Operations

As a business owner or operator, or someone thinking about opening a business, you may have wondered what you have to do to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This web site explains how the ADA applies to businesses in a variety of ways. When you make efforts to comply with the ADA, you can welcome a whole new group of customers to purchase your products and services. And you may find that making your business more accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities is not as difficult as you thought.

Did you know?

Hotel Arrival

This huge customer market can represent additional business and profit for your enterprise. This information will help you learn how to attract and successfully provide your services to this market.

A key point to remember as you explore this site: everyone benefits when businesses give customers with disabilities an equal opportunity to obtain their goods and services. By positively addressing access issues, businesses can make things easier not only for people with disabilities, but for other customers as well. Accessibility pays dividends and makes good business sense.

The goal of the ADA is to make it possible for people with disabilities to participate in the everyday commercial, economic, and social activities of American life. 

The law covers employment; state and local government programs, services, activities, and facilities; and businesses and nonprofit service providers. This site focuses on the requirements that apply to hotels and other places of lodging operated by private businesses. 

The ADA divides businesses into two categories:

1.  Businesses and non-profit organizations that provide goods and services to the public are called "public accommodations."  This includes hotels, motels, inns, and other places of lodging, as well as restaurants, pharmacies, grocers, banks, doctor’s offices, dry cleaners, night clubs, movie theaters, art galleries, health spas, amusement parks, child care centers, and a host of other businesses. 

There are seven million businesses in the United States that fall in this category, ranging from major chains to small mom-and-pop establishments.  The provisions of the ADA apply to all the businesses in this category.

2.  Businesses such as manufacturers or wholesalers are called "commercial facilities."  Because they do not serve the public directly, they are not public accommodations and they do not have to follow all the rules that apply to public accommodations. Commercial facilities are subject to requirements related to new construction and alteration of their facilities.

In a casual restaurant, an employee assists a man using crutches, by carrying his tray to a tablePublic Accommodations

The ADA says people with disabilities are entitled to “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” that a public accommodation provides to its customers. In other words, every type of good or service a business provides to customers is covered by the ADA. All businesses that serve the public must provide equal opportunity for customers with disabilities.

The ADA asks public accommodations to take steps that are “readily achievable” or are “reasonable” or that do not constitute an “undue burden” to enable people with disabilities to be their customers. These terms are explained in more detail later.  Businesses that are willing to do simple, easy, and reasonable things to accommodate customers with disabilities will likely find it easy to comply with the ADA.

Learn more about how you can address issues related to Policies and Procedures, Customer Communications, Facility Access, Transporting Customers, Cost Issues, and ADA Enforcement below.

Additionally, your business may be covered by separate ADA requirements related to your employment practices. You can learn more about how to recruit, hire, and reasonably accommodate workers with disabilities in the Employers’ Guide.

ADA Enforcement

ADA compliance

People with disabilities expect you to take positive steps to comply with the ADA. If you do not, your business may face legal consequences.

Several ways to obtain ADA compliance

The ADA gives people with disabilities the right to file lawsuits in federal court and obtain federal court orders to stop ADA violations. If you are sued by an individual and you lose the case, you may have to pay the winning party’s attorney’s fees. The ADA does not permit monetary damages to be assessed against you in lawsuits brought by individuals. (Some state and local antidiscrimination laws allow compensatory damages to be assessed against you, but not the ADA.)

People with disabilities can also file complaints with the Justice Department, which can investigate and attempt to resolve the complaint.

The Justice Department is also authorized to file lawsuits in federal court in cases of “general public importance” or where a “pattern or practice” of discrimination is alleged. If you are sued by the Justice Department and you lose the case, you will not have to pay the Department’s attorneys’ fees, but you may have to pay monetary damages for compensatory relief (but not punitive relief) and civil penalties. Civil penalties may run as high as $55,000 for a first violation or $110,000 for a subsequent violation.

State laws

Some states have laws similar to the ADA, but they are enforced in the state’s court system or by local civil rights commissions. For information about antidiscrimination laws in your state, contact your State Attorney General’s office.

What to do if you are sued

Some business and trade associations give advice on where to find legal assistance or practical help in solving the access problems that led to the lawsuit.

But, by far, the best way to prevent an ADA lawsuit is to learn about the ADA, continually educate your staff about their responsibilities, and take ongoing actions to comply.

Summary

  • People with disabilities can bring lawsuits in federal court and obtain court orders to stop ADA violations.
  • People with disabilities can also file complaints with the Department of Justice, which can investigate and attempt to resolve the complaint.
  • The Department of Justice is also authorized to bring ADA lawsuits in federal court.
  • Some states have laws similar to the ADA, but they are enforced in the state’s court system or by local civil rights commissions.
  • Some business and trade associations give advice on where to find legal assistance or practical help in solving ADA problems.
  • The best way to prevent an ADA lawsuit is to learn about the law, continually educate your staff about their responsibilities, and take ongoing actions to comply.

Cost Issues

ADA compliance costs

You may not charge customers with disabilities extra to recover the costs of complying with the ADA. These costs should be viewed as a business expense, like other expenses that make up your overall cost of doing business. However, there is another way to offset some of these costs.

ADA tax incentives

Congress has made two kinds of tax incentives available to help you offset the costs of complying with the ADA. Your business is allowed to take advantage of these incentives year after year to make your facilities, goods, and services more accessible.

  • The Disabled Access Credit is available to small businesses that have 30 or fewer employees or total revenues of $1,000,000 or less. If yours is a small business, a credit of up to $5000 a year is available to offset costs for removing barriers, hiring interpreters or readers needed for effective communication, producing documents in alternate formats such as large print or audiotape, or taking other steps to improve accessibility for customers or employees with disabilities. This provision is found in section 44 of the IRS tax code.
  • Under section 190 of the IRS tax code, businesses of any size can take a deduction of up to $15,000 each year for the cost of removing barriers in facilities or vehicles.

Both incentives, the credit and the deduction, are available for removing barriers in existing facilities. The credit is also available for providing effective communication or taking other steps to improve accessibility. Neither of the incentives applies to the costs of building a new facility.

