The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 with the goal of providing essential protections for those with disabilities. ADA compliance guidelines apply to a variety of public and private spaces and work to ensure that everyone can enjoy fair access to facilities. Adhering to these guidelines not only puts offices in compliance with federal laws, it also sends a clear signal to employees and visitors that you care about their well-being and that providing equal access is a priority.
As with most laws, the amount of information and level of detail that is written into every regulation can be overwhelming. The good news is that there are plenty of resources and help lines available to those with specific questions. For a more general look at important ADA compliance issues that you and your office need to be aware of, keep reading.
While the ADA protects the rights of everyone to easily traverse their community and have access to the goods and services that life necessitates, these laws can also mean added expenses for businesses. Many small businesses simply don’t have the money to make major renovations to existing buildings. The ADA provides certain provisions for these situations.
For example, there are different requirements, depending on when a building was constructed. Any facilities that were built in the early 1990s, directly after the ADA was passed, aren’t held to the same standards as new construction. In addition, small businesses are expected to make a reasonable effort to remove physical barriers, but aren’t expected to incur excessive expenses. Essentially, there is no point in forcing small businesses to make costly changes only to have the business become insoluble.
Larger businesses who have more financial resources are held to a higher standard. They are expected to take on more expenses in order to better serve the greater good and ensure that everyone can enjoy the same opportunities.
The term “removing barriers” may sound labor intensive, but often times, it means making small changes that can make a big difference to those with mobility challenges. It is important to make sure that there is a clear path to entrances. For small shops, this might mean moving a newspaper stand further down the sidewalk and away from the door so that a wheelchair user can easily navigate the entrance. Replacing steps with a small ramp is another simply way to remove a barrier and allow for a better flow of traffic. Businesses should also provide an adequate number of handicap parking spaces for easy accessibility.
Who is Exempt?
Small businesses who employ 14 or fewer full-time employees do not have to be ADA compliant. In addition, any business that has been operating for less than 20 weeks does not have to worry about these issues yet. However, it is important to remember that as your business grows, providing fair accessibility will become increasingly important.
Four ADA Compliance Issues for Office Interiors
A lot of ADA regulations are meant to provide easy access to buildings through handicap parking spaces, ramps and barrier free entrances. However, the law also outlines certain requirements for office interiors that help everyone easily navigate the office space.
Office doors must be wide enough to accommodate those who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters. All doors should be at least 32 inches wide in order to provide adequate space to easily pass through.
In addition, heavy doors that require more than five pounds of force to operate need to provide additional assistance. Often times, this means conveniently located button that can be pushed to operate an automatic door closer that will safely open and close heavy doors.
2. Desks and Tables
Choosing the right office furniture can actually help meet ADA guidelines and provide a comfortable work environment. Ideally, any conference table or desk should be at least 27 inches high. This allows enough room for those in mobility devices to easily sit at the table without bumping their knees. Providing height adjustable desks that operate electronically by the push of a button can offer additional flexibility for different size users.
Thick carpets may look and feel great, but they can be a real nuisance to anyone dealing with mobility difficulties. All carpet should be securely fastened to the floor to avoid creating any obstacles. In addition, low pile carpets work best for wheelchairs and scooters. Anything higher and a ½ inch pile can make it difficult to maneuver mobility devices.
If you are housed in a larger building, it is a good idea to provide wayfinding tools that are accessible. Bathroom signs and other maps should offer braille as well as visual cues. Today’s modern office are also incorporating digital signage to help visitors navigate buildings. Television screens can be used to display relevant images, including maps, and provide voice instructions for those with visual impairments.
Show Common Courtesy
While there are specific regulations outlined in some detail in the ADA, at the heart of the law is simply a call for common courtesy. It recognizes that even providing simple accommodations can go a long way to make the world a little more accessible. Small businesses may not have the money to make their buildings completely accessible, but they can make small gestures, such as:
- Making it clear on the company’s website that they are happy to make accommodations for those with disabilities. Even posting your support of non-discrimination laws can send a welcoming signal to potential customers.
- Providing staff training that shows employees the best and most appropriate ways to interact with those with disabilities.
- Welcoming service animals while also respecting the fact that they are working and shouldn’t be treated like a normal pet.
- Offering large print documents and text readers.
Simply demonstrating that you are willing to help can create a more inclusive office.
Making your office ADA complaint begins with having a certain awareness about the different challenges a person with disabilities may face when coming to work each day. Do your research. Ask your colleagues questions and remember that small, common sense changes can not only help make your office ADA compliant, but also provide a more welcoming work environment.