Can you imagine a child being expelled from preschool? It seems kind of silly when you think about it. What could someone that young possibly do to merit expulsion? Well, that was the question I asked myself on the three separate occasions that my child was kicked out of schools (before the age of five) for “behavior issues”. Luckily for us, our fourth try at a new school was a public district. They told us, almost immediately, that she needed to be evaluated for the special school district. Shortly after her fifth birthday, we were given the news that she had several intellectual disabilities. While this was a shock to me, it also answered years of questions about why she was struggling to operate at the same social and academic level as her peers.
In many ways, simply having the diagnoses was a turning point, as we could finally get her the help that she needed to succeed. Access to accommodations was nothing short of life-saving. However, for the next several years, we still had to endure discrimination within the educational system as well as bullying from some of the very people who were supposed to be providing her access to an equal education. Needless to say, that experience led me to learn everything I could about the Americans With Disabilities Act. One day, my daughter will leave the protective bubble of school and get a job. When that day comes, she will need accommodations so that she can continue to succeed at anything that she puts her mind to.
It is crucial that small businesses understand what it means to be ADA compliant and create a space that is accessible and comfortable for both their employees and their customers.
ADA: Title 1
According to the CDC website, 1 in every 4 adults has a disability. This spans everything from physical disabilities (such as mobility, hearing, or vision impairment), to intellectual disabilities (things that impact the ability of the person to concentrate, remember, or make decisions), and much more. In 1990, a law was passed called the Americans With Disabilities Act that afforded people with disabilities equal treatment under the law. While the law covers many different avenues, Title 1 specifically applies to businesses.
According to the Department of Labor,
“Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.”
What can you do to be sure your business is making reasonable accommodations for both its employees and customers? While there is not one-size-fits-all way of making your business compliant, here are a few ideas to help create a more accommodating business.
Improving Your Compliance
1. Accessible Buildings
Not only does this apply to ramps and doorway width, it also includes things that people don’t think about as much, such as doors that are too heavy, or doorway lips that are too high to navigate over easily with a wheelchair.
2. Sensory Input Awareness
Having signage alerting people if the flush or hand dryers in the restroom are extremely loud is a very simple way to make things more comfortable for people who have issues with sensory input. It is also helpful to think about the brightness of lights or volume of music in your place of business, as these can be very disorienting to people with some disabilities.
3. Staff Training
It is always important to be updating and educating staff on the policies in place so that they can always be properly implementing the ADA requirements. It is also important that the training of staff members with disabilities include any necessary modifications, such as going at a slower pace, allowing breaks, and giving additional time to complete tasks (if necessary).
4. Varying Communication Methods
The ADA requires businesses to take extra steps to provide adequate communication for customers or employees who may be deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or who have speech impediments. This may include using written policies and information, having screen readers, and potentially even providing access to a sign language interpreter. One way to accommodate people with intellectual disabilities might be to provide step-by-step instructions of a given task in the form of a recording or a written list.
5. Allowing Service Animals and Mobility Devices
Businesses must make reasonable accommodations and allow any trained and certified service animals into their business. Putting up a sign saying “Service Animals Allowed” is a simple way to make your business more disability friendly. It also important to make sure that people are able to maneuver their mobility devices inside the space.
6. Making Minor Adjustments
When working with disabled employees or customers, flexibility is key. Always be open to making minor policy adjustments, as long as they are reasonable and do not create undo hardship for your business. This may include something as simple as the reallocation of menial tasks to an employee without a disability.
Here are two fantastic resources for ensuring the compliance of your business. The first is the Department of Justice: Primer for Small Business. It is specifically focused on people with physical disabilities and how you can make your workspace accessible for those with physical needs. The second is an article from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission entitled Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in the Workplace and the ADA. It is the most comprehensive guide that I have found about intellectual disabilities and how to reasonably accommodate them in the workplace.
All of of this can feel a bit overwhelming at first. As a business owner, it is easy to fear being out of compliance, but it is important to always be open to growth and change. If you are constantly evolving and looking for ways to improve, you are certain to have happy employees who appreciate working for a company that treats them with equality. Additionally, you can rest assured that you will have loyal customers who keep coming back because they feel seen and respected.