Contact your accountant or the IRS for more information about these ADA tax incentives.

Summary

  • You may not charge people with disabilities extra to recover the costs of complying with the ADA. These costs are part of your overall cost of doing business.
  • The costs of complying with the ADA may be offset through special IRS tax credits or deductions.

Customer Communications

Communication is key

“Do you have a vacant room with two beds?” “What are your lunch specials today?” “Where is the nearest drug store?”

Communicating successfully with customers is an essential part of doing business, and you probably work hard to have good communication with your customers. But, when dealing with customers who are blind or have low vision, customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, or customers who have disabilities that impair speech, you may be uncomfortable or are not sure what to do. We’ll try to provide some answers.

Communicating effectively

Under the ADA, you are expected to communicate effectively with customers who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities, and you are responsible for taking the steps that are needed for effective communication. As a business owner or manager, you must decide what assistance is appropriate, depending on the nature of the communication and the customer’s normal method of communication.

The rules are intentionally flexible. Different types of businesses may need different solutions, because the nature of their communications are different. Also, different customers need different solutions, because the nature of their disabilities are different.

Practical solutions

The aim is to figure out practical solutions that allow you to communicate with customers who have disabilities, fit with your type of business, and comply with the ADA. Some easy solutions work in relatively simple and straightforward situations. Other, more extensive solutions are needed where the information being communicated is more extensive or complex.

For relatively simple and straightforward transactions

  • You can speak or read information to a customer who is blind or has low vision.
  • You can use facial or body gestures that express information, point to information, or write notes to communicate with a customer who is deaf or hard of hearing.
  • You can read notes written by a customer who has a speech disability, or read or listen to the words communicated by the customer’s “communication board.”
  • Customers who are blind may also need assistance in finding an item or in maneuvering through your business’s space.

For more extensive or complex communications

  • For people who are blind or have low vision, printed information can be provided in large print, in Braille, on a computer disk, or in an audio format (such as an audio CD, cassette, or MP3 player), depending on what is usable for the particular customer. A magnifying glass can also help a person with low vision to read printed materials.
  • For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, spoken information can be provided using a sign language interpreter, an oral interpreter, a printed transcript of the words that are usually spoken, or a service called “real-time captioning” which is explained later.

Usually the customer will tell you what technique he or she needs or will ask which ones you provide. Or, you can ask what technique he or she normally uses to understand printed information (if he or she has a vision disability) or spoken information (if he or she has a hearing disability). This information is helpful in deciding how to provide effective communication.

At a casual restaurant where the menu is posted on the wall, a cashier is reading the menu to a man who is blind.

What visual information does your business provide?

If your business displays merchandise, labels, or signs, but you do not typically hand out printed materials (for example, you operate a hotel gift shop),you can usually conduct business successfully by speaking or reading information to a customer who is blind or has low vision. You can also assist a customer who is blind by describing the layout of an area, or helping the customer locate where to sign the credit card slip.

If your business hands out simple printed materials, you have several options. If you operate a restaurant, for example, you can have your waiters read the menu to a diner who is blind or can provide an audio recording of the menu. For customers who have low vision, you can have some menus printed in larger print or can keep a magnifying glass available for customer use (and a flashlight in low light situations). These techniques also work for small brochures, flyers, and other simple printed materials that are provided to customers. When these techniques are offered, it is not necessary to provide the materials in Braille.

If your business relies on printed materials to communicate extensive or specialized information, you must be prepared to deal with customers who use different techniques for absorbing printed information. Materials such as sales contracts should be made available in alternative ways, such as on a computer disk, in an audio format, in Braille, or in large print, so the customer can adequately study the information.

The important thing is to find out what technique(s) a particular customer can use. Some people who are blind have computer programs that convert written words into spoken words.Others use audio recordings in various formats. Some, but not all, people who are blind read Braille. Large print may be useful for people who have some vision.

In a restaurant, a man who is deaf is writing a note to ask the waiter how a certain dish is preparedWhat oral information does your business provide?

For short, simple conversations, you may be able to successfully communicate with a customer who is deaf or hard of hearing by using gestures and notes.

For more lengthy and in-depth communications, such as a sales meeting with an individual planning a major conference at a hotel, you must be prepared to deal with customers who use different techniques for absorbing oral information.

Generally, a sign language interpreter is required for complex communications when the customer’s primary method of communication is sign language. There are several sign languages used in the United States. American Sign Language (ASL, or Ameslan), Signed English, and Pidgin Signed English are the three most prevalent ones.

An oral interpreter may be required to communicate with a customer who has been trained to speechread (read lips). Normally, only about a quarter of English words can be seen on the mouth. An oral interpreter uses specialized mouth and hand gestures to reinforce what the speaker is saying to the customer.

“Real-time captioning,” also called “computer-assisted real-time translation” (CART), is a service for communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The transcriber takes down the speaker's words using either a stenography machine or a computer. Almost immediately, the words appear in text on a screen so the deaf person can “read” what the speaker is saying. This service is useful for people who can read and understand English.

Many people who lose their hearing later in life never learn sign language or speechreading. When it is necessary to communicate orally with a customer, face the customer, speak clearly, do not cover your mouth or chew gum, do not turn away while speaking, be sure your face is well-lighted, minimize background noise and distractions if possible, use gestures or point to printed information to reinforce what you are saying, and rephrase any statements the person does not seem to understand.

Video conferencing and other new technologies that provide immediate remote access to sign language interpreters, oral interpreters, and CART operators may also provide easy and inexpensive ways to obtain interpreters and transcribers when needed.

Obtaining visual and oral communication services

You can ask customers to notify you in advance if they need any of these services. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with agencies that provide these services in your area, so that you will be prepared when the need arises. Local disability organizations or ADA Information Line staff can help you identify local service providers.

Some services, such as an audio recording of a menu or a large print version of a flyer, can be prepared in-house with your own equipment.

You may not charge the customer extra to cover the cost of any services needed to communicate effectively. You should consider them as part of your overall cost of doing business. (See the discussion of “undue burden,” below.) If yours is a small business, there is a tax credit that you may be able to use to help offset these costs.

