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Thinking Home Business or Office? Better think about ADA regulations

by Brad Davidzik

Article as appeared in the July 8th issue of The Buffalo Homefinder

Many people dream about opening a small business out of their home or converting an older home for office or retail use. Buffalo offers a prime example where many grand structures have been refitted to house a variety of small businesses. While these beautiful buildings may be the perfect showcase for a small business, the business owner needs to ask an important question: Does the building accommodate people with disabilities?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted in 1990 includes a section called “Title III,” which prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating against someone with a disability. If your business plans to offer goods or services to the public, it will be considered a place of public accommodation. While ADA law is very technical, the basic question is: Are there any physical or communication barriers that would prevent a disabled person’s access to my business?

If the answer is yes, you are required to address those barriers — and in most instances — to remove the barriers. A barrier can be anything, from failure to provide a wheelchair ramp to failure to provide adequate handicapped parking spaces (including proper signage and unloading areas for vans). A barrier could be a counter that is too high for someone in a wheelchair, an aisle too narrow for a wheelchair to navigate, or a wheelchair ramp that is too steep. Barriers can be simple to remedy, like a cluttered walkway that just needs to be cleaned up, or they can require major construction.

“The legal criteria for determining if a barrier has to be removed include whether the building or barrier feature was constructed before 1990 or after, and whether or not removal is readily achievable and affordable,” said Anne Perry, R.A. “If the work would impose an `undue burden’ on the business, an exception may be made, or alternate accommodations provided.”

To be exempt you must address several different factors in proving the removal of the barrier would be significantly difficult and/or expensive. If a barrier cannot be removed, you may have to offer some sort of auxiliary service. For instance, a wheelchair ramp may be too expensive, but another option might be to offer curbside service or free delivery.

And if you’re thinking that these requirements are only the responsibility of the building owner, and not the tenants, think again. If you lease your office space, you are still required to comply with the ADA.

The overall goal of the ADA is inclusion: Do not treat those with disabilities any differently than any other customer.

“The ADA regulations are not just for people in wheelchairs. Sight and hearing disabilities are also considered in the law. Furthermore, practically speaking, anyone at some point in their lifetime may become permanently or temporarily disabled through injury, disease or simply by attaining advanced age,” Perry said. “Being in compliance with ADA regulations is overall, a more thoughtful way to treat our built environment.”

Disabled individuals represent a large and growing segment of our population and have significant financial resources. Providing accessibility to those with disabilities will not only keep you in compliance with the law, but will also expose your business to many more valuable customers.