April 28, 2015

ILR helps local small businesses with ADA best practices

Which of the following businesses need to be accessible to people with disabilities: car dealership, private dentist office, take-out only eatery or hair salon in a private home? (Answer below.)

LaWanda Cook
Cook

About a dozen employees from local small businesses and agencies attended “Accessibility and Your Small Business: Best Practices for a Limited Budget” April 23 to learn answers to these and other questions related to Title III regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The workshop was presented by LaWanda Cook, extension associate and training specialist for the Northeast ADA Center, which is one of 10 regional ADA Centers in the country. The Northeast ADA Center is housed within the ILR School’s Employment and Disability Institute.

Title III regulations apply to private businesses that fall within the 12 categories of businesses classified by the ADA as “places of public accommodation.” The session was coordinated by Hanna Cashen ’16, an ILR student interning with Cornell’s Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity, and hosted by Jennifer Taveres of the Ithaca/Tompkins Chamber of Commerce and Gary Ferguson of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership.

Ferguson said most small businesses in the Ithaca area are located in older buildings, and many of them rent the space they occupy. When they hear “ADA,” they think about the costs of providing physical accommodations and point out that they cannot afford to install elevators, widen doorways, lower counters or otherwise retrofit buildings they may not even own. The information session was meant to help them think creatively about other, less expensive ways to meet ADA requirements.

For instance, businesses can offset hinges to widen doorways by two inches; lower counters by using a table instead of redoing countertops; or bevel high thresholds with wedges of wood. But, said Cook, more often the solution can come through adopting a service-orientation in your business and changing procedures and policies.

Often the solution for one type of disability will enhance the space for all customers, Cook said. Getting rid of clutter in the aisles or building a ramp makes it easier not just for those needing wheelchair accessibility but also for mothers with strollers, children who have broken an ankle skiing or anyone carrying heavy packages, for instance.

“Just have a mindset for how to make your business work for everyone,” Cook said. “A welcoming attitude is good business any time and works for more than one type of disability.”

Also, the business advantage of reaching out to customers with disabilities is growing as the U.S. population ages, Cook said. Currently, about 56.7 million people in the U.S. have a disability. About one in five families is affected by disabilities and “if you are not welcoming and accessible to customers with disabilities, you are not welcoming to their families and friends either,” Cook said. “Whether or not you are considering the market advantages of welcoming customers with disabilities, your competitors are.”

“If you offer alternatives, make sure they are well-advertised,” she said, so that people can see that your welcoming approach is the way you do business.

The answer to the question above? All of these businesses must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. When a business is conducted within a private home, the portion of the home in which goods or services are provided must be accessible to people with disabilities. In the case of the hair salon, for instance, if physical accessibility is not readily achievable, the salon could offer services one day a week in customers’ homes, at no additional cost to individuals who cannot access the salon due to disability.