civil rights law designed to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities.
Each year since its passage, more people with disabilities are entering the workforce, earning income, and spending and consuming goods. Good access makes good business sense. By reaching customers with disabilities, businesses obtain more customers and improve their image.
In the spirit of anniversary of this legislation, here are 25 easy ways to make your business more accessible to customers with disabilities:
- If the main entrance of your business is not wheelchair accessible but there is an alternate accessible entrance, post clear signage by the main entrance giving directions. Also add the International Symbol of Accessibility at the accessible entrance and include key accessibility information about access, parking, or other services on your website (g., the rooftop bar is only accessible via stairs).
- Keep your lowered accessible counter clear at all times. Do not store or display items on this counter.
- Where there are corners, steps, and edges, mark these with high visibility contrasting colored material so that they can be easily seen.
- If your business provides table or bar seating, make sure you have accessible seating for wheelchair users. A table that provides space underneath the top that is 30” wide, 17” deep, and 27” high, with a top that is between 28” and 34” from the ground is accessible.
- Keep walkways and accessible parking access aisles clear and free from clutter or snow, and make sure your premises are well lit. Keep any bushes, trees, or flower arrangements near your business clipped so there are no low hanging hazards for persons who are blind or have low vision, or overgrown bushes obstructing the path of travel for those using wheelchairs or other mobility aides.
- Signage for permanent rooms, such as restrooms, must have braille and raised lettering. The background and foreground must contrast.
- Doors that are heavy and hard to open can be very difficult to use for the elderly or people who use wheelchairs or mobility aids. Adjust closers so that the doors require less force to open.
- In bathrooms, make sure wastebaskets or other moveable objects do not obstruct clear spaces next to the doors. Similarly, in accessible wheelchair stalls, keep the area around the toilet and under the sink clear. Doing so ensures that persons using wheelchairs can safely operate the door and navigate.
- If your place of business is not accessible for wheelchair users because there are steps at the entrance, consider how you can provide the goods and services to such customers in an alternative fashion (g., personal shopper, home delivery, or home visit service).
- Welcome service animals into your establishment. If you don’t know if it’s a service animal, you can ask two questions: (1) Do you need this animal because of a disability? (2) What work or tasks has this animal been trained to perform?
- When choosing signage, language matters. Instead of signs that use the word “handicapped” –which is considered offensive by many people with disabilities – opt for signs that use the word “accessible.”
- Consider how persons with disabilities will be evacuated from your facility in an emergency, and include that procedure in your emergency evacuation plan. Make sure your employees know the procedure.
- Use people first language when referring to someone with a disability. Refer to a person as an individual with a disability rather than a “disabled person,” or a “handicapped person.” In that vein, refer to a person as one who uses a wheelchair (rather than one “confined” to one) or one who is blind (rather than one who “suffers” from blindness).
- When speaking with a person with a disability who has a companion, direct your comments to the person with a disability to that person, not the companion – unless specifically instructed otherwise by the person with a disability.
- With all written information, structure content in a logical order using plain English and avoiding long sentences.
- People who are deaf make phone calls using a telecommunications relay service (TRS). Accept calls made through such services and treat them the same as other calls.
- Be prepared to read menus to customers who are blind or have low vision. Posting menus online provides such customers another way of reviewing the menu (using assistive technology such as screen readers) before they visit the restaurant.
- Make sure your employees are prepared to interact with customers who are blind or deaf. They should be ready to read written documents to customers who are blind or have low vision and to exchange notes with customers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have difficulty speaking. Have a pad of paper handy for this purpose.
- People with hearing, speech, or sight disabilities may require extra time or a quiet area to talk with staff. Be patient with the extra attention that might be necessary to understand what is being said and how to assist.
- Make sure that your accessible register or checkout lane is always open when the store is open.
- Always ask first if a person with a disability needs assistance, never assume.
- If a customer who is blind needs to be led to a location in your business, offer the person your arm. Wait for them to accept the assistance.
- If a person with a disability requests that you modify a policy or provide additional assistance, consider the request meaningfully. There may be a legal requirement to do it. For example, if your business requires a driver’s license to rent an item, consider accepting another form of state-issued identification for an individual who is blind or physically unable to drive a vehicle.
- If you have a pool lift, make sure it is out and ready to be used (e., battery charged and lift uncovered) at all times when the pool is open.
- Customer feedback is a great opportunity to learn about your customers and their thoughts on how accessible your business actually is. Be open to receiving feedback and act on it. You may be preventing a lawsuit in the process.
Businesses can make it easier for people with disabilities – as well as other customers – to access and purchase the services or products they have to offer. In short, accessibility pays dividends and makes good business sense.
Kevin Fritz is an associate in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP where he focuses his practice on complex discrimination litigation, workplace counseling and solutions, and access defense.