The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first signed into law in 1990 to protect the rights of people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including transportation, public accommodations, government services, and employment. In 2010, the Department of Justice published a new set of ADA standards that extended the ADA’s jurisdiction to the internet as a place of public accommodation. Not only is ADA compliance a matter of obeying the law, but it also indicates to your employees and your customers that you care about their wellbeing.
Why ADA Compliance Matters for Businesses and Employers
As a business, you should pay particular attention to Titles I and III of the ADA. Title I governs employment, prohibiting discrimination in hiring, firing, training, advancement, benefits, and conditions of employment on the basis of disability. Title III governs public accommodations, including workplaces, stores, restaurants, and education. Under Title III, such places must provide accommodations that allow people of abilities to access full use of facilities or services. This extends to both your customers and your employees—anyone who regularly enters, interacts with, and utilizes your space. The ADA applies not only to built environments (your workspace, office, storefront, etc), but also to policies and procedures that affect how you interact with, communicate with, and provide goods or services to customers and employees. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the built environment. ADA compliance requires that your work environment be inclusive to all employees, providing necessary accommodations to allow any employees with disabilities the means to perform their full job responsibilities and navigate the office space. Making your workspace ADA complaint ensures that every employee is able to reach their full potential, and your organization’s value benefits as a result.
Who Needs to Be Compliant?
If your company has been in business less than 20 weeks, employs 14 people or fewer, or occupies a building constructed in the early 90s, you are exempt from ADA compliance. Likewise, if you run a small business, you are expected to make reasonable accommodations only if they are “readily achievable,” meaning any accommodation that can be accomplished without excessive difficulty or expense. However, just because you fall into one of the categories above doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. As your business grows and matures, with any luck you may find yourself liable for ADA compliance. Even when your business is in its early stages, you should be thinking and planning ahead for how you can make your space more accessible. This forethought will help you minimize expenses down the line.
How to Design an ADA Compliant Office Space
While the ADA has been around since the 1990s, many businesses have lingering questions about compliance. It also never hurts to brush up on the criteria for ADA compliance for office spaces. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to creating an ADA compliant office space.
Businesses are required to provide at least one accessible entrance. If your entrance requires even one small step up, it can be impossible for people in wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or other mobility devices to enter. This barrier can be solved by installing a wheelchair ramp or lift, or by leveling the walkway. If it’s not possible to convert your front entrance into an accessible entrance, you can provide an alternate accessible entrance instead. Just be sure to provide signage so that people know where to find it.
Doorways and Hallways
Doors and hallways must be at least 36 inches wide to allow people in wheelchairs to pass freely through them and navigate the office space without encountering obstacles. If your office has double doors that are each less than 36 inches wide, both doors should be kept open during business hours. Another ADA stipulation is that any door that requires more than five pounds of force to open should be accompanied by a form of assistance, whether that be a button to open the doors electronically or a human doorman to open them. Carpeting in hallways and work spaces should be fastened to the floor and the pile should be less than ½-inch thick in order to avoid creating obstacles, allowing wheelchairs and other mobility devices to move about freely.
Desks and Tables
The ADA requires that desks and tables be at least 27 inches high to allow plenty of clearance for individuals using wheelchairs to pull up to the table without bumping their knees. Furnishing your office with height-adjustable sit-stand desks provides flexibility for users of all kinds to customize the desk height to their preference, whether they be in a wheelchair, on crutches, or simply taller than average. With an electric height-adjustable desk, different users can adjust the desk to their specifications at the touch of a button, allowing more people to use the same facilities. Height-adjustable desks are a more cost-effective and inclusive furniture solution that will make it easy to meet ADA standards.
As computers and the internet have become essential tools in modern working life, the reasonable accommodations necessary to make an office accessible don’t stop with furniture or office layout. Employers should ensure that digital properties—such as the company website, email, job portal, and software used for specific job roles—are accessible for employees with disabilities. While the Department of Justice had planned to publish web accessibility regulations under Title III of the ADA, those official regulations have been put on hold. However, that doesn’t mean businesses are off the hook—companies must still meet accessibility standards for websites, job portals, and other web properties. To play it safe, use the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA)as your benchmark for accessibility. These guidelines were developed by developed by W3C, an international consortium that develops web standards, and are considered the gold standard of web accessibility.
Compliance is Simpler Than It Sounds
ADA compliance can sound like a big, scary, complex code of regulations and standards. But it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. Most of the accommodations required to meet ADA standards are actually small changes to the physical work environment that make a big difference in accessibility for your customers and employees with disabilities. Planning ahead when your business is just starting to grow—such as investing in height-adjustable sit-stand desks—will make the process easier once your company is large enough to be liable.