Liz Sheffield

Meeting (and Exceeding) ADA Standards in Your Office

Nearly 30 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law to establish required protections for people with disabilities. ADA standards ensure fair access to facilities and apply to a variety of public and private spaces. Besides the U.S. Department of Labor, several other federal agencies enforce the ADA, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Following ADA standards and guidelines puts you in compliance with federal laws and communicates to your employees and visitors that equal access is a priority for your business.

Like any regulation, ADA guidelines can feel overwhelming at first glance. As this ADA Existing Facility Checklist published by the Institute for Human Centered Design indicates, there are a variety of requirements to follow. If you’re just starting to learn what’s required for your business, start here.

Do All Businesses Have to Comply With the ADA?

The short answer is no. If a company has been in business for less than 20 weeks, has 14 or fewer employees or operates in a building constructed in the early 1990s, it is exempt from ADA compliance. Similarly, small businesses are only expected to make accommodations that don’t cause undue difficulty or expense.

Now, if you’re a small business, this doesn’t mean you should ignore these regulations. ADA compliance may become a requirement as your business grows, and in the meantime, your staff and customers will appreciate the consideration. Always look for ways to make your work environment more accessible for everyone.

What Are Some Criteria for Office Spaces That Are ADA Compliant?

ADA compliance has many parts. However, here are two common ADA considerations.

Entrances. Even one step at the entrance may prohibit access for people using a wheelchair or others with mobility disabilities. ADA compliance requires that at least one entrance be accessible (such as via a low ramp). Doors that are at least 36 inches wide are considered accessible.

Tables and desks. The ADA defines an accessible table as one standing between 28 and 34 inches off the floor. This table height allows for people using wheelchairs to pull up to the table or desk without bumping their knees. Consider adding height-adjustable desks to your office to provide flexibility and accessibility for employees and visitors.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Employees?

The ADA requires employers to provide qualified employees and applicants with reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is one that enables employees with disabilities to perform their job without causing the employer undue hardship. The Job Accommodation Network provides a helpful accommodation toolkit for employers who want to understand how to approach and deploy reasonable accommodations.

In 2010, the Department of Justice extended ADA standards to include the internet as a place of public accommodation. Consider needs for closed captions in videos, large print or audio readers on your website.

What Are Some Best Practices for ADA Compliance?

ADA requirements may not apply to your business right now, but it’s wise to take the time to research and confirm where parts of your business may be inaccessible. Doing so reduces the risk of penalties later on; noncompliance can lead to legal action like private lawsuits, civil lawsuits and fines of up to $150,000 for repeat offenses. It also communicates that your company is an inclusive organization and improves employee accessibility. If you opt to make updates, find professionals who know what it takes to ensure ADA compliance.

Even if you don’t make structural or physical updates to your office space, take time to understand the challenges that people with disabilities experience at work. Ask your employees, leaders and customers for their input. Seemingly small changes can make a big difference. They may help make your office ADA compliant, but more importantly, they’ll create a more welcoming work environment.

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