The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities against discrimination in three important settings:
- Employment (ADA Title I)
- Government Services and Public Transportation (ADA Title II)
- Commercial Facilities and Places of Public Accommodation (ADA Title III)
Since business owners typically act as both employers and facility managers, they must pay careful attention to Title I and Title III of the ADA. A business owner’s ADA compliance checklist should include the following:
- ADA Compliance Audit for Structural Accessibility. The ADA and its accompanying regulations set forth detailed legal standards and requirements for accessible design, which specify, for example, the minimum width of doors to conference rooms, the maximum height of public drinking fountains, and the maximum thickness of hallway carpeting. Many older buildings were built without features that accommodate people with disabilities, such that the ADA may require improvements to be made to existing facilities.
- ADA Compliance Audit for Communication. The ADA requires commercial entities to facilitate effective communication with disabled individuals. For example, if important information is announced through a P.A. system, this information generally must be made available to hearing-impaired or deaf individuals through alternate means.
- ADA Compliance Audit for Hiring and Employment. The ADA provides that unlawful discrimination against disabled people generally includes (1) failure to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified employee, or (2) denial of employment opportunities to such a person because of the need to provide such reasonable accommodations. A “reasonable accommodation” may include provision of a part-time or modified work schedule, acquisition of special equipment or devices, or modification of existing facilities to make them readily usable by individuals with disabilities.
- Development and Implementation of an ADA Compliance Plan. A business’ ADA compliance plan should address any issues identified in the above audits and anticipate future contingencies. For example, a business owner may wish to prepare contract language requiring ADA compliance by contractors and subcontractors.
- Personnel Training. Personnel at all levels should be trained in ADA compliance. For example, supervisory personnel must be trained to avoid job interview questions about an applicant’s potential disability, and restaurant staff must be trained to avoid rearranging tables and chairs in a manner that might obstruct accessibility.
Failure to comply with the ADA can result in serious fines or monetary damages. Yet, the ADA is complex and business owners must take care to avoid its various pitfalls. For example, although the term “accessibility” is typically associated with physical spaces, the ADA was recently interpreted to extend to online materials and mobile apps. At Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, our qualified attorneys are prepared to help business owners achieve their goals within the ADA’s legal framework.