The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights act that officially became law in 1992. The aim of the legislation was to remove any physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from everyday activities like watching a movie, eating in a restaurant or shopping at a grocery store. In decades past, access to public places for those with physical challenges had been somewhat haphazard.
Changes required to bring businesses into compliance with the ADA are not intended to be onerous, and there is some leeway given to existing buildings that cannot be easily modified without great expense to the owner. In such cases, the ADA will work with a business owner to find ways to make it as accessible as possible, even if it does not follow the letter of the law. The basic task of a business owner is to remove physical barriers that may prevent a disabled person from patronizing the establishment. Specifically, this refers to wheelchairs, electric scooters and walkers. Adaptive devices like these require more room to operate, wider doorways, wider aisles and ramps instead of steps. The ADA uses the term “readily achievable,” which means a business should do what it can to increase accessibility. The larger the business and accompanying resources, the more the ADA expects of it.
An architectural barrier is something that limits disabled people from obtaining goods or services. The ADA encourages businesses to provide adequate, well-located parking with plenty of room for vans equipped with wheelchair lifts. Other variables to consider are ramp options in addition to steps, door hardware that is easily grasped and turned by those with hand or strength limitations and restaurant chairs that can be removed to allow for a person in a wheelchair to dine.
The ADA puts an emphasis on properly marked and located handicapped parking. Businesses should set aside one disabled spot for every 25 parking spaces in the lot. The disabled spots should be located on flat ground as near to the building entrance as possible. Designated disabled spots should be at least eight feet wide with an adjacent access aisle of similar size. At least one disabled parking space should be set aside for vans, and the parking lot should be a smooth, slip-resistant surface.
To stay in compliance with the ADA and avoid lawsuits, business owners should make a good faith effort to bring their facilities in line with regulations. Communication is the key. If a particular requirement is going to put an undue economic burden on your solvency, talk to the ADA and see if it has any alternate suggestions. Solicit input from disabled members of your community. You can expect far more leniency when it comes to ADA compliance if you try to be a good neighbor and do the right thing from the beginning.
- man in wheelchair image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com