ADA Requirements for Small Businesses: From Venues to Websites

Independent Services Meet Accessibility Head-On

In a world and a country that need inclusion and equal access more than ever, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) serves as a guiding light. The ADA is a landmark piece of legislation that shapes how we approach accessibility in various spheres of public life. The goal of the ADA is to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities, warranting and protecting equal access to opportunities and services. This extends to the domain of enterprise, with particular implications for small businesses striving to create inclusive environments. For small businesses, understanding and adhering to ADA guidelines is both a legal obligation and a moral imperative. The ADA emphasizes that both physical venues and digital platforms must be accessible, defining how businesses and organizations of all sizes are required to respond to their clientele's varied but essential needs. Because everyone deserves equality and freedom of access. After all, isn’t that what America is all about?

A group of people with diverse abilities interacting and enjoying a public space

Must Small Businesses Comply with ADA Regulations?

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. This includes employment, transportation, state and local government services, and public accommodations.

Small businesses are not exempt from ADA compliance, unless they are really miniscule. Indeed, the ADA specifically applies to businesses with at least 15 employees, if they operate as a public accommodation. Even if you have less than 15 employees, it is highly advisable for you to follow workplace laws regardless, especially if you plan to hire more people. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important law: you don't want to neglect it.

So what are public accommodations actually? Broadly defined, these are businesses and organizations that are open to the general public, such as retail stores, restaurants, hotels, and healthcare providers.

The ADA requires all places of public accommodation to take reasonable steps to provide equal access to their goods and services for people with disabilities. Businesses, services, and products that are available online must likewise be accessible to people with disabilities.

Is the ADA Talking About Physical or Digital Accessibility?

Short answer: yes. Although the ADA was originally written and signed into law in July 1990, the earliest version of the public domain internet as we know it today became available to the wider world in April 1993. A close enough pair of occurrences, but there’s no overlap. The ADA couldn’t very well have considered things that didn’t yet exist.

You may want to check out this rather charmingly outdated history of the internet, or, have a listen to this NPR article.

With this order of events in mind, let’s understand that the ADA resulted from a collective wish to stop the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the opportunities and services afforded to everyone else. With the development of the world wide web, and the expanding influence of digital technologies over so much of our lives, digital accessibility today is absolutely taken into account in law and regulations. Just as the law insists on adaptive solutions to physical barriers, online or electronic barriers must be removed to open the digital doors for everyone.

A person in a wheelchair navigating through a doorway with an automatic door opener.

Evolution of the ADA, in Brief

The Americans with Disabilities Act was born out of a long struggle for equal rights. Enacted in 1990, the ADA represents a significant step forward in civil rights legislation, aiming to eradicate discrimination based on disability. This was a landmark moment, a public and official recognition that individuals with disabilities deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. The Act encompasses various aspects of public life, from employment and education to transportation and public spaces, safeguarding equal access and opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Act protects people with a wide range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments.

Snapshots in American Disability History

While far from comprehensive, the timeline points below highlight some of the events that shaped the disability advocacy and accessibility movement in America.

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Note: Because the text in the timeline graphic above is far too long to fit into an alt tag, we’ll simply add it here below:

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Needless to say, although this list is very limited, the history of accessibility started earlier and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s sped up quite a bit in the last few years. If you are interested in more details and updates on accessibility, we suggest you subscribe to one of the many, many blogs, vlogs, or newsletters available.

The Importance of ADA Compliance for Small Businesses

ADA compliance is a critical consideration for small businesses. Adhering to ADA requirements helps companies welcome a wider audience, by demonstrating their commitment to equality. Specific ADA business requirements guide small businesses, securing the tools they need to create accessible environments. Failure to comply with these guidelines can result in various forms of embarrassment: significant financial penalties, legal issues, and damage to the business's reputation. However, rectifying and boosting accessibility can increase customer loyalty, and contribute to a positive brand image.

Small businesses play a vital role in the economic landscape, and their compliance with ADA regulations is pivotal to the goal of creating a truly accessible environment for all. By embracing ADA guidelines, small businesses not only demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility, they also reap tangible benefits, such as:

Expanding Their Customer Base

By making their products and services accessible to a wider audience, businesses can attract more customers and boost their revenue. This inclusivity can lead to increased brand loyalty and positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Enhancing Brand Reputation

Adherence to ADA regulations signals a company's commitment to inclusivity, fostering a positive brand image and customer loyalty. According to the Census Bureau, there are over 60 million people with disabilities in the United States. This represents a significant and growing market for small businesses. And, businesses that prioritize accessibility are often perceived as more ethical and socially responsible, which can attract conscientious consumers.

