Step 4: Disabled Access
Make Your Business Accessible to Everyone
Your business will need to comply with many state and federal disability access laws. Your basic obligations are to: 1.) remove existing architectural barriers to the premises; and 2.) comply with building code requirements for construction work. For additional information and assistance, please consider these resources:
ADA Business Connection
ADA Guide for Small Businesses
Opportunity Fund a Bay Area “micro-lender” has created a program to offer loans from $1,000 to $50,000 to assist you with the cost of a CASp inspection and report, access improvements, and legal assistance.
Department of Justice toll-free ADA information line: 1-800-514-030
Building Department Primer on Accessibility
Important Information Regarding Accessibility
Federal ADA regulations require that you make access improvements to your business premises, ensuring that entrances, aisles, bathrooms, service counters, and other features are accessible to and useable by people with disabilities. You need to remove barriers only if removal is “readily achievable," which means easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.
California State Building Code and its disability access requirements are triggered when you do construction or change the occupancy. All construction work must comply with the disability access requirements of Title 24. In addition, when renovating your premises you must make the building’s main entrance, the primary route to the renovated area, and any bathrooms, drinking fountains, signs or public telephones serving the renovated area accessible. But if the cost of your construction project is under the "valuation threshold" (a dollar amount that is set annually and is $147,863.00 in 2015) your obligation to do such additional access work is capped at 20% of your construction costs.
In addition to Title 24, California has civil rights laws (Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act) that protect the right of individuals with disabilities to the full use and enjoyment of all business establishments. Both laws provide that any violation of the ADA is a violation of state law. Plaintiffs often file lawsuits in state court under the Unruh or Disabled Persons Act, rather than under the ADA, because state laws allow plaintiffs to recoup three times their actual damages, and in the event that no actual damages are sustained, plaintiffs may recover statutory damages.
The Town building department will only review the California disability access code requirements triggered by construction work. When the Town signs off on a building permit or certificate of occupancy, it does not conduct a general review to identify disability access code violations. Even if the Town approves a building permit or certificate of occupancy, it may miss a disability access code violation. If so, you, not the Town, will be responsible for the access violation.
Hire a Certified Access Specialist (CASp). A CASp will survey your premises to identify barriers to access. If you are sued, the CASp inspection report makes you eligible to request a 90-day stay of the lawsuit and an Early Evaluation Conference. Without a report, you cannot take advantage of this benefit from this valuable opportunity.
Senate Bill 1608 is a recent law called the Construction-Related Accessibility Standards Compliance Act (SB 1608) that may help protect you from lawsuits if you hire a specially trained expert, a Certified Access Specialist (CASp), and follow the CASp's recommendations.
- Review the report provided by your CASp. The report either certifies that you have complied with state and federal disability access laws, or explains the steps necessary to achieve full compliance. The report will also provide a recommended timeline for removal of all "readily achievable" barriers to access.
- Remove barriers over time, according to the CASp report's timeline, and as you can afford to do so.
- Use tax credits and deductions to help reduce or eliminate the costs of barrier removal.