ADA and Public Accommodations
What are public accommodations?
A public accommodation is a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities including, but not limited to: restaurants; public transportation; taxicabs; hotels/motels; theaters; doctors’ offices; gas stations; pharmacies; retail stores; museums; libraries; schools; day care centers; parks; arenas; any public facility owned, operated, or managed by or on behalf of the State; or any agency or municipality supported in whole or part by public funds. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from the requirements for public accommodations.
Does the ADA cover private apartments and homes?
The ADA does not cover strictly residential private apartments and homes. If, however, a place of public accommodation, such as a doctor’s office or day care center, is located in a private residence, those portions of the residence used for that purpose are subject to the ADA’s requirements. Similarly, the leasing office of an apartment building or apartment complex, as well as a model apartment or home used for sales purposes, is a place of public accommodation subject to the ADA’s requirements.
Does the ADA allow public accommodations to take safety factors into consideration in providing services to individuals with disabilities?
The ADA expressly provides that a public accommodation may exclude an individual if that individual poses a threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be mitigated by appropriate modifications in the public accommodation’s policies or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids. A public accommodation will be permitted to establish objective safety criteria for the operation of its business; however, any safety standard must be based on objective requirements rather than stereotypes or generalizations about the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in an activity.
Does the ADA affect the eligibility criteria used by public accommodations to determine who may receive services?
Yes. If a criterion screens out or tends to screen out individuals with disabilities, it may only be used if necessary for the provision of the service. For instance, it would be a violation for a retail store to have a rule excluding all deaf persons from entering the premises, or for a movie theater to exclude all individuals with cerebral palsy. More subtle forms of discrimination are also prohibited. For example, requiring presentation of a driver’s license as the sole acceptable means of identification for purposes of paying by check could constitute discrimination against individuals with vision impairments who are unable to drive when the use of an alternative means of identification is feasible.
Are there any limits on the kinds of modifications in policies, practices, and procedures required by the ADA?
Yes. The ADA does not require modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of the services provided by the public accommodations. For example, it would not be discriminatory for a physician specialist who treats only burn patients to refer a deaf individual to another physician for treatment of a broken limb or respiratory ailment. To require a physician to accept patients outside of his or her specialty would fundamentally alter the nature of the medical practice.
Auxillary Aids and Service Requirements
What kinds of auxiliary aids and services are required by the ADA to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing or vision impairments?
Appropriate auxiliary aids and services may include services and devises such as qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, note takers, and written materials for individuals with hearing impairments; and qualified readers, taped texts, and Braille or large print materials for individuals with vision impairments.
Must a self-service gas station offer accommodations under the ADA?
Yes. A self-service gas station must provide fueling assistance upon request, unless the station is operating on a remote control basis by a single attendant. The self-service gas station must also inform customers of the availability of fueling assistance upon request. Further, the self-service gas station must offer the fueling assistance without any additional charge to the disabled customer.
Must a clothing store have Braille price tags?
No, not if sales personnel could provide price information orally upon request.
Is a bookstore required to maintain a sign language interpreter on staff in order to communicate with deaf customers?
No, not if employees communicate by pen and notepad when necessary.
Are there any limitations on the ADA’s auxiliary aids requirement?
Yes. The ADA does not require the provision of any auxiliary aid that would result in an undue burden or in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the goods or services provided by a public accommodation. However, the public accommodation is not relieved from the duty to furnish an alternative auxiliary aid, if available, that would not result in a fundamental alteration or undue burden. These limitations are examined on a case-by-case basis.
Are restaurants required to have Braille menus?
No, not if waiters or other employees are made available to read the menu to a blind customer.
Barrier Removal and Accessibility
Who has the responsibility for ADA compliance in leased places of public accommodation, the landlord or the tenant?
The ADA places the legal obligation to remove barriers or provide auxiliary aids and services on both the landlord and the tenant. The landlord and the tenant may decide by lease who will actually make the changes and provide the aids and services, but both remain responsible legally.
When barrier removal is not readily achievable, what kinds of alternatives are required by the ADA?