Noncompliance with ADA guidelines can lead to costly lawsuits and damage a company's reputation. Legal battles drain financial resources and tarnish brand image, making it difficult to attract and maintain customers and partners.

How Can Small Businesses Best Comply with ADA Requirements?

On the whole, there are quite a few resources available to help small businesses comply with ADA requirements. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has a website with information on ADA compliance, including a self-evaluation checklist that businesses can use to identify and address accessibility barriers.

There are also some non-profit organizations that provide assistance to small businesses on ADA compliance. For example, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) has a website with information and resources on ADA compliance for small businesses.

While the resources above are mainly intended for business owners and administrators, if you are a person with disabilities you may find this list helpful.

A small business storefront with a welcoming sign and with universal access, expressed via a symbol.


ADA Requirements for Physical Venue Accessibility

If you’re not sure which of these venue requirements apply to your business, you can go one of two routes: assume they do, and act accordingly, or ask someone with legal expertise, with a specialized knowledge of accessibility. Of course, lawyers do charge for their time, and you will most likely have to follow the guidelines in any case.

Parking & Entryways

  • Parking
    Accessible parking spaces must be available, clearly marked with proper signage and with ample space for wheelchair users to navigate. These spaces should be situated closest to the venue's entrance and on level ground to facilitate easy access. They should be connected to accessible pathways leading to the entrance.
  • Entryways
    Doors and entryways should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and have ramps or lifts where necessary. They should feature handles, locks, and call buttons that are easily reachable and operable. Doorways should have a minimum clear opening width of 32 inches to allow for easy passage of wheelchairs. Ramps should have a gentle slope and handrails for support, while lifts should be properly maintained and have clear operating instructions. Automatic door openers should be installed for easy access. These openers should be triggered by motion sensors or push buttons located at an accessible height for wheelchair users.

Internal Accessibility

Adequate maneuvering space should be provided for wheelchair users throughout the venue. This includes aisles, hallways, and spaces around furniture or displays.

  • Aisle Width
    Clear pathways, a minimum of 36 inches wide in clear width, are essential throughout the venue, allowing people using mobility aids to move freely.
  • Counters
    Counters, displays, and other amenities should be at accessible heights, facilitating interactions for wheelchair users.
  • Restrooms
    Restrooms should have accessible stalls and grab bars. Accessible stalls should have wider doors, ample maneuvering space for wheelchairs, and grab bars for support.

Signage & Wayfinding

  • Signage
    Choose and use legible fonts, with clear and consistent signage throughout the venue. Include Braille for visitors with visual impairments. Signage should be placed at a height that is easily visible to both standing and seated individuals.
  • Wayfinding
    Accessible information kiosks or guides should be available to assist in navigating the space. Visual contrast should be employed for easy identification of signage and wayfinding elements: signs with a strong contrast between the text and background are significantly more easily distinguishable for individuals with visual impairments.

Emergency Preparedness

  • Alarms
    Emergency alarms should have both visual and auditory signals. Visual alarms, such as flashing strobe lights, should be installed alongside auditory alarms to alert individuals with hearing impairments.
  • Staff
    Staff should be trained to assist individuals with disabilities during emergencies. Training should cover procedures for evacuation, communication with individuals with different types of disabilities, and the use of assistive devices.
  • Evacuation Plans
    Evacuation plans should include procedures and plans that clearly outline the roles of staff members in assisting individuals with disabilities during an emergency. They should also include evacuation routes, communication methods, and designated safe areas.

Core ADA Requirements for Digital Accessibility

Chances are, you may not know what the latest updates in accessibility requirements entail. And, very few people really understand whether their digital and online content is accessible, or how much of it they’ll need to fix.

Generalized information aside, we do recommend that you do three things:

  1. Test and monitor your website or web app for accessibility compliance.
  2. Add automated options to enhance accessibility: this may be what some people consider a “quick fix” that doesn’t do it all, but tools like overlays and widgets can improve some of your accessibility issues right away.
  3. Most importantly, if you can budget for it, it is very important to consult with an experienced accessibility expert. They can assess your site or app, and advise you what your next best steps will be.

