Guidelines for Small Business Compliance with the Public Accommodations Section (Title III) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

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ABSTRACT

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) promises to have a major impact on the accommodation of customers by small business. Under Title III, the accommodations section of the ADA, a qualified person with a disability is protected from discrimination in full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, or accommodations. This paper provides guidelines that will enable the small business owner to comply with Title III of the ADA.

INTRODUCTION

On July 26, 1990, the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (Americans with Disabilities Act [1990]), an act which figuratively and literally opened the doors of American business to almost 43 million new customers. Unfortunately, affected small businesses are often ignorant of the law and its application to them. This fact is reflected in a study of small retailers and service firms by Ballenger, Franklin, and Robinson (1992). The findings of their research indicate that over two-thirds of the respondents were not aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the first comprehensive federal law which specifically protects the individual with a disability from discrimination in each of four major areas: employment (Title I of the ADA), public services (Title II), public accommodations (Title III) and telecommunications (Title IV). While much of the emphasis has been on Title I, the employment provisions of the ADA, the most far-reaching part of this legislation is Title III, which targets public accommodations and services operated by private entities. Title III is unique in that it ultimately applies to private businesses of every size, not just those with a certain number of employees or dollar volume. Many small businesses will be exempt from the other titles, but all must accommodate customers, clients, and visitors (Sloan, 1990). Estimates indicate that over five million businesses will be impacted.

The small business owner faces an ambiguous situation and a future which may be influenced by court decisions. The purpose of this paper is to provide guidelines that will help the small business owner to comply with the public accommodations provisions of the ADA. An overview of Title III is considered first.

OVERVIEW OF TITLE III

Most non-governmental commercial operations and facilities will fall under the scope of the accommodations section (Title III) of the ADA. This statute enumerates twelve types of businesses (listed in Appendix 1), which, if such entities affect commerce, are considered "public accommodations" and are covered under this title. Also covered under Title III, but not discussed in this paper, are new construction, privately-provided public transportation services, and those transportation services operated ancillary to a company's main business. Certain private clubs and all religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations, including churches or other places of worship, are specifically exempt from Title III coverage.

Operators or lessees of covered businesses and certain other covered entities, such as their landlords and lessors, are prohibited from discriminating in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations, if the discrimination is based on a person's disability. Discrimination is also prohibited if the discrimination is based on a person's relationship or association with an individual with a known disability. Generally, this means that those goods and services offered to the able-bodied public must also be offered, and provided, in an equal and integrated way, to persons with disabilities, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity.

The term "disability" as defined by the ADA is particularly important due to its broad scope of coverage. The ADA's definition of persons with disabilities includes those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, those having a record of such an impairment, and also those regarded as having such an impairment. …