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Why ADA Compliance Matters for Small Businesses

ADA Sign Depot

June 23, 2014

ADA Sign Depot

Why Does ADA Compliance Matter for Small Businesses?

By Jason Smith, Published June 16, 2014 by

With all the intricacies and details of opening a business, there’s bound to be a few things that you forget about. It’s not uncommon for a business owner to focus on the product, the feel and look of the storefront, meeting legal and tax requirements as well as other health or building code regulations. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one that often gets pushed to the side because it can be costly to make physical alterations to your place of business.

The truth of the matter is, if you own, lease or operate a business that serves the public, then you are under the ADA umbrella and have obligations to meet concerning your facilities. Existing buildings from before the 1990 act are not grandfathered in.

It also makes business sense to take necessary steps to become compliant. From a cash flow standpoint, it removes barriers to purchase by allowing your full market potential to stream through your doors. Regarding public image, your business has a friendly, inclusive reputation and limits liability by being nondiscriminatory. From an employee standpoint, the last thing you want to do is restrict any talent potential by not having the facilities to get in the door.

So what if you don’t have the money to become fully ADA accessible? There’s guidance for that. The government recognizes that not all businesses have the money to become fully ADA compliant. You are required to remove physical “barriers” that are “readily achievable,” which means easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense (source).

Larger businesses are required to do more than small businesses. But there’s another way you can become ADA compliant at a discount. The government offers tax credits that you can take advantage of. According to Section 44 of the IRS tax code, you could be eligible for a credit that pays for 50% of the expense to become ADA friendly. This covers expenditures up to $10,250 and applies to businesses that have total revenues of $1 million or less or fewer than 30 employees. Bigger than that? Section 190 allows for deductions up to $15,000.

You could use this credit to help you build an accessibility ramp (make sure your contractor has experience with ADA accessibility), creating compliant parking spaces, lowering service counters, building 18″ landings, switching door handles, installing Braille signage, swapping turnstiles for gates or altering fixed tables and seating.

Operate an online business? Electronic media and websites are also included. Make sure your web developer provides options for ADA compliance like text transcripts, ensuring all media includes alt tags, including assistive technology-friendly applets, javascript and plugins and making form fields flow in a logical tab order. There’s a lot more that you can do. This checklist from Section 508 that applies to government contractors can help you meet the ADA standards.

So what’s the cost of noncompliance? The Department of Justice is required to pursue settlement through negotiation first. If negotiation is unsuccessful, they have the ability to file lawsuits to try to enforce the law and obtain court orders that include back pay and compensatory damages. No one wants to be ordered to pay, but the court can and has handed out civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for subsequent violations.


Jason Smith is an experienced freelance writer who has written on a diverse range of topics including business, marketing, tech, real estate, and fitness for a variety of outlets . When he’s not writing, he can usually be found out hiking a new trail.

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