ADA Business Connection head image

Introduction to THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, businesses that are public accommodations or commercial facilities, and in transportation. The ADA also mandates the establishment of telephone relay services for people who use TTYs (teletypewriters, also known as TDDs or telecommunications devices for deaf persons).

Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment by businesses having 15 or more employees, or by State and local governments. Title I with respect to private employers is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in State and local government services, programs, and activities. All programs, services, and activities of State or local governments are covered. These include public education and social service programs, State legislatures and courts, town meetings, police and fire departments, motor vehicle licensing, employment services, and public transportation programs. State and local governments must operate their programs so that, when viewed in their entirety, they are readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. They must provide programs and services in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity, and must eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy their programs or services. State and local governments must also make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures and provide effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result. When State or local governments design and construct new facilities, or alter existing facilities, they must do so in accordance with standards for accessible design adopted under the ADA. Title II (other than transportation) is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The U.S. Department of Transportation enforces the provisions of title II relating to public transportation services.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. Places of public accommodation include over 6 million privately owned business establishments of all sizes such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, convention centers, doctors offices, retail stores, museums, libraries, private schools, health spas, and day care centers. Commercial facilities are businesses whose operations affect commerce, such as office buildings, factories, and warehouses. Public accommodations must: provide goods and services in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity; eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services of a place of public accommodation; and make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration would result in the nature of the goods and services provided. They must also ensure effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services when necessary, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result. They must remove architectural and structural communication barriers in existing facilities where readily achievable, and provide goods and services through alternative measures when removal of barriers is not readily achievable. When public accommodations or commercial facilities design and construct new facilities, or alter existing facilities, they must do so in accordance with the Standards for Accessible Design. Title III is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Title IV of the ADA mandates that telephone companies offer TTY/telephone relay services to enable individuals who use TTY's.


For information on how to contact Federal agencies with ADA responsibilities, see ADA Information Services.



The ADA and Businesses



Removing Barriers In Existing Facilities

entrance to restaurant with ramp and stairs

Many business facilities were built with features that do not accommodate people with disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs. This lack of accessibility makes it impossible for many people with disabilities to take part in everyday activities such as going to work, eating in a restaurant, or shopping in a store. The ADA recognizes that, for people with disabilities to participate in the everyday activities in their communities, they need to have access to employment as well as to the goods and services provided by businesses.

country store with porch and ramp

To improve access, the ADA established both requirements for removing barriers in existing facilities and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design for new construction and alterations. In existing facilities, where retrofitting may be expensive, the requirement to provide access is less stringent than it is in new construction, where accessibility can be incorporated in the initial stages of design and construction without a significant increase in cost.

If you own or operate a business that serves the public you must remove physical barriers when "readily achievable," which means easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. The "readily achievable" requirement is based on the size and resources of the business. So larger businesses with more resources are expected to take a more active role in removing barriers than small businesses. The ADA also recognizes that economic conditions vary. When a business has resources to remove barriers, it is expected to do so; but when profits are low, barrier removal may be reduced or delayed. Barrier removal is an ongoing obligation -- you are expected to remove barriers in the future as resources become available.

accessible parking spaces with stores in background

In evaluating what barriers need to be removed, a business should look to the ADA Standards for Accessible Design as a guide. These standards are part of the ADA Title III regulations. Seeking input from people with disabilities in your community can also be an important and valuable part of the barrier removal process, because they can help identify barriers in your business and offer advice on what solutions may work.

When a business removes barriers, it should also follow the design requirements for new construction in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (Standards). In some cases, existing conditions, limited resources, or both will make it not "readily achievable" to follow these Standards fully. If this occurs, barrier removal measures may deviate from the Standards so long as the measures do not pose a significant risk to the health or safety of individuals with disabilities or others.



New Construction, Alterations and Additions

accessible sales counter with man in scooter

New Construction

All newly constructed business buildings or facilities must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This means that new buildings or facilities must be built in strict compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The ADA Standards are comprehensive and require accessibility to most areas and features found in buildings or facilities. The requirements for work areas are more limited than those for public and common use areas.

The new construction requirements apply to any facility first occupied after January 26, 1993, for which the last application for a building permit or permit extension was certified as complete after January 26, 1992; or in those jurisdictions where the government does not certify completion of applications, the date that the last application for a building permit or permit extension was received by the government.

new ramp under construction

Alterations

If an alteration to a business building or facility is begun after January 26, 1992, the areas or elements that are altered must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities in accordance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design to the maximum extent feasible.

An alteration is any change that affects usability. It includes remodeling, renovation, rearrangements in structural parts, and changes or rearrangement of walls and full-height partitions. Normal maintenance, reroofing, painting, wallpapering, asbestos removal, and changes to electrical and mechanical systems are not "alterations," unless they affect usability.

When an alteration is made to a "primary function area," the alteration must be done in compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, but there must also be an accessible path of travel from the altered area to the accessible entrance. The "path of travel" requirement includes an accessible route to the altered area and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving the area. Alterations to provide an accessible path of travel are required to the extent that they are not "disproportionate" to the original alteration, that is, to the extent that the added accessibility costs do not exceed 20 percent of the cost of the original alteration to the primary function area.

A primary function area is any area where a major activity takes place. It includes both the customer services areas and work areas and the public and common use areas in places of public accommodation. It includes all offices and work areas in commercial facilities. It does not include mechanical rooms, boiler rooms, supply storage rooms, employee lounges or locker rooms, janitorial closets, entrances, corridors, or restrooms.


Additions

Additions to an existing building are subject to the alterations requirements (including the of path of travel obligations, if applicable) in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. If the addition does not have an accessible entrance, the path of travel obligation may require an accessible route to the addition through the existing building. To the extent that spaces or elements are newly constructed as part of an addition they must meet the requirements for new construction.



Policies, Practices and Procedures

woman with service animal at counter in store


Businesses offering goods and services to the public must review their policies and procedures for serving customers and change those that exclude or limit participation by people with disabilities. For example, if a store has a policy to exclude all animals, the policy should be changed to permit people who use service animals, such as "seeing-eye-dogs" and "hearing-assist-dogs" to enter the store with their service animals. A store that has a special accessible entrance that remains locked during business hours will need to change the policy and keep the door unlocked when the store is open. If security is a problem, an accessible call box or buzzer (identified by a sign and mounted in an accessible location and height) should be installed to enable people with disabilities to call staff to unlock the door. A restaurant that restricts seating of people with disabilities to one area must revise the policy to permit the range of choices enjoyed by others.

woman with service animal in restaurant with another woman

Businesses offering goods and services to the public must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech impairments, unless providing the aid or service would be an undue burden or a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Auxiliary aids and services include reading written information to a person who is blind or who has low vision or providing large print, audiotape or Braille; and using written notes, sign language interpreters or using captioning to communicate with a person who is deaf, hard of hearing or who has a speech disability.

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last update February 22, 2002