You cannot require customers to bring their own interpreters. However, if a customer prefers to bring his or her own interpreter, the ADA permits you to accept this arrangement, if agreed upon in advance. In a case like this, you are responsible for paying the interpreter’s fees. If a customer shows up with an interpreter unarranged, you are not obliged to use or pay for the interpreter’s services, unless you agree to do so.

A person with a TTY is using the relay service to order a pizza.

Telephone communications using the relay service

You answer the telephone and the caller says, “This is relay CA #___. Have you received a relay call before?” What do you do? [The relay operator is called a "CA" for "communication assistant." The operator will provide his or her state identification number.]

Don’t hang up! The telecommunications relay service (TRS) is a free nationwide service that enables people who have hearing or speech disabilities who use TTYs (teletypewriters, also known as text telephones or TDDs) to communicate with people who use telephones and vice versa.

How it works: When a TTY-user types his or her words on a TTY, the words appear on a display in front of the relay operator, and the operator reads those words to the telephone-user. The telephone-user speaks his or her words to the operator, and the operator types those words to send them to the TTY-user.

The relay service is also used to communicate with people who can speak to the telephone-user but cannot hear the response, and by people who can hear the telephone-user but cannot speak clearly enough to respond.

If your business accepts calls from the public, you must accept relay calls. To place a call to a customer who uses a TTY, dial 7-1-1 to access the relay service.

Limits

The ADA has limits on how far you must go in providing effective communication. You are not expected to provide any services that would “fundamentally alter” your goods and services or that would cause an “undue burden.” What does this mean?

“Fundamental alteration”

A fundamental alteration is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that you offer.

“Undue burden”

The ADA does not require you to furnish any communication aids or services that place an undue burden on your business. An undue burden is defined as "significant difficulty or expense." It is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, relative to your overall business resources.

When a particular communication aid or service would cause an undue burden, you must provide another communication aid or service that still is effective but is less difficult or costly, if one is available.

Summary

  • The ADA expects you to communicate effectively with people who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities. When necessary, you must provide communication aids or services in order to communicate effectively.
  • As a business owner or manager, you must decide what technique is appropriate, depending on the nature of the communication and the customer’s normal method of communication.
  • You are not expected to provide any communication aid or service that would fundamentally alter the nature of your goods and services or that would cause an undue burden.
  • Methods for communicating with customers who are blind or have low vision include: having staff read printed information to the customer; providing the information in large print, in Braille, on a computer disk, or in an audio format so the customer can read or listen to it; or assisting the customer in finding an item or in maneuvering through your business’s space.
  • Methods for communicating with customers who are deaf or hard of hearing include: using gestures, writing notes, providing printed information, using a sign language interpreter, using an oral interpreter, or using a real-time captioning service.
  • Methods for communicating with customers who have speech disabilities include: reading notes written by the customer, or reading or listening to words communicated by the customer’s communication board.
  • Generally, a sign language interpreter is required when a customer’s primary method of communication is sign language and the information is so complex or lengthy that sign language is required to communicate effectively.
  • The telecommunications relay service (TRS) is a free nationwide service that enables people who use telephones to communicate with people who use TTYs.

Building / Facility Access

The ADA establishes requirements related to structural accessibility. Construction Plans
 

New Construction & Alterations

New buildings

Building a new building is a perfect opportunity to include accessibility and avoid the architectural barriers that people with disabilities confront in many older buildings. This is why the ADA requires all new public accommodations and commercial facilities to comply with design standards called the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards). These Standards make buildings and facilities usable by people who are blind or deaf or have limited dexterity or grasping ability, as well as people who have mobility impairments.

The aim is to ensure that all commercial buildings and facilities built in the United States since 1992 are accessible to and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. The ADA sets accessibility standards for parking lots, sidewalks, entrances, corridors, hotel guest rooms, built-in seating in restaurants, service counters, handles and switches, public telephones, and many other features. Complying with the ADA Standards allows customers or employees who have disabilities to enter a building or site, move through the halls or circulation paths, access the areas where goods and services are provided or where they perform their work, and use the restrooms and other amenities that are provided.

When ADA requirements are met during construction, the additional cost of the accessible features is generally minimal. In contrast, retrofits done after construction can be very expensive and disruptive. That is why it is important for you as a business operator to remind your architects and contractors about the importance of complying with the ADA, especially at the early stages of planning a project.

The ADA and state or local building codes

Most new buildings and facilities have to comply with state or local building codes. Typically, building code officials review plans to approve construction and inspect the new facility several times before work is completed. In contrast, there is no inspector for the ADA. The building owner and those responsible for design and construction are responsible for complying with the ADA.

Many local codes contain accessibility provisions, but they are separate from the ADA Standards. To be sure that the construction complies with the ADA as well as the building code, both sets of requirements need to be followed. Fortunately, many of the accessibility requirements are similar. Where there are differences, it is best to follow the requirements that will result in greater accessibility.

To make things simpler, the ADA allows state and local governments to submit their accessibility provisions to the Department of Justice for a determination as to whether they are equivalent to the ADA requirements. When the provisions are certified as equivalent to the ADA, the building code inspection process ensures compliance with the building code and also serves as rebuttable evidence that the building complies with the ADA.

Requirements for new construction

All newly constructed buildings and facilities used by businesses and nonprofit agencies must comply with the ADA Standards. These Standards specify what elements and spaces must be accessible, how many of a particular element must be accessible, and how to make spaces and elements accessible.Construction workers build a new building.

Examples of new construction

The owner of a growing hotel business decides to build a new facility. The owner knows the facility needs to be accessible but does not know what to do. He goes to the ADA Website or calls the ADA Information Line to determine what must be done. He learns that the ADA has requirements for:

  • Accessible parking,
  • Accessible entrances and exits,
  • Accessible sales and service counters,
  • Accessible guest rooms with features for guests with mobility impairments and for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing,
  • Accessible recreational spaces such as swimming pools, and
  • An accessible route that connects all of these elements and spaces.

The owner asks the architect and contractor to study the requirements and to make sure the project complies with the ADA.