Here are a few high-level recommendations to help you with your accessibility improvement efforts:

Screen Reader Compatibility

  • Coding & Content
    Websites should be compatible with screen readers, enabling users with visual impairments to access content. This includes ensuring that all text elements are properly coded and structured, so screen readers can accurately interpret and convey the content. Employ proper HTML tags and ARIA roles to facilitate this.
  • Alternative Text
    Alternative text should be provided for all images and visual elements. Alternative text, also known as alt text, provides a textual description of images, graphics, or other non-text elements. This allows screen readers to convey the meaning of these elements to visually impaired users.
A screen reader software icon with a text-to-speech bubble


Keyboard Navigation

  • Keyboard Compatibility & Coding
    All website functions should be accessible using a keyboard for users with limited dexterity or using assistive technologies. This includes ensuring that all navigation elements, such as menus, buttons, and links, can be accessed and activated using only a keyboard.
  • Focus Indicators
    Provide clear focus indicators for keyboard navigation. When navigating using a keyboard, a visual indicator should clearly show the user which element is currently in focus. This helps keep track of their position on the page, so they can easily identify the element they are interacting with.

Adjustable Text and Contrast

  • Text Size & Contrast
    Users should be able to adjust text size and contrast for comfortable viewing. Be sure to provide options to increase or decrease text size without affecting the layout or functionality of the website.
  • Color Contrast
    Color combinations should provide sufficient contrast for easy readability. Text and background colors should have a strong contrast ratio, making it easy for users with visual impairments to distinguish between text and its surroundings.

Video & Audio Content

  • Captions
    Captions should be provided for all video content, making it accessible to users with hearing impairments. Captions should accurately transcribe the spoken dialogue, sound effects, and other relevant audio cues. Captions should be synched with audio, and  should identify speakers.
  • Transcripts
    Transcripts should be available for audio content. Transcripts provide a textual representation of audio content, allowing users with hearing impairments or certain cognitive disabilities to access the information. Transcripts should include speaker identification.

Consistent, Intuitive Layout

  • Logical Layout & Structure
    Maintain a logical, consistent layout and navigation structure, helping users to easily locate the information or services they require. A consistent and intuitive layout makes navigation predictable and easy to understand. This includes using consistent navigation elements, placing them in predictable locations, and maintaining a consistent overall structure throughout the website.
  • Labels & Headings
    Clear labels and headings should be used to organize content. Headings should clearly indicate the structure and hierarchy of content, allowing users to easily scan and navigate through the website.

Larger Steps Towards ADA Compliance

Achieving ADA compliance is an ongoing process that requires commitment and continuous improvement. Here are some steps businesses can take:

Conduct Regular Accessibility Audits

Regularly assess your physical and digital spaces for accessibility, identifying areas for improvement. This can involve using accessibility checklists, conducting user testing with individuals with disabilities, and seeking feedback from accessibility experts.

An inspector evaluating a building's accessibility features using a checklist. 

Engage Experts or Consultants

Seek guidance from accessibility experts or consultants to ensure compliance with ADA regulations. These experts can provide comprehensive audits, identify specific areas of improvement, and offer recommendations for achieving compliance.

Utilize Available Digital Tools

Explore digital tools, like accessibility overlays, to enhance the accessibility of your website. These tools can provide automated solutions for certain accessibility issues, such as adding alt text to images or adjusting color contrast.

Offer Staff Training

Educate staff on ADA guidelines and best practices for assisting individuals with disabilities. This training should cover both physical and digital accessibility, ensuring that staff members are equipped to provide inclusive and accessible service.

A group of employees attending a training session on ADA guidelines and best practices for assisting individuals with disabilities.

Making An Accessible Path Towards a More Inclusive Future

As we look to the future, many of us collectively aspire towards a world where accessibility is not an afterthought, but a central consideration in all business endeavors, creating a society where everyone is included and valued.

The ADA is one solid example of the ongoing pursuit of equality and inclusion. By embracing ADA guidelines, small businesses can not only fulfill their legal obligations, but also contribute to a more welcoming world for everyone.

Embracing ADA requirements is a strategic move for small businesses. By adhering to both physical and digital accessibility guidelines, businesses of all sizes play a vital role in contributing to a more inclusive society and expanding access to services and opportunities. The ADA guide for small businesses provides a valuable resource, helping to navigate the complexities of compliance and ensuring that businesses are well-equipped to meet the needs of all their clients.

