Does Your Small Business Need to be ADA Compliant?

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.

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 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.

7 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.

  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.

  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.

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