A restaurant owner decides to build a new restaurant, with indoor and outdoor seating areas. She figures the indoor seating area is surely covered by the ADA, but she is not sure about the outdoor seating area. She reviews the ADA Standards and the regulations for businesses on the ADA Website or calls the ADA Information Line, and learns that both indoor and outdoor seating areas must be accessible.

A new addition is being built on the side of a hotel.

When a building is expanded, the completely new spaces or elements that are constructed as part of the addition must meet the ADA Standards for new construction. The term “addition” refers to any expansion, extension, or increase in the gross floor area of an existing building or facility. An accessible route from the existing space to the added space is usually required.

Renovating, remodeling, or altering an existing building

Businesses renovate, remodel, or alter their spaces all the time. The ADA uses the term “alteration” to mean any change to an existing building or facility that affects usability. This includes remodeling, renovation, rearrangements in structural parts, and changes or rearrangement of walls and full-height partitions. The ADA does not consider normal maintenance, reroofing, painting, wallpapering, asbestos removal, or changes to electrical and mechanical systems to be alterations unless they affect usability.A work crew is renovating a space to make it into a small restaurant.

When passed in 1990, the ADA did not require that all existing buildings be retrofitted for accessibility immediately. Instead, it relies on planned alterations and barrier removal to improve accessibility in older buildings over time. It says that when you alter an existing facility in a way that affects usability, the areas or elements being altered must comply with the ADA Standards.

The standards for alterations are not always as strict as the standards for new construction. The section of the ADA Standards that discusses alterations describes many situations where less stringent provisions are allowed. In addition, the ADA recognizes that sometimes existing structural conditions cannot be modified without removing or altering a load-bearing member that is an essential part of the structure, or sometimes an existing physical or site constraint prohibits modification or addition of accessible features that comply fully with the ADA Standards. In these cases, you must comply with the provisions of the ADA Standards to the “maximum extent feasible.”

Primary function area

Any area where people carry out one or more of the major activities for which a facility is used is considered to be a “primary function area” under the ADA. For example, offices and other areas where employees work are primary function areas. The dining area of a restaurant, the guest rooms in a hotel, the meeting rooms in a conference center, the customer service area of a gift shop, and other areas where the public is served are primary function areas.

Hallways and restrooms usually are not primary function areas. Neither are mechanical rooms, boiler rooms, janitorial closets, employee lounges, locker rooms, or supply storage rooms.

When a primary function area is altered, the areas and elements being altered must, of course, comply with the ADA Standards as discussed previously. In addition, because the area being altered is a primary function area, the following requirement also applies.

The route and amenities that serve a primary function area

A core concept in determining if a building is accessible or not is the path a person travels in getting from the parking area or sidewalk into the building, to the areas where he or she works or is served as a customer, and to the restrooms and other amenities that are provided in the facility.

When a primary function area is altered, the path of travel to the altered area and the amenities serving the altered area must be made accessible, unless the costs for these changes are disproportionate. The costs for the added alterations are considered disproportionate if they exceed 20 percent of the cost of the overall alteration. In this case, you should make as many of the changes as you can without going over the 20 percent limit. Use this order of priority: entrance; route to the primary function area; at least one unisex restroom or one restroom for each sex serving the area; public telephones serving the area; drinking fountains serving the area; other elements.

Exceptions: (1) When the only features being altered in a primary function area are the windows, hardware, controls, electrical outlets, or signage, there is no requirement to make the additional improvements discussed above. (2) When simply removing barriers, there is no requirement to make the additional improvements discussed above.

Examples of alterations

The lavatory in one of the restaurant’s toilet rooms needs to be replaced. Since only one fixture is provided, the new one must be selected and installed so it complies with the ADA Standards. The owner asks the plumber to check the ADA Standards before installing the lavatory. The new lavatory is mounted at the correct height, has an accessible faucet, has adequate knee space below, and the water lines, valves, and drain pipe are covered to prevent injury.

A restaurant owner leases space in an existing building. The owner plans to transform a large area into the dining room, meeting all ADA requirements. Because the dining room is a primary function area, he will also make accessibility improvements in the rest rooms for the dining area.

A café decides to renovate part of a dining area. The plans call for building a raised platform for the eating area. After checking the ADA Standards the business adds a ramp to the raised eating area. The width of the ramp, ramp slope, edge protection, and handrails are built to comply with the ADA Standards.

A hotel owner hires a company to restripe the lines in its parking lot. The contractor has a Department of Justice publication saying that the new lines need to meet ADA because restriping is considered an alteration that affects the usability of the parking lot. The hotel owner goes to the ADA Website to verify this and finds out that it is true. When the new lines are painted, the layout of the spaces is adjusted to include a van-accessible parking space and other accessible parking spaces that comply with the ADA Standards.

Summary

  • The ADA requires all commercial buildings and facilities built in the United States since 1992 to comply with design standards called the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards).
  • The ADA Standards cover parking lots, sidewalks, entrances, corridors, hotel guest rooms, service counters, toilet facilities, handles and switches, and many other features, elements, and spaces.
  • There is no inspection process for the ADA. The building owner, as well as those responsible for design and construction, is responsible for complying with the ADA.
  • When a state or local building code’s accessibility provisions are certified as equivalent to the ADA Standards, the building code inspection process ensures compliance with the building code and also serves as rebuttable evidence that the building complies with the ADA.
  • When a building is expanded, the completely new spaces or elements that are constructed as part of the addition must meet the ADA Standards.
  • When you alter an existing facility in any way that affects usability, the areas or elements being altered must comply with the ADA Standards. The standards for alterations are not always as strict as the standards for new construction.
  • A core concept is the path a person travels in getting from the parking area or sidewalk into the building, to the areas where he or she works or is served as a customer, and to the restrooms and other amenities that are provided in the facility.
  • When a primary function area is altered, the path of travel to the altered area as well as the amenities serving the altered area must be made accessible, unless the costs for these changes are disproportionate. The costs for the added alterations are considered disproportionate if they exceed 20 percent of the cost of the overall alteration.

