The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 sought to end discrimination against employees who were physically or mentally disabled. The law covered not only those who were actually disabled, but also those who were “regarded as” being disabled, as well as those who had a relationship with a disabled person or persons.
The ADA applies to all aspects of employment from advertising for a job, to interviewing for the position, to providing equal pay and benefits for equal positions, to training and promotions, and even to layoffs and terminations.
Under the ADA, employees are allowed to request necessary accommodations to better perform their required duties. These accommodations might range from a more accessible workspace to reading software for computer use, and many other requests depending on the person’s individual needs. Employers are required to maintain collaborative dialogue with their employees who have disabilities to reach a reasonable accommodation; but, employers are not required to provide the accommodation if it causes “an undue hardship” on the business, typically relating to cost, difficulty, or general disruption to the overall workplace.
If you own or operate a business in or around San Jose, California, and you have questions about accessibility standards or are facing issues of accessibility from a government entity or even grappling with a lawsuit, reach out to us at Leet Law. Since 2005, our ADA compliance attorneys have served businesses in not only San Jose, but also San Francisco, Oakland, Palo Alto, and the entire Bay Area.
What Are ADA Accessibility Standards?
The ADA establishes accessibility standards for structures that are open to the public. Perhaps the most widely-known standard is to provide inclusive access to buildings. As a result, ramps, elevators, and motorized wheelchair access devices have become commonplace. Accessibility standards cover more than just the entryway, however, and businesses that are open to the public have to be careful to meet the overall accessibility standards for their place of business.
But first, what is considered a business with public accommodation? The obvious examples are hotels, restaurants, auditoriums, theaters, recreational centers, bus and train terminals, schools, daycare centers, and the list goes on and on. Ultimately, any business that serves the public with goods and services.
Second, what are the standards that must be adhered to?
The Department of Justice ADA regulations list four standard priorities:
Making approaches and entrances accessible
Making goods and services accessible
Providing ease of access to public toilet rooms
Extending access to other items such as water fountains and public telephones
On Priority 1, Approach and Entrance, the regulations require that an accessible entrance and route from site arrival points should be provided. This often takes the form of a ramp into the structure to augment any existing stairway or other barrier. The ramp should be at least 36 inches wide. Priority 1 also covers parking for the disabled, including at least one spot for a van along with an adequate number of passenger vehicle spots.
On Priority 2, Access to Goods and Services, the regulations require the layout of your building to allow people with disabilities to obtain your business’s goods and services and to participate in activities without assistance. Again, the access routes — say aisles in a retail operation — must be at least 36 inches wide. There are also requirements about slopes, handrails, and protruding objects such as fire extinguishers.
On Priority 3, Toilet Rooms, the regulations mandate that your building have restrooms that are accessible for people with disabilities. Signage must clearly indicate which restrooms are accessible, and the wording cannot be higher than 60 inches from the floor. Other requirements include the width of the door opening (at least 32 inches) and the height of the threshold (no more than ¼ inch). The hardware, knobs, stalls, and other features inside the room must also be accessible.
On Priority 4, Additional Access, the regulations require your building amenities such as drinking fountains and public telephones should be accessible to everyone as well. These regulations involve the access path to a drinking fountain along with its maximum height (no more than 48 inches). Public phones, which of course are largely disappearing in the age of cellular phones, also cannot be higher than 48 inches.
Though no firm recommendations on website accessibility have been issued for businesses serving the public, the courts have routinely held that web accessibility standards must be followed. Thus, as a general principle, businesses should follow the Website Content Accessibility Guideline issued by the web standards group, W3C.
These standards cover accessibility issues such as navigation (using a keyboard or screen rather than a mouse to navigate); use of alternate text and captions on images and videos; maintaining a proper color contrast for those with limited vision or color blindness; making online forms more accessible; and more.
Experienced Guidance You Can Rely On
Our overview above covers only a fraction of the details for each priority and does not fully explain any exceptions or exemptions that may apply due to factors like building age, its historic significance, and so on. New construction, of course, is expected to diligently follow ADA regulations.
If you have questions or concerns about ADA accessibility standards, or you’re facing a challenge or legal issue over your business’s adherence to standards, our ADA compliance attorneys at Leet Law are ready to help.
We will discuss the situation with you, assess the standards that you need to observe, help you implement whatever changes are needed, and defend your rights if you’re being challenged. Reach out immediately if you’re anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area and navigating an ADA accessibility issue.