As business owners face a wave of letters from lawyers threatening lawsuits — and a bill works its way through Congress intended to address “drive by” lawsuits for failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act — it’s a good time to check your own property to make sure it corresponds with the law.
Most businesses understand that it’s better business to make their sites accessible to everyone, though they also may dread the high cost of improvements. Any businesses that provide goods or services to the public are considered “public accommodations,” including stores. That includes convenience stores.
The ADA requires businesses to remove architectural barriers to people with disabilities when “readily achievable.” Such changes may include widening a doorway, installing an entrance ramp or installing accessible door hardware. You also need to provide access to your public restrooms.
You should allow the use of – and make the space for – mobility devices such as power wheelchairs. An “accessible route” – such as a store aisle – must be at least three feet wide. At least one retail counter should be accessible to customers in a wheelchair. Only legitimate safety concerns might prevent the implementation of changes to accommodate such devices.
According to ADA.gov: “If your business facility was built or altered in the past 20 years in compliance with the 1991 Standards, or you removed barriers to specific elements in compliance with those Standards, you do not have to make further modifications to those elements – even if the new standards have different requirements for them – to comply with the 2010 Standards.”
The latest standards require one van accessible space for every six accessible spaces.
Blocking of accessible features like parking spaces must be only for temporary purposes, such as construction.
The law also requires “reasonable modifications” to serve people with disabilities. These can come in the form of personal assistance. For instance, if you have a customer who uses a wheelchair, you should help them get items from the top shelf.
You might also post a clear policy allowing service animals, even if pets are otherwise forbidden. “Comfort” animals for emotional support would not be included; rather, permitted would be animals used to help guide the blind, assist with retrieving items, sense imminent epileptic seizures and other tasks. The animals should be tethered unless a leash interferes with their work.