Barrier Removal

Common barriers

Many older buildings have architectural features that are barriers for people who have disabilities.  Some are obvious impediments such as curbs, steps, narrow doors, or narrow pathways.  But there are many other, less obvious barriers. 

  • Doorknobs and operating mechanisms that require tight grasping or pinching can be barriers for people who have limited manual dexterity. 
  • Deep pile carpeting on floors or loose gravel on exterior walkways is a barrier for people who use wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers.
  • Many signs are useless for people who are blind.
  • Audible alarm systems are useless for people who are deaf.
  • Public telephones, drinking fountains, mirrors, and paper towel dispensers are often mounted too high, making them unreachable by people who use wheelchairs or scooters.
  • Wall-mounted light fixtures that are mounted at head height and extend more than four inches from the wall, or other objects that overhang or protrude into a walkway can be a hazard for people who are blind or have low visioninfo.png.
  • Within a building, movable elements such as furniture, equipment, or display racks can be barriers if their location blocks an aisle or hinders a person's ability to move around.

A common misconception about the ADA is that older buildings are not covered, they are "grandfathered." This is not true.  If your business serves the public, you must remove barriers in existing facilities based on the following considerations.Restaurant after a ramp is installed, making the entrance accessible.
Restaurant with step at entrance is not accessible to customers who use wheelchairs or scooters.

Removing barriers

Removing or correcting barriers can be simple and inexpensive in one facility, but difficult and costly in another. For this reason, the ADA sets out a flexible rule for removing barriers.  You must remove physical barriers in existing facilities to improve accessibility where it is "readily achievable" to do so.  Barrier removal is considered "readily achievable" when it can be easily accomplished, without much difficulty or expense.

"Readily achievable"

What is readily achievable is determined on a case-by-case basis, relative to a particular business's resources and existing barriers.  Something readily achievable for your business may not be readily achievable for the one next door, because of more limited resources or more difficult physical constraints.  And, what is readily achievable when your business is doing well may not be readily achievable in a down cycle when business is slow.  A barrier that cannot be removed when business is slow should be reevaluated when business improves.

If you have more barriers than you can afford to remove all at once, you can spread the work out over time.  Removing barriers is an ongoing responsibility, so you should reevaluate the barriers in your facility every year to determine which ones to remove.A woman using a scooter is selecting items from the condiment bar at a casual restaurant. Adequate maneuvering space and items placed within reach make it possible for her to serve herself.

Priorities

In evaluating what barriers need to be removed, you should give first priority to getting customers with disabilities in the door.  The second priority is providing access to the areas where you provide goods and services to the public.  The third priority is providing access to the restroom facilities that are provided for customers' use.  Lastly, you should eliminate any other physical barriers you have. 

Limits

The ADA does have limits for barrier removal.  While shops may need to rearrange racks and shelves, restaurants may need to rearrange tables, and hotels may need to rearrange furniture or potted plants in order to permit wheelchair access, businesses are not expected to reduce the amount of furniture or display racks to the extent that it results in a significant loss of selling or serving space.

In removing barriers, you never have to do more than is required under the standards for alterations.

The following list of 20 ways to remove barriers and improve accessibility comes from the Justice Department’s ADA regulations. It is provided for guidance, but the list is not exhaustive.

Solutions for removing barriers

1) Installing ramps;

2) Making curb cuts at sidewalks and entrances;

3) Repositioning shelves;

4) Rearranging tables, chairs, vending machines, display racks, or other furniture to create adequate maneuvering space;

5) Repositioning telephones;

6) Adding raised letter and Braille signage on elevator control buttons;

7) Installing flashing alarm lights;

8) Widening doors;

9) Installing offset hinges to widen doorways;

10) Eliminating a turnstile or providing an alternative accessible path;

11) Installing accessible door hardware;

12) Installing grab bars in toilet stalls;

13) Rearranging toilet partitions to increase maneuvering space;

14) Insulating lavatory pipes under sinks to prevent burns;

15) Installing a raised toilet seat;

16) Installing a full length bathroom mirror;

17) Repositioning the paper towel dispenser in a bathroom;

18) Restriping a parking lot to create accessible parking spaces;

19) Installing a paper cup holder beside an inaccessible drinking fountain;

20) Removing high pile, low density carpeting.

Architectural standards for removing barriers

In identifying and removing barriers, you should use the ADA Standards for Accessible Design as a guide.  If compliance with these standards is not readily achievable, you should take other readily achievable measures, as long as they are safe.  You are not expected to compromise legitimate safety requirements when determining how to remove or correct a particular barrier. 

Examples

The owner of a hotel decides to widen the door to the small gift shop off the lobby.  Because of space and cost constraints, she is unable to install a wider frame and door to achieve the full 32-inch clearance required under the ADA Standards. However, by switching to offset hinges with the existing frame and door, she can widen the clearance from 28 inches to 30 inches.  The 30 inch door clearance does not pose a significant risk to the health or safety of individuals with disabilities or others and is permitted when the normal 32-inch clearance is not readily achievable.

The owner of a small restaurant decides to use a portable ramp when people with disabilities want to enter or exit. In order to be safe, the ramp will have railings, edge protection, and a firm, stable, nonslip surface, and it will be properly secured. The owner also decides to install a bell so a customer can call for assistance when needed.  This kind of arrangement is permitted when the installation of a permanent ramp is not readily achievable, as long as the portable ramp is safe. 

Difference between "barrier removal" and "alterations"

Removing barriers is an ongoing obligation that is not tied to renovations, capital improvements, or alterations. From the ADA's perspective, if you have physical barriers that can easily be removed or corrected, you should go ahead and remove them.

The rules for alterations apply when you are making physical changes or improvements to your place of business.  From the ADA's perspective, when you decide to modify, alter, or change an element or space that affects the accessibility or usability of your facility, that activity creates an opportunity – and an obligation – to comply fully with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Learn more about tax incentives for businesses that improve facility access.

