What is ADA Accessibility? The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it was signed into law in 1990. It was designed to make life in public spaces easier for Americans living with disabilities including impaired walking, hearing, seeing, and the ability to climb stairs.
The act was designed specifically for public spaces like local, state, and federal government buildings, hospitals, and commercial buildings down to restaurants and storefronts. It attempts to provide barrier-free access to these buildings regardless of disabilities, and often lead to the inclusion of wheelchair ramps, braille instructions, and stair lifts in commercial construction.
Subsequent laws, like the Architectural Barriers Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act, have widened the scope of which buildings have to be accessible to people with disabilities. Now, any federally-funded building built or leased after 1968 (as well as newer multi-family residences) must have specific types access for those who have functional disabilities.
Who is responsible for ADA compliance in commercial buildings?
Obviously, in publicly-owned spaces, the government is directly responsible for ensuring disabled access. However, it can be difficult to decipher who is responsible for ADA compliance in commercial buildings.
There are several misconceptions regarding which parties are responsible for reducing entry barriers for the disabled in commercial construction. The confusion is often made worse when it comes to leasing or modifying older buildings built before the ADA. Who is responsible for ensuring ADA compliance? The tenant? What about the property owner?
Fortunately, when it comes ADA responsibility in commercial buildings, there are only two options: the tenant or the building owner.
When is ADA Compliance the Tenant’s Responsibility?
Generally speaking, any compliance problems related to operation within a tenant’s space are the tenant’s sole responsibility. The tenant and the landlord will then share responsibility for complying with the physical improvements necessary for that space.
For example: Say a shop in a shopping mall is required to put in an elevator as a means of wheelchair access to the second floor. It would be the shop owner’s responsibility to make and install the signage directing individuals to that elevator. Installing and maintaining the elevator would be the shared responsibility of the shop owner and of the owner of the building.
One point of confusion for many is the lease agreement. A rental lease may include an overview of which agents are responsible for ADA compliance in various situations. However, courts have no responsibility to enforce what is written in the lease regarding tenant vs. owner ADA obligations, which falls under federal jurisdiction.
When is ADA Compliance the Building Owner’s Responsibility?
As a rule, building owners are responsible for ensuring access to the property for all people, as well as accessible routes through the property to all public and commercial areas of the building. If a building is increased in size, remodeled, or otherwise improved, the owner is expected to guarantee ADA compliance.
All the responsibility for entry into the building as well as parking areas and parts of the building that are open to the public (but not leased by tenants) are solely the owner’s responsibility.
For instance: It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that routes between parking areas and the entrance to the building conforms to ADA standards, so many business owners will put parking spaces for people with disabilities directly outside the main entrances of their buildings. Again, judges and courts have no obligation to follow anything except the law when it comes to who is responsible for ADA compliance. If the lease agreement has an ADA section, it won’t matter in court.
How will a good commercial construction contractor guide a client on ADA compliance?
For a business or small business owner, assuring ADA compliance can be overwhelming. There are physical barriers that must be overcome, signage, communication, and dozens of design rules and guidelines for various businesses. Getting customers in the door isn’t the only ADA challenge either—a business must also adequately serve customers who can’t see, walk, or hear. This can include rules specific to dressing rooms, cafeterias, auditoriums, health facilities, and much more.
A good contractor will follow a set of rules to help their clients easily and efficiently comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Quality commercial construction contractors will recognize the following:
1) Compliance is specific to the business.
Different businesses will have much different ways in which they must accommodate their clients. A gym and a movie theater will both have to meet ADA requirements, but they won’t always be similar in how they do that. A contractor should tailor accessibility to each particular business the contractor services.
2) Frequently overlooked areas of ADA compliance.
Wheelchair ramps, stair lifts, elevators; these are all useful for ADA compliance, but what about signage for these? Grocery stores will often have people on hand to assist individuals with functional disabilities by reading labels on items that can’t be seen from a wheelchair or helping carry things to someone’s car because that person can’t use a shopping cart.
Businesses also need to have special considerations for employees who have functional disabilities. Even website accessibility is a consideration. Good contractors will have an eye for detail and possible overlooked areas in ADA compliance.
3) Contractors should have a strong understanding of the law regarding the ADA.
They will help their clients with things like:
- Written policies on accommodating functionally disabled customers and employees
- Necessary changes made to standard operating procedures
- Adjusting communications to accommodate disabled people
- Removing physical barriers where possible
Common Features of ADA Requirements
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all guideline for conforming to the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are many common features almost all businesses will want to consider.
Standard Operating Procedures
Almost any business will have to change standard operating procedures by varying degrees when serving a client, or group of clients, who are functionally disabled. It’s best to have written alternatives to existing SOPs so workers have set guidelines to follow to accommodate the disabled.
Removal of Physical Barriers
Whether it’s ensuring that there are no stairs between a disabled parking space and the entrance to a business or that there isn’t too big a lip on the bottom of a door for a wheelchair to go over, the removal of physical barriers for disabled access is common to almost all businesses in the U.S.
Understanding of Responsibility for ADA Compliance
It’s important for business owners to know what exactly their responsibilities are when it comes to accommodating individuals with functional disabilities. Knowing responsibilities can help a business be more proactive in its approach to the ADA, and avoid ADA-related litigation.
Common Accessibility Features
Low ramps, wheelchair-accessible washrooms, power-assisted doors, elevators, signage, and more are the things that are frequently added to buildings to ensure ADA compliance.
Questions? Start your free design for your commercial space, and it will be our job to ensure your commercial property is fully ADA-compliant.