How to Ensure Equal Access for Your Business

Equal Accessibility
Equal Accessibility Photo credit Bill_Vorasate/Getty Images
By , Small Business Pulse

Prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, people with disabilities frequently could not access some businesses either for employment or to be served as a customer, although many offices were otherwise open to the rest of the public. The ADA requires businesses to accommodate those physically challenged. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) similarly has requirements that must be met to establish an ADA-compliant workplace. The United States Access Board offers easy-to-read detailed information on ADA standards, as well as the official ADA website.

Here are just some of the basics employers and business owners need to do to ensure equal access to their places of business.

OSHA, ADA and wheelchairs
OSHA and ADA regulations mandates that all hallways in a place of business be at least 44 inches wide, which is the minimum space necessary for those in wheelchairs to properly navigate. Although this is mandatory for any new construction, facilities built before the ADA went into effect in 1990 are exempt, unless someone with a disability is hired. Workplace stations and workplace access requirements similarly apply and evacuation routes that can accommodate wheelchairs must be available. Lunchrooms, break rooms and conference rooms must also be able to accommodate the wheelchair-bound. In addition, desks, office machinery, such as copiers and fax machines and filing systems must be usable by people in wheelchairs.

Theaters, hotels, restaurants, and most other places of business that serve the public are required to have at least one restroom that can accommodate patrons in wheelchairs. Additional guidelines describe what needs to be done to make sinks, counters and urinals accessible to those with disabilities.

Handicapped parking availability
Buildings that serve or employ the public must be accessible to those in wheelchairs. This includes, but is not limited to having a ramp or ground-level entrance with an elevator or lift. Handicapped parking must also be available and close to the entrance.

Not all vehicles of a taxi, limousine, bus or other transportation service need to be fitted for the physically challenged. Most of the vehicles in the fleets of public transportation companies, for example, are not equipped with wheelchair lifts. Any transportation service, however, must have at least some wheelchair-accessible vehicles to serve people in the areas in which they operate.

Having vehicles that can accommodate folding wheelchairs, however, is not necessarily enough anymore. The rideshare service Lyft, for example, was sued for discrimination by Disability Rights Advocates in San Francisco because it did not offer vehicles with wheelchair ramps or lifts. Uber also faced similar suits in California and New York. None of these suits asked for damages, only that these rideshare services make available adequate accessible transportation for those with disabilities.

Rules for signs
Signs that designate exits and handicapped-accessible areas are required to be readable to those with disabilities. That includes having raised lettering or braille signs, which must be posted at a low enough height so that those in wheelchairs can read them.