Excerpted from "ADA TA Technical Assistance Updates from the U.S. Department of Justice, Volume 1, Readily Achievable Barrier Removal and Van-Accessible Parking Spaces" www.ada.gov/adata1.htm

Common Questions

Is my business required to remove barriers?

If your business provides goods and services to the public, you are required to remove barriers if doing so is "readily achievable". Such a business is called a public accommodation because it serves the public. If your business is not open to the public but is only a place of employment like a warehouse, manufacturing facility or office building, then there is no requirement to remove barriers. Such a facility is called a commercial facility. While the operator of a commercial facility is not required to remove barriers, you must comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design when you alter, renovate or expand your facility.

I operate a restaurant that opened in 1991. The city required that the restaurant comply with the local accessibility code. Is the restaurant "grandfathered" and not required to remove barriers as required by the ADA?

No. A restaurant is a public accommodation and a place of public accommodation must remove barriers when it is readily achievable to do so. Although the facility may be "grandfathered" according to the local building code, the ADA does not have a provision to "grandfather" a facility. While a local building authority may not require any modifications to bring a building "up to code" until a renovation or major alteration is done, the ADA requires that a place of public accommodation remove barriers that are readily achievable even when no alterations or renovations are planned.

Do I, as the owner, have to pay for removing barriers?

Yes, but tenants and management companies also have an obligation. Any private entity who owns, leases, leases to, or operates a place of public accommodation shares in the obligation to remove barriers.

If I do remove barriers, is my business entitled to any tax benefit to help pay for the cost of compliance?

As amended in 1990, the Internal Revenue Code allows a deduction of up to $15,000 per year for expenses associated with the removal of qualified architectural and transportation barriers (Section 190).

The 1990 amendment also permits eligible small businesses to receive a tax credit (Section 44) for certain costs of compliance with the ADA. An eligible small business is one whose gross receipts do not exceed $1,000,000 or whose workforce does not consist of more than 30 full-time workers. Qualifying businesses may claim a credit of up to 50 percent of eligible access expenditures that exceed $250 but do not exceed $10,250. Examples of eligible access expenditures include the necessary and reasonable costs of removing architectural, physical, communications, and transportation barriers; providing readers, interpreters, and other auxiliary aids; and acquiring or modifying equipment or devices.

Does the ADA permit me to consider the effect of a modification on the operation on my business?

Yes. The ADA permits consideration of factors other than the initial cost of the physical removal of a barrier.

ILLUSTRATION: CDE convenience store determines that it would be inexpensive to remove shelves to provide access to wheelchair users throughout the store. However, this change would result in a significant loss of selling space that would have an adverse effect on its business. In this case, the removal of all the shelves is not readily achievable and, thus, is not required by the ADA. However, it may be readily achievable to remove some shelves.

If an area of my store is reachable only by a flight of steps, would I be required to add an elevator?

Usually no. A public accommodation generally would not be required to remove a barrier to physical access posed by a flight of steps, if removal would require extensive ramping or an elevator. The readily achievable standard does not require barrier removal that requires burdensome expense. Thus, where it is not readily achievable to do so, the ADA would not require a public accommodation to provide access to an area reachable only by a flight of stairs.

I have a portable ramp that we use for deliveries - can't I just use that?

Yes, you could, but only if the installation of a permanent ramp is not readily achievable. In order to promote safety, a portable ramp should have railings, a firm, stable, nonslip surface and the slope should not exceed one to twelve (one unit of rise for every twelve units horizontal distance). It should also be properly secured and staff should be trained in its safe use.

What about my employee areas? Must I remove barriers in areas used only by employees?

No. The "readily achievable" obligation to remove barriers in existing facilities does not extend to areas of a facility that are used exclusively by employees. Of course, it may be necessary to remove barriers in response to a request for "reasonable accommodation" by a qualified employee or applicant as required by Title I of the ADA. For more information, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which enforces Title I of the ADA.

How can a public accommodation decide what needs to be done?

One effective approach is to conduct a "self-evaluation" of the facility to identify existing barriers. While not required by the ADA, a serious effort at self-assessment and consultation can save resources by identifying the most efficient means of providing required access and can diminish the threat of litigation. It serves as evidence of a good faith effort to comply with the barrier removal requirements of the ADA. This process should include consultation with individuals with disabilities or with organizations representing them and procedures for annual reevaluations.

If a public accommodation determines that its facilities have barriers that should be removed, but it is not readily achievable to undertake all of the modifications now, what should it do?

The Department recommends that a public accommodation develop an implementation plan designed to achieve compliance with the ADA's barrier removal requirements. Such a plan, if appropriately designed and executed, could serve as evidence of a good faith effort to comply with the ADA's barrier removal requirements.

What if I'm not able to remove barriers at this time due to my financial situation? Does that mean I'm relieved of current responsibilities?

No, when you can demonstrate that the removal of barriers is not readily achievable, you must make your goods and services available through alternative methods, if undertaking such methods is readily achievable. Examples of alternative methods include having clerks retrieve merchandise located on inaccessible shelves or delivering goods or services to the customers at curbside or in their homes. Of course, the obligation to remove barriers when readily achievable is a continuing one. Over time, barrier removal that initially was not readily achievable may later become so because of your changed circumstances.

One of the buildings that I own is a small factory with offices. Do I have to make that accessible?

No, commercial facilities such as factories, warehouses, and office buildings that do not contain places of public accommodation are considered "commercial facilities" and are not required to remove barriers in existing facilities. They are, however, covered by the ADA's requirements for accessible design in new construction or alterations.