Summary

  • If your business serves the public, you must remove barriers to improve accessibility in existing facilities where it is "readily achievable" to do so. 
  • Barrier removal is an ongoing obligation.
  • You should give first priority to measures that enable people with disabilities to get in the door, followed by measures that enable them to get to the areas where you provide goods and services. The next priority is access to the rest room facilities that are provided for customers' use. Lastly, you should eliminate any other barriers you have. 
  • You are not expected to reduce the amount of furniture or display racks to the extent that it would result in a significant loss of selling or serving space. 
  • In identifying and removing barriers, you should use the ADA Standards for Accessible Design as a guide.
  • If compliance with these standards is not readily achievable, you should take other readily achievable measures, as long as they are safe.

Alternatives to Barrier Removal

Offering goods and services in other ways

When a barrier prevents access to your business’s goods or services and removing it is not “readily achievable”, the ADA expects you to offer your goods and services to people with disabilities in other ways that are “readily achievable.”

Priority should be given to methods that provide access and participation in the most integrated fashion possible, but sometimes it may be necessary to use alternatives that are less desirable.

A restaurant provides home delivery to a family who is not able to dine in the restaurant due to barriers.

A restaurant located on a narrow sidewalk with a flight of steps up or down to its entrance may be unable to install a ramp or a lift because of cost or site constraints. They can make their goods and services available to a customer with a disability by providing curb-side service or home delivery.

Another restaurant is unable to make its main entrance accessible, but is able to make a side entrance accessible. The restaurant locates its accessible parking on the side near the accessible entrance and posts signs so that customers  can find the accessible parking and entrance.

An old hotel offers a fitness facility in the basement, which is accessed only by a flight of stairs. It is not readily achievable to install an elevator or other accessible means of entry to the basement, so the hotel converts a storage room on the first floor into an additional, small fitness room with a few pieces of equipment from the basement, and moves the items from the storage room to the basement.

The operator of a gift shop can assist a customer by retrieving merchandise from an inaccessible part of the shop.

You may not charge people with disabilities higher prices to cover the cost of providing service in an alternative way. For example, a restaurant may not charge a person who uses a wheelchair extra for home delivery when it is provided as the alternative to barrier removal.

Businesses that provide curb-side service should install a buzzer or bell so the customer can signal for service.

Summary

  • When barrier removal is not readily achievable, the ADA expects you to offer your goods and services to people with disabilities in other ways that are readily achievable.
  • You may not charge people with disabilities higher prices to cover the costs of providing service in other ways.

Maintaining Access

Usability

It's great to have accessible features, but you have to make sure they remain usable! Cluttering an aisle with merchandise or seasonal displays makes it unusable, as does piling snow in accessible parking spaces or allowing staff or customers without disabilities to park in them. A toilet becomes inaccessible when the grab bar is loose or when supplies are stored in the accessible toilet stall. Newspaper sales boxes can block access to a ramp or door.

You are responsible for maintaining the accessibility of your business’s facilities and equipment. All the equipment and features that enable people with disabilities to access your goods and services must be maintained in good working order. When accessible features are blocked or broken, your business is no longer accessible.

Accessible features

The path a person with a disability takes - starting from the sidewalk or parking lot and going to the places where your business provides its goods or services or other amenities for customers (such as restrooms) – is called an “accessible route.” This route must remain accessible and must not be blocked by obstacles such as furniture or potted plants.

Special holiday displays are fun for everyone, but they should not obstruct the accessible route needed by customers with disabilities.

Accessible equipment

Accessible equipment should also be maintained in good working order and be available for use by customers. Broken elevators or lifts do not provide access. When equipment is temporarily out of service for maintenance or repair, you should repair it as quickly as possible and, in the meantime, find other ways to make your goods or services available to customers with disabilities.

Temporary interruptions

The ADA recognizes that isolated or temporary interruptions in access due to maintenance or repair of accessible features are sometimes unavoidable.

Staff awareness

You should emphasize to your staff the importance of maintaining an accessible environment for customers with disabilities. When your employees understand this, your business will operate more smoothly and your compliance with the ADA will be smooth.

Summary

  • You are responsible for maintaining the accessibility of your business’s facilities and equipment.
  • When accessible features are blocked or broken, your business is no longer accessible.
  • Isolated or temporary interruptions in access due to maintenance or repair of accessible features are allowed.
  • During temporary interruptions, you must find other ways to make your goods or services available to customers with disabilities.

FAQs: Pools, Wading Pools, and Spas

Wheel chair user standing next to pool splashing pool water with foot

Important Notice:

Justice Department Extends Compliance Deadline for Existing Pools Under the 2010 ADA Standards
On May 18, 2012 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a final rule, which extends the compliance date to January 31, 2013 for the application of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to existing swimming pools, wading pools, and spas (pools built before March 15, 2012).
Posted in the Federal Register:
Compliance date for certain requirements related to existing pools and spas provided by ADA covered entities
Compliance date for certain requirements related to existing pools and spas provided by ADA covered entities (PDF)

U.S. Department of Justice

Questions and Answers: Accessibility Requirements for Existing Pools at Hotels and other Public Accommodations
Questions and Answers: Accessibility Requirements for Existing Pools at Hotels and other Public Accommodations (PDF)

Revised ADA Requirements: Accessible Pools - Means of Entry and Exit
Revised ADA Requirements: Accessible Pools - Means of Entry and Exit (PDF)

Letter to the American Hotel and Lodging Association regarding accessible entry and exit for swimming pools and spas

Letter to the American Hotel and Lodging Association regarding accessible entry and exit for swimming pools and spas (PDF)

What’s new in the ADA in regards to pools, wading pools, and spas?

The US Department of Justice adopted the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which establish standards for a variety of recreational facilities including swimming pools, wading pools, and spas.

Who is required to comply?

  • State and local governments (also called “public entities”) covered by title II of the ADA 
  • Private businesses and non-profit service providers that are open to the general public (also known as “public accommodations”) covered by title III of the ADA

Bona fide private clubs and private residential communities are subject to the ADA title III requirements ONLY IF they are open to the general public. For example, a private condominium association has a swimming pool which is available for the use of residents and residents' guests. Typically, such facilities are not covered by the ADA. However, the association also sells pool memberships to the general public. This activity triggers obligations under the ADA, and the association must address accessibility to the pool, as well as any related areas used by the general public (e.g. public parking, public restrooms at the pool).

