Places where the public gathers to eat, drink, shop, be entertained or sleep — that is, most businesses in the hospitality industry — need to ensure they’re in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits all businesses from discriminating against these individuals. One way the act does so is by ensuring that people with disabilities can physically access restaurants, hotels, resorts and the like.
ADA regulations were first enacted in 1992, however efforts to comply should be reevaluated in light of changes to these regulations over the past few years.
You’ll want to make sure that your property is in compliance with the act, or you could face lawsuits from private citizens denied access to your business or some part of it — such as restrooms. These types of lawsuits are on the rise, according to Forbes. One reason for the upswing is a recent court ruling that allows “testers” to sue a noncompliant business even if these individuals live far from the business and haven’t used it.
The best way to know if your business meets the requirements of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act is by evaluating your own property. The good news is, the self-assessment needn’t be onerous.
Although each business usually has its own approach when conducting an ADA assessment — depending on its nature — for the most thorough assessment, follow these guidelines:
Create a List
The first thing you’ll need is a formal list to check against. Lists follow the four priorities outlined by the Department of Justice in the ADA regulations:
- Accessible approach and entrance
- Access to goods and services
- Access to a public restroom
- Access to other public items such as water fountains
The federal government maintains an ADA compliance checklist for existing facilities.
The Institute for Human Centered Design has an updated ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities that incorporates the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. It can be filled out by hand or by using a computer program such as Word. It’s also customizable to the business. The assessor can delete items that don’t apply to the business — for example, changing wording to make it more understandable, and adding state requirements.
The U.S. Department of Justice also has an ADA checklist for new lodging facilities. If the hotel or resort has a swimming pool, owners will want to pay special attention to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which say that newly constructed or altered swimming pools, wading pools and spas need to be accessible to disabled people. That standard does leave room for certain conditions, such as pool size or whether adding a pool lift is feasible at the location.
The revised regulations also add or expand upon requirements regarding program access, service animals, Segways and similar devices; and communication, ticket sales and hotel reservations.
Also, ADA compliance means accommodating individuals with all types of disabilities. For example, people with mobility impairments need ramps, handrails, disabled parking stalls with loading zones, lower drinking fountains, drop-down counters, extra turning space in restrooms and grab bars mounted on walls.
The 2010 ADA update requires hospitality locations with conference and meeting rooms to provide communication features and services for the hearing and sight impaired. Also, hotels must make accommodations for sight-impaired patrons.
If your business 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. This provision is applied on an element-by-element basis and is referred to as “safe harbor.”
Regardless of the list you’re checking against, you should be familiar with the ADA regulations, including the 2013 supplements that spell out the requirements to, for example, provide curb ramps when streets are altered by resurfacing.
Check It Off
Ideally, two people should be involved in the assessment: one to take measurements, and the other to check off the items as they meet code and also to take photos.
You’ll need the following tools:
- Clipboard to hold the checklist
- Tape measure
- A 24-inch electronic or carpenter’s level
- Door-pressure gauge or fish scale for measuring door-opening force
- Digital camera
- Bag to hold the items
Start your work outside, at the drop-off areas and public sidewalks, to determine if you have an accessible route to an accessible entrance. Do you have the correct number of accessible parking spaces at the proper width in your parking lot or garage? Is the route from the parking area to the entrance accessible?
As you proceed, create a list of questions on your checklist, and add possible solutions to noncompliant areas. You may want to do so both on the list itself and on a separate piece of paper, or on a separate area of the software program you’re using.
Next, survey the entrances. If there’s an accessible entrance, determine if there are signs at inaccessible entrances directing people to the accessible entrance. If there isn’t an accessible entrance, you’ll want to indicate how many steps there are and how much space is available to install a ramp or lift. This is a good time to take photographs.
Write down the location you’re assessing on the front of each checklist. You may, for example, have six separate bathroom checklists, so you’ll need to mark those lists clearly.
It may go without saying, but this point can't be overstated: Take good measurements. Even if something is in compliance, it’s helpful to write down exact measurements.
After the Survey
If you’ve found areas that need updating, create a plan to transition to full compliance.
- Consult with building contractors and equipment suppliers to estimate the costs for making modifications.
- Prioritize items, make a timeline and decide who’s responsible for carrying out the plan and developing a budget.
Businesses can take advantage of two federal tax incentives available to help cover the costs of making access improvements for customers with disabilities:
- A tax credit for small businesses who remove access barriers from their facilities, provide accessible services or take other steps to improve accessibility for customers with disabilities
- A tax deduction for businesses of all sizes that remove access barriers in their facilities or vehicles
A business that annually incurs eligible expenses to bring itself into compliance with the ADA may use these tax incentives every year. The incentives may be applied to a variety of expenditures, though they can’t be applied to the costs of new construction.
Small businesses with 30 or fewer employees or total revenues of $1 million or less can use the Disabled Access Credit. Eligible small businesses may take a credit of up to $5,000 to offset their costs for access. Applicable costs include:
- Removing barriers (widening a doorway or installing a ramp, for example)
- Purchasing accessibility services (such as sign-language interpreters)
- Printed material in alternate formats (such as large-print audio or Braille)
- Purchasing or modifying equipment.
Keep It Going
Review your implementation plan each year to evaluate whether more access improvements have become readily achievable.
To sum up, your basic requirements include a checklist, some tools and time spent assessing your property. While you may be facing costs to upgrade to meet ADA requirements, your disabled patrons will thank you. And the time spent upgrading your facilities will minimize the threat of lawsuits and protect your peace of mind.
Altogether, an ADA compliance assessment is a worthy investment.