Does Your Small Business Need to be ADA Compliant?

Small Business ADA Guidelines

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with qualified disabilities, but only if those businesses fit certain guidelines.

Some portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act contain an exemption for businesses that employ fewer than 15 people, for example, while other provisions apply to companies that provide services to the public, regardless of size.

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How can you tell if your business is required to conform? Here are the facts, according to ADA, to help you decide.

Small Business ADA Guidelines

Title I and Title III of ADA are the ones most applicable to small business owners. Title II refers only to public entities: state or local governments.

In either case, there are exceptions, and certain businesses may not have to comply with all ADA standards.

Title I Compliance

Title I pertains to qualified employers and requires eligible businesses to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.

The law also mandates that an employer cannot discriminate against employees based on their disability, and requires the company to provide reasonable accommodations to enable them to perform the duties of the position.

The ADA defines an “employer” as any person who is:

  • Engaged in an industry affecting commerce;
  • Employs 15 or more full-time employees each work day;
  • For at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year.

That means if your business has 14 or fewer full-time employees or is in business for less than 20 weeks a year, you do not have to be ADA compliant.

Businesses entirely owned by a federally-recognized Native American tribe are also exempt from Title I, as is any tax-exempt private membership club or religious organization.

Title III Compliance

Title III of the ADA focuses on private and public entities that it considers to be “public accommodations,” (those that provide goods or services to the public) and requires that businesses not discriminate against customers based on disability.

ADA establishes requirements for 12 categories of public accommodations, which include:

  • Stores and shops;
  • Restaurants and bars;
  • Service establishments;
  • Theaters and hotels;
  • Private museums and schools,
  • Doctor’s and dentist’s offices;
  • Shopping malls and other businesses.

Nearly any business that serves the public is included, regardless of its size or age of its building. However, as with Title I, ADA considers entities such as private clubs or religious organizations to be exempt.

Commercial facilities, such as office buildings, factories, warehouses or other facilities that do not provide goods or services directly to the public are only subject to the ADA’s requirements for new construction and alterations.

The small business ADA guidelines require owners to make all reasonable efforts to accommodate any individual with a disability. For example, while you may have a policy prohibiting animals in your facility, you should make an exception for service dogs.

Also, if you own or operate a business that serves the public, you must remove physical “barriers” that are “readily achievable,” which means easy to accomplish without much difficulty or expense.

The “readily achievable” requirement is based on the size and resources of the business. Larger businesses with more resources are expected to take a more active role in removing barriers than small businesses.

The ADA also recognizes that economic conditions vary. When a business has resources to remove barriers, it is expected to do so, but when profits are down, the business may reduce or delay barrier removal.


This article provided a summary of what small business ADA guidelines require. To learn more, consult the following documents:

Also, because disability laws can get complicated, it may be in your best interest to consult an experienced disability lawyer to ensure your small business is ADA compliant.

Wheelchair Photo via Shutterstock


Paul Chaney Paul Chaney is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. He covers industry news, including interviews with executives and industry leaders about the products, services and trends affecting small businesses, drawing on his 20 years of marketing knowledge. Formerly, he was editor of Web Marketing Today and a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce.

26 Reactions
  1. I was planning on attending a crafting class for a company in Wisconsin who operates her business in the basement of her home. She stated by phone that she is not ADA compliant & I was planning on bringing a handicapped friend. Is it legal for her to be non-compliant since she provides crafting classes to the public?

    • No,if your business has 14 or fewer full-time employees or is in business for less than 20 weeks a year, you do not have to be ADA compliant.

      • Melissa Sheppard

        What about if you have a branch of an office. The corporate office has more than 15 in a different city, but the branch office has all 1099 employees.

  2. Michael A Harry

    Judy, what should the crafting class business owner do, in your opinion? Should she be forced to make her home accessible to accommodate any type of handicapped individual, or possibly you think she should be forced to operate her business outside her home in an accessible commercial building. Either choice would probably be cost prohibitive and put her out of business. Is that your desired outcome for all the home-based small businesses that seek to serve the public? I think not.

    Why not come up with a creative solution that could be a positive outcome for both parties? Was there any consideration of utilizing technology to have your friend participate remotely, such as webinar, Skype, or simply by you using your phone to video portions and sharing with your friend?

    Did you decide to attend the class anyway? As a consumer, YOU decide how who gets your cash and word-of-mouth advertising. Let’s stop looking for the government to control every aspect of our lives.

    • Yes every place should be handicap accessible if it’s open for public. We have rights just like everyone else.

      [Edited by editor]

    • If a business is open to the public, there is no reason for it to not be ADA compliant. The whole argument that government should not be involved in this is ludicris. Elevators, accessible parking, curb cutouts, etc. are all costs of doing business. If a business cannot afford these things then they don’t have enough capital to operate, period. The profit margin of a business is not more important than the rights of disabled people to have access.

    • Completely agree, Michael. Clearly these comments are coming from individuals who have absolutely no concept of the cost of doing business. A micro-business like a crafter working out of her basement probably doesn’t make enough in 10 years to cover the cost of retrofitting her home to be ADA compliant or pay for a storefront. That would effectively just run her out of business. Do that to everyone in that situation and see what happens to our economy. So ridiculous. Simply find a company that fits your needs and desires, and spend your money there.

      • Agree with you as well Michael and Annie. These people have NO clue what it costs to rum a small business. Maybe if they did, they’d think twice before responding with such “ludicrous” comments.

      • Great reply here Michael !! & Thank you!

        And to Annie: Exactly! There is something for everyone out there. Find something and somewhere that fits for YOU, YOUR needs. Period.

