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Businesses That Are Open to the Public

The ADA is meant to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of life. Almost all types of businesses that serve the public, regardless of their size or the age of their buildings, must follow the ADA.

If you are a business or a person with a disability, there are many aspects of the ADA that you should be familiar with. The information below is intended to help get you started.

Title III Applies to Businesses

Businesses, including nonprofits, that serve the public (also called public accommodations) include, for example:

  • Restaurants
  • Hotels/motels
  • Shops
  • Movie theaters
  • Private schools (including housing)
  • Doctors’ offices and private hospitals
  • Day care centers
  • Gyms
  • Organizations offering courses or examinations related to:
    • Applications, licensing, certification or credentialing for professional or trade purposes
  • Privately operated transit
  • Examples of privately-operated transit include:
    • Intercity and charter buses
    • Hotel shuttles
    • Airport shuttles
  • Commercial facilities (need only comply with requirements of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design). Examples of commercial facilities include:
    • Office buildings
    • Warehouses
    • Factories

Learn about the few categories that Title III does not apply to:

Title III does not apply to:
  • Private clubs (Specific requirements must be met. Charging membership/annual fees does not automatically mean the business is exempt.)

General Requirement

Businesses must provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to access the goods or services that they offer.

Specific Requirements

The ADA also has specific requirements for businesses that are open to the public.

For example, as a business, you must:

  • Communicate with people with disabilities as effectively as you communicate with others.
  • Make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where needed.
  • To make sure that a person with a disability can access the businesses’ goods or services.
  • Allow service animals to be with their person even if you have a no pets policy.
  • Follow specific standards for physical accessibility when building or altering a building or facility.
  • Follow specific requirements for ticket sales and testing accommodations.
  • Remove architectural barriers in buildings when it is readily achievable to do so.
What are architectural barriers?

Architectural barriers are physical elements of a building that prevent movement or access for people with disabilities. For example, a business that is only accessible by stairs creates a barrier for wheelchair users.

What does readily achievable mean?

Readily achievable means easy to do without much difficulty or expense. This standard is based on the business’s size and resources. So, a business with more resources is expected to remove more barriers than a business with fewer resources. The ADA strikes a careful balance between increasing access for people with disabilities and understanding the financial challenges of many small businesses.

You can find examples of these requirements and how they look in practice in the tables below.

You can also learn more about these and other requirements in the ADA Primer for Small Businesses.

Making Reasonable Modifications

Businesses must make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate a person with a disability. Here are some examples of specific scenarios involving a person with a disability that could be resolved with a reasonable modification:

Scenario Modification
A person with a service dog tries to enter a buffet restaurant that has a “no pets” policy. The restaurant allows the person to enter the restaurant with their service dog.

Learn more about service animals.

A person with a mobility disability is looking to use an electric scooter at an amusement park to get around even though the amusement park doesn’t usually allow motorized devices. The amusement park grants an exception to the policy and allows the person to use their electric scooter.

Learn more about requirements related to mobility devices.

A clothing store only allows one person in the fitting room at a time. A customer with a disability wants her companion to accompany her in the fitting room to help her try on clothes. The clothing store modifies its policy and allows the companion to be in the fitting room.

A business does not need to modify a policy if it would fundamentally alter the nature of the business’s goods or services.

What does fundamentally alter mean?

A fundamental alteration would be something that causes a change in the essential nature of your business. For example, a clothing store is not required to provide dressing assistance for a customer with a disability if this is not a service provided to other customers.

Communicating Effectively with People with Disabilities

Communication is an essential part of providing service to the public. Because the nature of communication differs from business to business, the rules allow for flexibility in determining effective solutions. Sometimes the solution will require the business to provide aids or services, like a sign language interpreter.

Here are some examples of specific scenarios involving a person with a disability that could be resolved with a communication aid or service:

Scenario Possible Solution
A person who is deaf wants to order dinner at a restaurant. The waiter writes back and forth with the deaf customer to take their order.
A doctor’s office provides written information to a patient in small print. The doctor’s office provides a large print version of the document on request by a person with a vision disability.

We provide more examples on our page about effective communication. That page also includes information about when a business may not be required to provide a particular aid or service.

Ticket Sales and Testing Accommodations

Testing Accommodations Scenario Possible Solution
A person with dyslexia requests additional time to take an admissions exam for a private graduate school program. The testing body grants the applicant extended time to take the admissions exam.

Learn more about providing testing accommodations.

Ticket Sales Scenario Possible Solution
A concert venue requires that customers with disabilities call the box office to purchase accessible seating. The venue makes accessible seating available for purchase online.

Learn more about ticket sales.

Barrier Removal Scenario Possible Solution
A person who uses a wheelchair has difficulty accessing items at a local grocery store because it hasn’t been updated since before the ADA was passed. The store rearranges tables and displays that block access to shopping aisles and provides a clerk to assist the customer with getting items that are out of reach.

Learn more about readily achievable barrier removal

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New Construction and Alterations

When businesses build or alter buildings or other facilities, they must make them accessible to people with disabilities. To make them accessible, businesses need to follow the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The information below is intended to help get you started.

ADA Standards Basics

Chapter 1: Application and Administration
Chapter 2: Scoping
Chapters 3 – 10: Design and Technical Requirements

Common Topics

Accessible Route
Parking Spaces
Sales and Service

Section 227 and 904

Note: Sections cover sales and service areas, such as check-out aisles and sales and service counters.

Dining Surfaces
Dressing, Fitting and Locker Rooms

Sections 222 and 803

Door, Doorways, and Gates
Ramps
Curb ramps

Learn more about these and other requirements

Small Business Primer