People tell me often they want to cater to individuals with mobility issues, but are intimidated and overwhelmed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and perceived costs involved. Major structural changes might not be possible right now and that’s OK. You may not realize the American Disabilities Act is based on common sense and recognizes altering existing structures is time consuming and costly. The law actually requires only that public accommodations remove architectural barriers when doing so is “readily achievable” and can be done “without much difficulty and expense“. So let’s talk about what you might be able to do without a lot of fuss.
Five Simple Suggestions to Improve Accessibility:
- Put up clearly visible signs! So many buildings with an inaccessible front door have an entrance somewhere that’s wheelchair accessible, but no one knows! Patrons might simply leave unless you have a sign that tells visitors to “Go around to the left side of the building for a wheelchair accessible door” or “Press this bell for assistance with the door.” An expensive custom made sign is not necessary; the information can simply be printed from your computer on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper, laminated, and posted near the door!
- Post on your website that your business is accessible-friendly Also, provide the details in your outreach materials, brochures, and registration forms in addition to your website! If you don’t advertise yourself as accessible-friendly, people assume you aren’t. You will lose the business of those with a disability AND their families. If people are not asking for accessibility, check how you advertise your efforts before deciding you don’t need to provide it. This population may simply be going elsewhere.
- Offer curbside service Your business may not be profitable enough this year to build a ramp, but a staff member assigned to provide assistance as needed for individuals with mobility issues to comfortably get into the building will get the job done for now. A smiling face and a willingness to cheerfully go the extra mile with a patron who needs help promotes good will. You may earn a loyal patron for life. If profits are better next year, perhaps you can revisit the idea of a ramp at that time.
- Provide a valet service No designated handicapped parking? No problem. Valet service is a great way to address this issue until you are able to create a lot with designated parking!
- Provide a 10 minute in-service for staff about appropriate interactions with individuals with disabilities. Your employees may not have experience with people with disabilities, and their attitude may not come across as positive when dealing with this population. Role play situations to increase their comfort level. For example, discuss what to do if a person with a disability comes in to the business. Instead of awkwardly saying nothing, ask “Have you been helped yet?”. Talk about how people consider a cane, walker or wheelchair to be an extension of themselves, so not to touch these items without permission.Finally, emphasize the importance of speaking directly to the individual with the impairment and not only to the companion.Small attitude adjustments are tremendously important in the treatment of people with disablilites.
Simple inexpensive changes go a long way toward creating a more accessible environment..Businesses are only required by the ADA to do what is readily achieveable at the time. Start with small steps, then evaluate resources and make long term plans for when profits increase. You’ll be very happy you did!