        Sounds like this craft instructor is just someone who has an artsy/crafty passion and simply wants to share it with some folks on an informal, small sharing level. Maybe make a little cash to compensate here time investment & any supplies needed. Sheesh. Let someone enjoy sharing their spill-over of joy with others. She’s not trying to be the next Martha Stewart or even Jeff Bezos. Let her share her craft and hospitality with others.

    • Great reply here Michael !! Thank you!

  3. My husband and I are the owners (and only employees) of a company. We travel across the country teaching a class for Physical Therapists for which they earn continuing competency credits. We have a deaf girl who wants to register and said “I require the use of an interpreter”. Are we required by ADA guidelines to provide this? We are a new business and only making a very small profit at this time and we wouldn’t be able to cover that cost.

    • In the circumstances you’ve described, providing an interpreter at your expense would be an ‘undue burden’ (‘Auxiliary aids’ includes interpreters)

      Auxiliary aids that would result in an undue burden, (i.e., “significant difficulty or expense”) or in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the goods or services are not required by the regulation.

      However, if they ask to bring an interpreter of their own you should allow them–and not charge the interpreter for the class. Or if they have another accommodation that would be reasonable, you should allow that.

  4. I am considering starting a psychotherapy business in a relative’s home. I will have no employees and will be a sole practitioner. While this older 1908 home has had ramps built for wheelchair access it does not have a handicapped bathroom—and it’s a tiny bathroom. There is not room for a wheelchair in bathroom. Am I required to provide a handicapped bathroom if business is in a home?

  5. We are buying an existing commercial property with 3 buildings. There is existing ADA Parking with van accessibility- but that’s pretty much where the compliancy ends. We do have to make some alterations to the buildings, however we are going to be a wholesale business that is not open to the public and we will have way less than 15 full time employees. With the alteration factor, are we now going to be required to bring the entire property ADA Compliant?

  6. Good afternoon my name is mary, I’m disable for almost 7yrs. Now and finally I’m trying to get back to the work force and after few weeks I was terminated because of my disability. The thing is the company has a website saying 50 employee but when it comes to the discovery they said we only have 8 and the rest are indipendent contractor. I don’t know where to go from there .it was intentionally and because of the atwill state it’s not worth it where is the ADA act .can’t even protect me from that.

  7. I am a massage therapist, I want to become independent and work for myself. I will have no employees. My services will be open to the public. All of the affordable offices I find in my city are older and on the second floor. No elevators. And some only have restrooms on the first floor. It is obvious that they are not ADA compliant. Does that mean I can’t or shouldn’t rent the small office space?

  8. Thanks for pointing out that the ADA requires all businesses to make a reasonable effort to accommodate individuals with a disability. I think that if you owned a business it would be smart to look into getting a ramp to make it easier for people with disabilities to access your business. I think it would also be smart to look into getting heaters or something that could help melt the ice and snow if you lived in an area that had harsh winters so that you could know your business would always be more accessible no matter the weather.

  9. I enjoy going to a RV park in California that went from private to public. They have a handicapped parking spot in front of the office, handicapped marked spaces for RV parking, and, handicapped access to their bathroom areas, including the showers. However, they have precluded golf carts from entering and/or parking near/next to the clubhouse. Myself and another handicapped person also having difficulty walking are “forced” to park quite a distance from the club house for any activities. There is an area right next to the club house that could be ID’d for handicapped parking or golf cart parking for the handicapped. What can I do to correct the situation without ticking off the owners/operators?

  10. Starting a nursery business, selling fruit trees to the public. The property I will lease has no bathroom, there is a house on the property, but it is rented to someone else. Do I need a bathroom/ handicap bathroom? I will be the only person selling, but will have customers coming to buy.

  11. I have a small wedding venue. We only operate 6 months of the year, and maybe about 10 weddings is all.
    It’s outdoor. Ceremony takes place in a pasture, and I allow people to drive right up to their seat if that is needed.

    A bride and groom rent the venue from us for the day, but we are there to help during the event.

    The restrooms are located in the barn. We have a ramp leading into the barn. Are we required to have any restroom compliances?

    • Jen,
      I would not believe that you got through the whole permitting process for allowance for a wedding venue without an accessible bathroom.
      If you made zero changes to this barn to be able to hold weddings, then there is no legal reason you would have to provide a NEW bathroom that complies.
      While you may not be required to have one, if you are having the general public to your venue, it is really a moral decision to be able to accommodate REASONABLY all people.
      I suggest you provide an ADA Bathroom.

      On the other end of things, if people want to rent your venue, and they know they will have lesser abled guests, then it would behoove them to look elsewhere and not rent your venue.
      So you may be losing potential business in this situation.

  12. There are only 2 people work here, And my restroom is not open to the public.
    i have a small conventicle store. Will i have to make changes for handicap? neither of the 2 of us have any disability’s.

  13. Tatiana Berenova

    I am private Ballet training, one selfemployee, my tiny school almost death after covid 7 months total lock down, I am builded new mush smaller studio and got inspector of the city who pushing me to damaged my tiny studio for ADA, but I am Ballet training…. Please tell be I fo not need it?!
    P. S. It my second place in the same city, and first location was 1000sf bigger and did nor required by specific of my bussines.
    Please responds I am devastate, landlord going damaged my studio to please inspector who is wrong!
    Please help small business to survive.

  14. Here is Cleveland they are converting house to little coffee shops and restaurants. They have one or two steps to get in them. I cannot access these restaurants due to no ramps. Are these business in compliance with the ADA.

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