Alternatives may include a variety of measure, such as: in-store assistance for removing articles from inaccessible shelves, home delivery of groceries, or coming to the door to receive or return dry cleaning, as the case may be.
What are examples of the types of modifications that would be readily achievable in most cases?
Examples include the simple ramping of a few steps, the installation of grab bars where only routine reinforcement of the wall is required, the lowering of telephones, and similar modest adjustments.
There are often physical impediments or barriers to full accessibility by the disabled. The ADA has certain barrier removal requirements. What are the limits of those requirements for existing facilities?
Barrier removal must be effected when it is “readily achievable” to do so. “Readily achievable” means “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” In a multi-site business, the overall size of the parent corporation is one factor to be considered in whether the accommodation is “readily achievable.” The ADA also permits consideration of the financial resources of the particular facility or facilities involved, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities to the parent entity.
Must businesses install elevators?
Businesses are not required to retrofit their facilities to install elevators unless such installation is readily achievable, which is unlikely in most cases.
Do businesses need to rearrange furniture and display racks?
Possibly. For example, restaurants may need to rearrange tables and department stores may need to adjust their layout of racks and shelves in order to permit access to wheelchair users.
New Construction and Modifications of Existing Premises
What does the ADA require in new construction?
The ADA requires that all new construction of places of public accommodation, as well as of “commercial facilities” such as office buildings, be accessible to all persons. Elevators are generally not required in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center or mall; the professional office of a health care provider; a terminal, depot or other public transit station; or an airport passenger terminal.
What are the ADA requirements for altering facilities?
All alterations that could affect the usability of a facility must be made in an accessible manner to the maximum extent feasible. For example, if during renovations a doorway is being relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the new construction standard for accessibility. When alterations are made to a primary function area, such as the lobby of a bank or the dining area of a cafeteria, an accessible path of travel to the altered area must also be provided. The bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area must also be made accessible. These additional accessibility alterations are only required to the extent that the added accessibility costs do not exceed 20% of the cost of the original alteration.
Must every feature of a new facility be accessible?
No, only a specified number of elements such as parking spaces and drinking fountains must be made accessible in order for a facility to be “readily accessible.” Certain non-occupiable spaces such as elevator pits, elevator penthouses, and piping or equipment catwalks need not be accessible.
Is it expensive to make all newly-constructed places of public accommodation and commercial facilities accessible?
The cost of incorporating accessibility features in new construction is less than one percent of overall construction costs. This is a small price in relation to the economic benefits to be derived from full accessibility in the future, such as increased employment and consumer spending and decreased welfare dependency.
Service Animal Requirements
Who is responsible for caring for the service animal when it is in the place of public accommodation?
The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. Businesses are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal to relieve itself.
If a place of public accommodation has a “no pets” policy, does it still have to allow in service animals?
Yes. A service animal is not a “pet.” The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean that you must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether, but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.
I run a place of public accommodation. How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?
Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. You may not generally ask for documentation of a medical disability as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Indeed, although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.
Does the ADA require a public accommodation to permit service animals, such as a guide dog?
Yes. Generally, a public accommodation must modify policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability in areas generally available to the public. A “service animal” is defined as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.” Tasks typically provided by a service animal include: guiding people who have impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to the presence of intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, responding to seizures and medical alerts, or retrieving dropped items.
Do restaurants have to serve individuals accompanied by a service animal?
Yes. Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even where state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.
Can any place of public accommodation refuse service to individuals accompanied by a service animal because they are accompanied by that animal?
No. Businesses that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to enter with their service animal. Fear of animals or allergies are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals. A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
Can a business charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring in service animals?
No. Even if deposits are routinely required for pets, neither a “pet deposit” nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition of allowing a service animal to accompany the individual. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage, so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages. For example, a hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal if it is the hotel's policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage.
Are taxicab operators violating the ADA if they refuse to pick up a customer because they have a service animal?
Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares and fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.
ADA Complaints, Publications and Questions
U.S. Department of Justice
Missouri Commission on Human Rights