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Policies & Procedures

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Making it possible

Making it possible for customers with disabilities to purchase your goods and services is an important part of complying with the ADA.

Operations can affect accessibility

Every business has a certain way of doing things. Whether formal or informal, your business has policies, practices, procedures, and routines that help you operate as smoothly as possible. But, sometimes, your normal way of doing things makes it difficult or impossible for customers with disabilities to purchase your goods and services.

This is why the ADA requires you to make “reasonable modifications” in your usual ways of doing things when it is necessary to accommodate customers who have disabilities. Most accommodations involve making minor adjustments in procedures or providing some extra assistance to a customer with a disability. Usually the customer will let you know if he or she needs some kind of accommodation.

Here are some examples

A hotel or restaurant that requires a driver's license as identification for paying by check may need to accept an alternative form of identification (such as a state-issued picture ID for non-drivers) from a customer with a disability that disqualifies him or her from getting a license.

A restaurant may need to assist a customer who is unable to use both hands to cut his or her food, by cutting the food into bite-sized pieces.

Staff may need to help a customer who has an intellectual disability in understanding information or directions.

At a self-serve food bar, a staff person is preparing a tray of food for a customer who is using a walker.

Doing what works

The ADA does not spell out exactly what you must do in every situation. It lets you decide what is reasonable based on how your business operates and what kind of accommodation the person needs because of his or her disability. The idea is not to exclude a customer by being unwilling to make an accommodation that is fairly simple and easy to make.

Here is some basic guidance on judging whether a request is reasonable or not

It is reasonable to provide some extra assistance to a customer with a disability when needed, even during busy periods when other customers are waiting.

When only one staff person is on duty, it may or may not be possible for him or her to assist a customer with a disability. As a business owner or manager, you should advise your employees to assess whether he or she can provide the assistance that is needed without jeopardizing the safe operation of the business.

Limits

The ADA has limits. You are not required to change your policies and procedures in any way that would cause a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of your goods or services, would undermine safe operation of your 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 that you offer to the public. For example:

A restaurant is not required to prepare special dishes for customers who have disabilities such as severe food allergies. 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 your 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 hotel may not refuse to allow a guest who is blind to swim in the pool or use exercise equipment in the fitness facility based on an assumption or unfounded fear that people who are blind are unable to safely participate in these activities.

A restaurant may not refuse to allow an individual who uses a wheelchair to transfer to a stool at the bar because of an assumption that the individual will fall.

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

"Direct threat"

You do not have to include individuals who actually pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others. A "direct threat" is a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated. The determination that an individual poses a direct threat can’t be based on fears, myths, or stereotypes, either. For example:

A restaurant may not refuse to serve an individual who has HIV, because HIV is not transmitted through the kind of casual contact that takes place among restaurant patrons and staff, and therefore the individual does not present a “direct threat.”

Personal devices and services

You are not required to provide personal devices (such as wheelchairs), individually prescribed devices (such as eyeglasses or hearing aids), or services of a personal nature (such as assistance in eating, toileting, or dressing), to customers with disabilities. A business may choose to provide services like this as a way to attract customers. For example, some large retail stores provide electric carts for use by customers while shopping. Some fancy dress shops provide assistance for a customer trying on clothes in the dressing room.

The ADA does not require these services; it leaves it up to each business to decide what services it wants to provide. The ADA simply says that your business should provide the same goods and services to all of its customers, including those with disabilities.

Service animals

Learn more about how the ADA defines and addresses service animals used by people with disabilities.

Reservation Systems for Places of Lodging

The ADA establishes some specific obligations for operators of hotels and other places of lodging in order to ensure that people with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms effectively. Learn more about the requirements for reservation systems.

Summary

  • Making it possible for customers with disabilities to purchase your goods and services is an important part of complying with the ADA.
  • The ADA requires you to make “reasonable modifications” in your normal ways of doing things when necessary to accommodate people who have disabilities.
  • Most accommodations involve making minor adjustments in procedures or providing some extra assistance. Usually the customer will let you know if he or she needs some kind of accommodation.
  • You are not required to change your policies and procedures in any way that would cause a “fundamental alteration” in the nature of your goods or services, would undermine safe operation of your business, or would cause a “direct threat” to the health or safety of others.
  • As a rule, people with disabilities may not be excluded from services or isolated from other customers unless it is necessary for the safe operation of your business. If legitimate safety requirements make it necessary to exclude or isolate a person with a disability, they must be based on actual risks and not on stereotypes or generalizations about people with disabilities.
  • You must allow people with disabilities to bring their service dogs, and in some cases miniature horses, into all areas of the business where customers are normally allowed to go.