Americans With Disabilities Act Compliance Tips

Learn the ins and outs of the Americans With Disabilities Act and how to address issues concerning: 

  1. Company policies

  2. Service animals

  3. Mobility devices

  4. Communication efforts

  5. Architectural barriers

Legal Document

Q: I have an employee who tells me that I am not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. I have a small business that employs about 20 full and part time people. I was under the impression that someone had to have 50 employees or more for the ADA to apply. I can’t seem to figure out what my obligations are. Thanks for your help.


A: The basic rule is this: If you employ 15 or more people, the ADA applies to your business, meaning you cannot discriminate in hiring and must make appropriate accommodations where applicable to serve the disabled public. And this is not an insignificant number of people either – more than 50 million people, or almost 20% of the U.S. population, qualify as disabled under the law.

But despite the good intentions of the law and the great good it has done for disabled Americans, there remains a lot of confusion and misinformation with regard to what is, and is not, required by business under the ADA. Complicating the matter is the fact that on March 15 of this year, the ADA was revised, and that has created even more confusion for small businesses.

So, in order to help us understand what these new rules and interpretations of the law mean, I recently corresponded with Barbara Otto, the CEO of Think Beyond the Label, a national non-­‐profit working to increase the employment levels of people with disabilities among small and medium sized businesses. The goal of this valuable organization is simple, “To raise awareness that hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense. Employees with disabilities have unique, competitively relevant knowledge and perspectives about work processes, bringing different perspectives to meeting work requirements and goals successfully.”

According to Ms. Otto, complying with the ADA should not be that difficult for most small businesses. She says that the top five changes in the ADA to be aware of are these:

1. Company policies – Businesses are required to examine their policies in order to address the needs of people with disabilities and to make sure that their policies are non-­‐discriminatory. The example is given of a clothing store which would be required under the new guidelines to adjust a policy of permitting only one person in a dressing room if a disabled customer needed assistance from a companion.

2. Service animals – According to the new ADA rules, the only animal that can be considered a service animal is a dog; monkeys for instance would not fit the standard. In addition, to be considered a service dog, the pooch must perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability, such as the ability to help the blind navigate.

3. Mobility devices – Business must allow for the use of personal mobility devices such as Segways, golf carts, or other devices intended to operate in non-­‐pedestrian areas. Exception: If the business can demonstrate that particular type of device cannot be accommodated because of legitimate safety requirements. It is expected that this mobility devise requirement should mainly impact large venues like theme parks.

4. Communication efforts – A small business will be expected to accommodate various communication efforts such as sign language, oral interpreters or assistive technology, unless doing so would result in a significant expense.

5. Architectural barriers – This is the one that potentially impacts small business bottom lines the most. The rule is this: Businesses that provide goods and services to the public – like a vet, dentist, shopping center, or restaurant -­‐ must remove “barriers to entry” and make interior changes in order to enable customers using mobility devices to better navigate the location and easily reach merchandise.

But understand this too: The law is not Draconian, for instance, a covered employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship.” According to the Justice Department, the bottom line is this: “Businesses covered by the ADA are required to modify their business policies and procedures when necessary to serve customers with disabilities and take steps to communicate effectively with customers with disabilities.”

Today’s Tip: The Department of Justice recently put out a primer for small businesses to help them figure out how to comply with the ADA. You can find the primer here.

Have a question about the ADA? Connect with a SCORE mentor online or in your community today!

About the Author

Steve Strauss HeadshotSteven D. Strauss is a lawyer and writer and is one of the country's leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Greatland, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, follow him on Twitter, and "like" TheSelfEmployed on Facebook. You can e-mail Steve at: © Steven D. Strauss