As we move forward, let us continue to strive for a society where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate and thrive. The ADA provides a framework for achieving this vision, and it is up to each of us to embrace its principles and make accessibility a priority. Together, we can create a world where barriers are removed, opportunities are expanded, and the promise of equality becomes a reality.


What does ADA stand for and who does it protect?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>What does ADA stand for and who does it protect?

ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA protects individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

Are all businesses required to comply with the ADA?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>Are all businesses required to comply with the ADA?

The ADA applies to all businesses that are open to the public, regardless of size. However, there are different requirements for businesses depending on their size and the age of their facilities. ADA requirements for businesses are crucial to create an inclusive environment. ADA small business guidelines exist to help smaller entities understand and comply with these requirements.

How do ADA requirements for office space differ from other public spaces?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>How do ADA requirements for office space differ from other public spaces?

ADA requirements for office space are specifically tailored to ensure that work environments are accessible to employees with disabilities. This includes providing accessible routes to and within the office, accessible restroom facilities, and accessible workspaces. These requirements are in addition to the general ADA standards that apply to all public spaces.

What specific businesses are covered under the ADA?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>What specific businesses are covered under the ADA?

The ADA applies to a wide range of businesses, taking in places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and private entities that offer employment. This includes restaurants, hotels, retail stores, banks, theaters, healthcare providers, and many other types of businesses.

What are the consequences of non-compliance with ADA guidelines?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>What are the consequences of non-compliance with ADA guidelines?

Businesses that fail to comply with ADA regulations can face legal action, including lawsuits and fines. And, non-compliance can damage a company's reputation and alienate customers, leading to lost revenue and negative publicity.

What resources are available to help businesses achieve ADA compliance?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>What resources are available to help businesses achieve ADA compliance?

Numerous resources are available to assist businesses in meeting ADA requirements. These include accessibility checklists, online tutorials, training courses, and consultations with accessibility experts. The U.S. Department of Justice also provides comprehensive information and guidance on ADA compliance.

How does website accessibility fit into ADA compliance?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>How does website accessibility fit into ADA compliance?

Website accessibility is a crucial part of ADA compliance. Businesses must ensure that their digital platforms are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those who use screen readers or require keyboard navigation. Adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the best way to make sure your website meets ADA standards.

How can I make my website more accessible?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>How can I make my website more accessible?

Start by:

  • Using clear and simple language
  • Providing alternative text for images
  • Ensuring keyboard navigability
  • Offering adjustable text size and contrast
  • Captioning videos and providing transcripts for audio content
  • Using a consistent and intuitive layout

What are some examples of assistive technologies that people with disabilities may use?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>What are some examples of assistive technologies that people with disabilities may use?

Assistive technologies come in various forms, including:

  • Screen readers: Software that converts text to speech or braille output for visually impaired users
  • Magnification software: Enlarges screen content for easier viewing
  • Voice recognition software: Allows users to control their computers and devices using voice commands
  • Alternative input devices: Keyboard alternatives, such as joysticks or eye-tracking devices, for users with limited dexterity

How can I train my staff on ADA compliance and best practices for assisting individuals with disabilities?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>How can I train my staff on ADA compliance and best practices for assisting individuals with disabilities?

Several training options are available, including online courses, in-person workshops, and consultations with accessibility experts. Training should cover both physical and digital accessibility, including how to interact with individuals with different types of disabilities and how to use assistive technologies.

Can small businesses receive any support or incentives for ADA compliance?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>Can small businesses receive any support or incentives for ADA compliance?

Yes, there are tax incentives available to help ADA small business owners cover the cost of making their businesses accessible. These include a tax credit for small businesses that incur expenses for providing access to persons with disabilities, and a tax deduction for businesses of all sizes that remove architectural or transportation barriers.

How often should a business conduct an accessibility audit?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>How often should a business conduct an accessibility audit?

Accessibility is an ongoing concern, and businesses should aim to conduct regular accessibility audits to ensure continued compliance with ADA standards. The frequency of these audits will depend on the nature of your business and the changes you make to your facilities or practices over time. And, be sure to find accessibility auditing experts or teams who come with references and recommendations.

What is the connection between ADA compliance and digital accessibility?

<meta itemprop="name" content="<strong>What is the connection between ADA compliance and digital accessibility?

ADA compliance extends to digital spaces, ensuring that websites and other digital platforms are accessible to individuals with disabilities. This includes ensuring screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigation, and adjustable text and contrast options. Meeting these requirements is a crucial part of ADA compliance for businesses operating in today's digital age.

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