Is Your Business ADA-Compliant?
By Diane TaitA happy customer is like money in the bank. That’s why when it comes to doing business, it’s all about pleasing your customers. That’s what keeps them coming back for more. It’s also what compels them to refer their friends and family to you. While most business owners go out of their way to cater to their customers, there’s one group that requires a little extra TLC: the disabled. Ever since 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, business owners have had to take extra steps to make sure that everyone has equal access to their premises. In many cases this has meant adding wheelchair ramps, widening doors and expanding restroom facilities to make them ADA-friendly. However, there are other adjustments that some business owners may not be aware. To help keep businesses current, I have come up with a top-10 list to help keep businesses ADA compliant.
1. The road to compliance is paved with good intentions. – Even if your office or store is ADA-friendly, is your parking lot? A quick survey of your parking lot should let you know whether you have handicap only spots near the door that are clearly marked and wider than standard parking spots for the disabled to use. There also has to be a way for a wheelchair to roll freely from the lot to your entrance. This may mean making some adjustments to your building. Even if your business already sports a wheelchair ramp, would a person in a wheelchair find it difficult to open the door to gain access to your establishment? If so, you need to address the problem before you wind up in court.
3. Signs of the times. – Signage is another area that can help the disabled. Are all the hazard areas in your establishment prominently labeled? Does your elevator come equipped with braille numbers that help the blind find the floor they seek? Do your restrooms include braille characters on the Men’s and Women’s rooms? Both tactile and graphic warning signs can be a great help to the disabled. Are signs in your business placed at a height that is convenient for everyone who enters your business?
4. What if the shoe were on the other foot? – Sometimes the best way to get a bead on ADA compliance is to put yourself in their shoes. Take your desk chair out for a spin around your establishment to gain perspective on how a person in a wheelchair sees your business. Then take your chair out to the parking lot to see if the slope of your ramp or the weight of your front door impedes access for a disabled person.
5. Got foot traffic? – Whether your business generates tons of foot traffic or little to none doesn’t matter to the courts. You’re still required to meet current ADA standards. Running afoul of the law can land you in court to defend yourself against a lawsuit.
6. How familiar are you with the latest regulations? – Just as with any law, ADA practices and standards change with time. That means keeping current with the regulations.
7. Is your website ADA-compliant? – Where in the past, all a business owner had to do was make sure their premises were up to ADA standards, recent legislation has added a new wrinkle to compliance. Now not only does your place of business need to be ADA-friendly, so too does your website. Everything from the contrast of your website to animated graphics need to be chosen carefully. So too do things like Alt tags that describe images on your site and font size that doesn’t make readers squint to read your text. You should also consider simplifying your site to avoid a lot of drop-down menus that are difficult for sight-impaired people to access, and adding a widget that allows the blind to have your website read aloud with one mouse click.8. How serious are ADA-infractions taken by the court? – Unless you want to wind up defending your businesses ADA-practices in court, you need to take compliance seriously. Where in the past a business that wasn’t 100% compliant could expect to get a complaint, nowadays the first sign of noncompliance usually comes via a summons requiring the business owner to come to court to address the situation.
9. Is hiring a consultant a good idea? - Since the cost to defend your business in court is prohibitively high, it might be a good idea to hire an ADA compliance consultant to assess your business’ compliance with current regulations. The cost to pay a consultant is far less than the cost of hiring an attorney to defend you in court. Aside from an initial consultation, many compliance consultants offer ongoing services to make sure that you keep up to date with ever changing ADA regulations.
10. What penalties may apply? – If you fail to comply with the law, the penalties can be severe. Not only can the court force an owner to pay to correct any issue of noncompliance, they can also assess penalties totaling thousands of dollars every time a disabled person visited a property that wasn’t ADA-compliant. The government considers the matter so serious that they developed a website to help businesses stay current.
Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance. To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.