When do the 2010 ADA Standards become effective?

Compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards became mandatory for new construction and alterations on March 15, 2012. Additionally, as of January 31, 2013, the new Standards will serve as the benchmark to assess the need for barrier removal or structural improvements to achieve program access in existing facilities.

Note: Title II and title III have no effect on any state or local laws that provide protection for individuals with disabilities at a level greater than or equal to that provided by the ADA. Compliance with less stringent state or local laws, however, does not constitute compliance with the ADA.

Where can the 2010 ADA Standards be found?

The 2010 ADA Standards can be accessed at the US Department of Justice’s ADA website. The Standards include scoping provision for pools and spas in section 242 and technical specifications for pools and spas in section 1009.

The Access Board has also published a user-friendly guide called "Swimming Pools and Spas" that offers helpful information about access to these facilities.

What happens if covered entities fail to remove accessibility barriers when it is readily achievable, or fail to ensure access to programs?

The ADA establishes avenues for enforcement of the requirements of title II and title III.

  • Private lawsuits by individuals who are being subjected to discrimination or who have reasonable grounds for believing that they are about to be subjected to discrimination.
  • The Department of Justice investigates complaints and conducts compliance reviews of covered entities. The Department may resolve complaints through its ADA Mediation Program, or may file lawsuits whenever it has reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of discrimination, or discrimination that raises an issue of general public importance.

Are there any tax incentives or credits available for making existing pools accessible?

Yes, please check out:
Tax Incentives (PDF)
Tax Incentives (Text)

Still have questions?

Feel free to contact us.

Policies & Procedures

Making it possible

Making it possible for customers with disabilities to purchase your goods and services is an important part of complying with the ADA.

Operations can affect accessibility

Every business has a certain way of doing things. Whether formal or informal, your business has policies, practices, procedures, and routines that help you operate as smoothly as possible. But, sometimes, your normal way of doing things makes it difficult or impossible for customers with disabilities to purchase your goods and services.

This is why the ADA requires you to make “reasonable modifications” in your usual ways of doing things when it is necessary to accommodate customers who have disabilities. Most accommodations involve making minor adjustments in procedures or providing some extra assistance to a customer with a disability. Usually the customer will let you know if he or she needs some kind of accommodation.

Here are some examples

A hotel or restaurant that requires a driver's license as identification for paying by check may need to accept an alternative form of identification (such as a state-issued picture ID for non-drivers) from a customer with a disability that disqualifies him or her from getting a license.

A restaurant may need to assist a customer who is unable to use both hands to cut his or her food, by cutting the food into bite-sized pieces.

Staff may need to help a customer who has an intellectual disability in understanding information or directions.

Doing what works

The ADA does not spell out exactly what you must do in every situation. It lets you decide what is reasonable based on how your business operates and what kind of accommodation the person needs because of his or her disability. The idea is not to exclude a customer by being unwilling to make an accommodation that is fairly simple and easy to make.

Here is some basic guidance on judging whether a request is reasonable or not

It is reasonable to provide some extra assistance to a customer with a disability when needed, even during busy periods when other customers are waiting.

When only one staff person is on duty, it may or may not be possible for him or her to assist a customer with a disability. As a business owner or manager, you should advise your employees to assess whether he or she can provide the assistance that is needed without jeopardizing the safe operation of the business.

Limits

The ADA has limits. You are not required to change your policies and procedures in any way that would cause a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of your goods or services, would undermine safe operation of your business, or would cause a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others.

"Fundamental alteration"

A "fundamental alteration" is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that you offer to the public. For example:

A restaurant is not required to prepare special dishes for customers who have disabilities such as severe food allergies. This would be a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of the restaurant’s services. However, if it is easy to omit a sauce or ingredient from a dish that is listed on the menu, a customer can request that the item be omitted. This would not be considered a fundamental alteration.

Safe operation

As a rule, people with disabilities may not be excluded from any services or be isolated from other customers unless it is necessary for the safe operation of your business. If legitimate safety requirements make it necessary to exclude or isolate a person with a disability, they must be based on actual risks, not on stereotypes or generalizations about people with disabilities. For example:

A hotel may not refuse to allow a guest who is blind to swim in the pool or use exercise equipment in the fitness facility based on an assumption or unfounded fear that people who are blind are unable to safely participate in these activities.

A restaurant may not refuse to allow an individual who uses a wheelchair to transfer to a stool at the bar because of an assumption that the individual will fall.

Staff are not expected to abandon their duties in order to provide assistance to a person with a disability, when doing so would jeopardize the safe operation of a business.

"Direct threat"

You do not have to include individuals who actually pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others. A "direct threat" is a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated. The determination that an individual poses a direct threat can’t be based on fears, myths, or stereotypes, either. For example:

A restaurant may not refuse to serve an individual who has HIV, because HIV is not transmitted through the kind of casual contact that takes place among restaurant patrons and staff, and therefore the individual does not present a “direct threat.”

Personal devices and services

You are not required to provide personal devices (such as wheelchairs), individually prescribed devices (such as eyeglasses or hearing aids), or services of a personal nature (such as assistance in eating, toileting, or dressing), to customers with disabilities. A business may choose to provide services like this as a way to attract customers. For example, some large retail stores provide electric carts for use by customers while shopping. Some fancy dress shops provide assistance for a customer trying on clothes in the dressing room.

The ADA does not require these services; it leaves it up to each business to decide what services it wants to provide. The ADA simply says that your business should provide the same goods and services to all of its customers, including those with disabilities.

Service animals

Learn more about how the ADA defines and addresses service animals used by people with disabilities below.

Reservation Systems for Places of Lodging

The ADA establishes some specific obligations for operators of hotels and other places of lodging in order to ensure that people with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms effectively. Learn more about the requirements for reservation systems below.

