Pass the Green Dumpster, Please: Making Your Business Handicap Accessible

By Eileen Feldman
Wicked Local Somerville , Jul 30, 2009 @ 06:17 AM

This past Sunday, July 26, we marked the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA of 1990 was modeled after the first major piece of civil rights disability law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The ADA directs all local governments to provide readily usable programs and opportunities to all; covers public transportation services; and directs all public accommodations, such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters,
transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities to provide all programs in the most inclusively accessible manner possible, regardless of size or funding. It also sets out standards for accessible telephones, televisions and other communications technology.

While government services, including subsidized housing, must provide all employment and program opportunities in a manner that is readily usable to everyone regardless of costing issues, non-governmental public accommodations are directed to eliminate all barriers where “readily achievable.”

Recently, some friends suggested that the management of a local restaurant place a secure ramp over a three-inch step at the entrance. Management responded as follows: “… I am happy to say that I have personally rectified the whole situation by placing a new plywood plank in our back entrance (by the kitchen, down the alley, past the green dumpster, and around the pot holes) and have put up a sign as well as informed my staff on how to direct those of the
handicapped persuasion to a segregated back entrance away from the public eye.”

I kid you not. Although we might chuckle with both outrage and sympathy for the ineptitude exhibited by this particular management, such a discriminatory attitude is tacitly revealed in many government programs. Here, cultural ignorance cannot be claimed as an excuse. Mobility-impaired applicants and customers should not
have to call ahead in order to enter locked, segregated back and side entrances or poorly maintained lifts and elevators. In addition, 21st Century Americans with disabilities can rightfully expect that all architectural, communication and informational impediments to government-sponsored housing, employment, economic, social and cultural opportunities have been identified, and transition planning is ongoing to successfully eliminate these barriers, step by
step. Our state and local governments should know how to model inclusive opportunity for all.

In Somerville, which counted nearly 20 percent residents with disabilities in its 2000 Census, there are a majority of stores, restaurants, agencies and establishments that can immediately enhance their services with a little awareness.
Here are 10 examples of easily removable barriers:

  • One-step entrance: replace step with slip-resistant ramp.
  • Service counters too high: replace with counters between 28 and 34 inches high.
  • Hard-to-grip door hardware: replace with levers or loop handles.
  • Too-narrow entrance: install offset hinges to widen doorways to at least 32 inches when fully open.
  • Too-high thresholds: bevel all thresholds to be less than one-half inch high.
  • No inclusive parking: re-stripe parking lots to include van-accessible parking spaces.
  • Not level or smooth path to entrance: replace entryway gravel and brick materials with hardtop.
  • Impassable aisles to goods and services: rearrange aisles to be at least 36 inches clear, and with cane-detectable edges under all shelves and displays.
  • Tripping hazards: use low-pile, tightly woven carpeting and securely attach along all edges.
  • No wayfinding to goods and services: provide signs and room names/numbers in large print with high contrast, and include Braille signage wherever signage is required.

Even in this economy, financial incentives exist to bust those barriers once and for all.
Small business can claim a Disabled Access Tax Credit of up to $5,000 to offset these costs for access — see IRS Code, Section 44.

Larger businesses can claim up to $15,000 per year for expenses associated with the removal of architectural and transportation barriers, and for the provision of accessible information and communications — see IRS Code, Section 190.
You can call the IRS and ask about the ADA Tax Incentives for Businesses at 800-829-1040.

Before the summer is out, why not accomplish at least one of these improvements? Let everyone in. When you put that welcome mat out for everyone, there’s no telling what riches may come.

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