Reaching Out to Customers With Disabilities: Lesson 1 Policies, Practices, and Procedures At an electronics store, a staff person is carrying a television to the check-out counter for a customer who is using a walker.
Lesson 10: Information SourcesLesson 9: ADA EnforcementLesson 8: Cost IssuesLesson 7: Transporting CustomersLesson 6: Maintaining AccessibilityLesson 5: Alternate AccessLesson 4: Removing BarriersLesson 3: Accessible DesignLesson 2: Customer CommunicationsIntroduction: Welcome to the Course Lesson 1: Polices & Procedures


The ADA has limits. Businesses are not required to change their policies and procedures in any way that would cause a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of their goods or services, would undermine safe operation of the business, or would cause a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others.

"Fundamental alteration"

A "fundamental alteration" is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered. For example:

If a bookstore places special orders for customers, it should do so for all of its customers. A bookstore that does not place special orders for customers is not required to place special orders for customers with disabilities. This would be a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of the bookstore’s services.

A restaurant is not required to prepare special dishes for customers who have disabilities. This would be a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of the restaurant’s services. However, if it is easy to omit a sauce or ingredient from a dish that is listed on the menu, a customer can request that the item be omitted. This would not be considered a fundamental alteration.

Safe operation

As a rule, people with disabilities may not be excluded from any services or be isolated from other customers unless it is necessary for the safe operation of a business. If legitimate safety requirements make it necessary to exclude or isolate a person with a disability, they must be based on actual risks, not on stereotypes or generalizations about people with disabilities. For example:

A wilderness tour company may require all participants to take a swim test in order to participate in a rafting expedition. Even if some people with disabilities might not pass the test, the policy is legitimate because of the actual risk of harm to people who would not be able to swim to safety if the raft capsized.

The same wilderness tour company may not refuse to take customers who have disabilities, based on the incorrect belief that people with disabilities cannot swim.

The same company may not require only people with disabilities to take a swim test, based on the assumption that people who don’t have disabilities know how to swim.

Staff are not expected to abandon their duties in order to provide assistance to a person with a disablility, when doing so would jeopardize the safe operation of a business.

"Direct threat"

A "direct threat" is a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated.

A dentist cannot refuse to treat a patient who has HIV and refer him or her elsewhere if the dentist offers other patients the same service that is being sought by the patient with HIV. HIV does not present a “direct threat” to dentists who follow universal precautions.

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