ADA Compliance: What Chicago’s Small Business Owners Need to Know

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates businesses must make “reasonable accommodations” for people with qualified disabilities.  However, the Act only applies to businesses that fit certain guidelines.

For example, some portions of the ADA exempt businesses with fewer than 15 employees, while other provisions apply to businesses providing services to the public, regardless of size.

How can you tell if your business is required to conform? Here are the facts.

ADA: Small Business Guidelines1

Title I and Title III of the ADA are the ones most applicable to small business owners. Title II is specific to public entities: state or local governments.

Title I ADA Compliance

Title I is specific to qualified employers and requires eligible businesses to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.

The law also mandates an employer cannot discriminate against employees based on their disability, and requires the business to provide reasonable accommodations to enable individuals with a disability to perform the duties of the position.

The ADA defines an “employer” as any person who is:

  • Engaged in an industry affecting commerce;
  • Employs 15 or more full-time employees each work day;
  • For at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year.

Title III ADA Compliance

Title III of the ADA focuses on “public accommodations,” (those that provide goods or services to the public) and stipulates businesses cannot discriminate against customers based on disability.

There are 12 categories of public accommodations, which include:

  • Stores and shops;
  • Restaurants and bars;
  • Service establishments;
  • Theaters and hotels;
  • Private museums and schools;
  • Doctor’s and dentist’s offices;
  • Shopping malls and other businesses.

The small business ADA guidelines require owners to make all reasonable efforts to accommodate any individual with a disability. For example, you may prohibit animals in your facility, but will have to make an exception for service dogs.

Also, if you own a business serving the public, you must remove physical “barriers” that are “readily achievable.

Disability Rights Regulations in Chicago

Effective July 1, 2017, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) Board of Commissioners approved updated disability rights regulations under the City’s Chicago Human Rights Ordinance (CHRO).  These newly revised regulations were designed to improve citywide accessibility for all residents and visitors.

The compliance requirement applies to both existing as well as new businesses.  No business is “grandfathered,” and the penalties for non-compliance are not to be taken lightly.  Each incident of non-compliance is punishable by up to $1,000 per incident paid to the City of Chicago, with damages and attorney fees paid to the complaining party.

Need more specifics?  The new regulations clearly specify requirements for private businesses covered by the ordinance, and are nearly identical to those found in Title III of the ADA. The regulations provide varying standards, both structural and practical, depending on what is required, including:

  • The construction and alteration of facilities.
  • The removal of architectural barriers that interfere with accessibility in existing facilities.
  • The removal of criteria that screen out individuals with a disability.
  • The revision of policies necessary to provide full and equal enjoyment.
  • The provision of auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication.

Need some real life examples?  See the list below and take a quick “temperature” of your environment.

  • Customers with disabilities must be able to maneuver within your business safely and efficiently.
  • Exterior entrances must provide for a customer in a wheelchair to enter where a step or steps are present with a lift or ramp or provide an alternative entry.
  • If restrooms are provided, the restrooms must be accessible to all customers with disabilities, including those using a wheelchair or those with a visual impairment.
  • Restaurant and bar menus should be available in large print or braille. Where unavailable, staff should be prepared to read the menu aloud.
  • Restaurants and bars cannot deny entry or service to customers with service animals.
  • Cashier and food-ordering counters must be installed at a height that will ensure adequate service to customers in wheelchairs.

Need some help?  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Primer for Small Business can help guide ADA compliance, and Inclusion Solutions also has resources to assist. We can provide accessibility audits to ensure your business is adhering to the updated regulations.  States Pat Hughes, CEO of Inclusion Solutions, “By hiring an expert to come in and inspect your business, you’ll receive peace of mind and minimize risk of an ADA lawsuit.  Also, it’s good business. The U.S. Census Bureau reports there are an estimated 3.6 million wheelchair users in the United States, and this number is increasing every year due to the aging baby boomer generation. These baby boomers have the largest percentage of discretionary income at their disposal, and they’re more likely to frequent an accessible environment than one with barriers to entry and/or service.”

Click here to learn more about the updated regulations.

  1. Chaney, Paul. “Does you Small Business Need to be ADA Compliant?”  Retrieved from: https://smallbiztrends.com/2016/05/small-business-ada-guidelines.html (Visited 9/21/17)

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