Friday, April 25, 2014

Inaccessible Small Business Owners Missing Out On Big Bucks

Many people’s major concern when running errands or shopping is whether they can fit all they need to do into the time available. For people with disabilities, however, particularly for those who have physical disabilities, their major concern is whether they can get into the stores or buildings in the first place and, once in, whether they have access to the goods and services they need.

Stores, theaters, and other buildings were never  intended to shut out people with disabilities—but the built environment has been highly effective in denying access to people who have limited use of hands or legs. A single step, a one-inch threshold, a heavy door, or a round doorknob can make entry into a building difficult, if not impassible. And once someone with mobility impairment has struggled to get inside, cluttered aisles or objects blocking call buttons on elevators can significantly impede their ability to do what others may take for granted, whether that is to buy a new shirt or visit a physician’s office.

Most large chain stores are accessible but malls, dollar stores, mini-marts, and many independent stores are over stocked with cluttered isles and inaccessible checkouts.  Just getting to a business is one challenge shopping cluttered dollar stores and mall vendors is next to impossible and often even dangerous.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed nearly unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, mandates places that offer their goods and services to the public must be accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. Effective January 26, 1992, all places of business have been required to make their goods and services available to and useable by people with disabilities to the extent that it is readily achievable (e.g., that changes can be accomplished without much difficulty or expense). Furthermore, all new construction and renovations to existing buildings must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities to the fullest extent possible.

Lack of access is more than an inconvenience for people with disabilities; for many, accessible stores, professional offices, theaters, libraries, state and local government offices, and medical facilities can mean the difference between a life of independence and full immersion in the community and one of dependence and restrictive living situations.

For more information on how to make your business more accessible go to the Department of Justice ADA business connection web page at  This information resource not only provides guidance on structural changes and the laws that require accessibility, the site also provides business owners with information on tax breaks and tax credits to help absorb the cost of barrier removal and structural changes to business locations. The ADA Business connection also has information on employing the disabled and guides for reasonable accommodations that employers can offer disabled employees. When it comes to the ADA the federal government has created all kinds of assistance manuals ranging from design standards to telecommunications, and assistive technology truly an invaluable resource to optimize your business for the disabilities patrons.

You may ask “Is it worth it to make my business accessible?”  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people with disabilities have $175 billion discretionary income, four times the spending power of teens. An Open Doors study in estimated that disabilities individuals spent 35 billion in restaurants in 2003.  It is just sound business to market to and make accommodations to serve the disabled in small business why should only the big corporate stores and restaurants get all the discretionary spending dollars from the disabled consumers.

<-> Mr. Tim Hollobaugh, Committee Chair
AIC Disability and Aging Accessibility –
ADA Related Committee and Taskforce –
Civic and Community Relations Division

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