Summary

  • Making it possible for customers with disabilities to purchase your goods and services is an important part of complying with the ADA.
  • The ADA requires you to make “reasonable modifications” in your normal ways of doing things when necessary to accommodate people who have disabilities.
  • Most accommodations involve making minor adjustments in procedures or providing some extra assistance. Usually the customer will let you know if he or she needs some kind of accommodation.
  • You are not required to change your policies and procedures in any way that would cause a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of your goods or services, would undermine safe operation of your business, or would cause a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others.
  • As a rule, people with disabilities may not be excluded from services or isolated from other customers unless it is necessary for the safe operation of your business. If legitimate safety requirements make it necessary to exclude or isolate a person with a disability, they must be based on actual risks and not on stereotypes or generalizations about people with disabilities.
  • You must allow people with disabilities to bring their service dogs, and in some cases miniature horses, into all areas of the business where customers are normally allowed to go.

Service Animals

You must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of your business where customers are normally allowed to go. Service animals are dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. If your business has a "no pets" policy, you must typically make an exception to the policy when a customer has a service dog.service dog retrieves a can of soda for a young man using a wheelchair

You must also consider making a reasonable policy modification to allow an individual with a disability to use a miniature horse that is trained to provide assistance to the individual. Factors to consider include the type, size, and weight of the miniature horse and whether your facility can accommodate these features; whether the individual has sufficient control of the animal; whether the miniature horse is housebroken; and whether legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation will be compromised.

You do not need to allow species other than dogs or miniature horses (for example, monkeys, rats, ferrets, snakes, cats, pigs, full-sized horses, ponies) in your facility, regardless of whether the animal performs tasks for an individual with a disability (unless you allow other customers to have such animals in your facility as pets).

If you are not sure whether an animal is a service animal or a pet, you may ask the person if his or her animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. However, you should not expect the person to show a special ID card for the animal and should not ask about the person’s disability. Many uncomfortable situations can be avoided by educating staff about the rights of people who use service animals. The U.S. Department of Justice’s publication ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals provides additional information on this subject.

Most people are familiar with guide dogs that help people who are blind to get around safely. But there are many other services that animals are trained to provide for people with a wide range of disabilities. Animals can be trained to pull a wheelchair or retrieve objects for people who use wheelchairs, alert people who are deaf to sounds in the environment, alert people with epilepsy to an impending seizure, help people with autism to stay focused, and perform many other tasks. Most people with disabilities who use service animals find the animals essential for coping with situations in everyday life.

If a service animal is out of control and presents a direct threat to others, you may ask the customer to remove it from the premises.

Places of Lodging: Reservation Systems

If you operate a hotel, motel, inn, or other place of lodging, you must take steps to ensure that people with disabilities can find out about the accessible features of your facility and effectively make reservations for accessible guest rooms. ADA requirements that will take effect on March 15, 2012 include:

  • Individuals with disabilities must be able to make reservations for accessible guest rooms in the same manner and during the same times as others, whether by telephone, in person or through a third party.
  • You must identify and describe accessible features of the facility and the guest rooms in enough detail that an individual with a disability can assess whether the facility will meet his or her needs. Information, including photos or other images, may be posted on Internet sites or included in brochures or other materials. Customer service staff should be trained to respond to specific inquiries about the features of the facility, including accessible routes to and through the facility; details about the configuration of accessible guest rooms and bathrooms; the availability of accessibility equipment or features such as bath benches, or visual alarm and alert devices for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing; and the accessibility of common spaces such as meeting rooms, lounges, restaurants, swimming pools, or fitness centers.
  • Accessible guest rooms must be held back until all other rooms of that type have been rented.
  • When reservations are made for accessible guest rooms, the specific rooms must be held for those individuals with disabilities, and the rooms must be removed from the reservation system. Because there are relatively few accessible guest rooms in a particular hotel, and the rooms may have different features (for example, some mobility-accessible rooms have bathtubs and some have roll-in showers), this provision is designed to reduce double-booking and help ensure that a room with the specific features needed is available upon the guest’s arrival.
  • If you make rooms available for reservations through third parties, such as travel agents or Internet-based reservation services, you must provide accessible rooms to at least some of the third parties and you must provide information about the accessible features of the facility and the guest rooms.

Summary

  • You can broaden your market appeal and boost your customers’ satisfaction by implementing a reservation system that helps travelers with disabilities find and reserve guest rooms that meet their needs, and help ensure that those rooms are available for them when they arrive.

Transporting Customers

Transportation as a convenience for customers

Some businesses provide transportation for their customers as a convenience that supports their primary business. Examples include hotels that provide courtesy shuttle vans for guests going to or from an airport or tourist attractions that offer shuttle service to move visitors around the site or to and from parking lots. If you offer services like these must offer transportation to people with disabilities.

Equivalent serviceA small hotel has hired a transportation company with a lift-equipped van.

If you provide transportation services on demand (for example, your hotel sends a van to the airport to pick up a customer when the customer calls), you can acquire vehicles that are equipped with a lift or you can contract with another company to provide accessible service for the customers who need it. For example, you might hire a local transportation company that has a lift-equipped van to transport your customer who uses a wheelchair.

The important thing to remember is that the service provided must be equivalent. If customers without disabilities can get transportation quickly and easily, people with disabilities deserve equivalent service. The services offered to people with disabilities must be as convenient as the services offered to other people in terms of fares, schedules or response times, hours of operation, pick-up and drop-off locations, and other measures of equivalent service.

Accessible vehiclesA larger hotel has purchased a lift-equipped bus; a guest using a scooter is using the lift.

The rules are slightly different for companies that provide courtesy transportation on a fixed route (for example, your hotel runs a shuttle bus continuously to and from an airport). In this case, all vehicles purchased or leased since 1992 with a capacity of over sixteen people must be equipped with a lift. Vehicles purchased or leased since 1992 with a smaller capacity must also be equipped with a lift, unless the company provides equivalent service as described above.

These rules apply to companies not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people.

Summary

  • If you provide transportation services to support their primary business, you must provide equivalent service for people with disabilities.
  • You can provide equivalent service by acquiring and operating accessible vehicles or by contracting with another company to provide accessible transportation services when needed.
  • The services offered to people with disabilities must be as convenient as the services offered to other people in terms of fares, schedules or response times, hours of operation, pick-up and drop-off locations, and other measures of equivalent service.