Why Small Businesses Should Pay Attention to Accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which passed more than 30 years ago, made it illegal to deny job opportunities to people based on their disabilities, mandated "reasonable accommodations" to make buildings accessible, and required most private businesses to offer equal service to disabled customers. About 61 million people in the United States (one in every four adults) live with a disability.1
While government enforcement of the ADA tends to be weak, a disabled person who is negatively impacted can sue a noncompliant business. ADA lawsuits are on the rise, with some disability activists reportedly becoming serial litigants.2 When an ADA claim is legitimate, the court can order that the violation be fixed and that the plaintiff's substantial legal fees be paid in full by the defendant. Some state laws allow for financial damages.
If you are notified of an alleged violation or served with a complaint, don't hesitate to consult a qualified legal professional. However, the threat of legal action is not the only reason to be aware of the accessibility requirements and guidelines that may apply to your business. Striving to better serve individuals who face immense challenges in their daily lives is simply good business practice.
Here are several facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act that may help you work toward compliance.
- ADA requirements are complex and depend on the specific business and industry. The law includes more than 279 pages of precise standards for accessible design — the grade of a ramp, width of a parking space, and height of a service counter, for example.3 An experienced ADA inspector (certified access specialist) can help identify compliance issues so they can be remedied.
- Website accessibility matters, too. Some businesses have been targeted over websites that don't accommodate the blind, who often use screen-reading technology, or the deaf, who may rely on closed captions to follow video content. Though the specific requirements for website compliance are not set by law, many organizations use Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a helpful reference for improving digital accessibility.
- There's a tax credit to help offset compliance costs. Small businesses that earn $1 million or less or have fewer than 30 full-time employees may qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit (max. $5,000) for each year they spend money for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities. The credit is equal to 50% of eligible expenses between $250 and $10,000 incurred during the taxable year.