Everyone loves to shop — regardless of their physical and mental ability. But for people who use wheelchairs or other motion assistance technology, it isn’t always possible because of buildings that were designed before handicap accessibility was mandated by federal law. If you own a small business, what can you do to make sure that your storefront is handicap accessible?
Watch out for Stairs
If you have steps or stairs that are necessary to access your business, they could be creating an obstacle for customers who use wheelchairs, walkers or other tools to assist with mobility. Many companies might offer handicap accessible entrances through the back of the building — even older buildings are often equipped with a ramp to help with the loading and unloading of inventory. While this strategy might technically make the building handicap accessible, it can create a safety hazard if you’re insisting that customers enter through storage or preparation areas.
If your building is equipped with steps and only offers ramp entrance in the rear of the building, it’s time for an upgrade. Invest in a handicap accessible ramp for the front entrance of your business.
Be Aware of Floor Space
It’s tempting to cram every available square inch of floor space with inventory to improve your sales, but doing so can make it difficult or impossible for individuals who use devices for mobility to shop in your store.
Floor space tends to be a big problem for restaurants — booths are a great option to fit as many customers into an eatery as possible, but they aren’t designed to accommodate individuals in wheelchairs.
If your floor plan is cluttered or not handicap accessible, consider reworking it to make it more accommodating to all types of customers. Include enough space for your visitors to maneuver, whether you’re selling food, fabric or something else.
Think About Your Bathrooms
Bathrooms are a feature that most of us don't think about until they're dirty or something breaks, but a business without handicap accessible restrooms can discourage customers from showing up. According to the CDC, upwards of 22 percent of adults in the United States alone have some form of disability, so you could potentially be driving away nearly one-quarter of your customer base by failing to upgrade your building’s bathroom.
A handicap accessible bathroom needs enough space that it can be easily navigated by someone in a wheelchair or scooter. Sinks, toilets and other accessories should be mounted low so that they can be easily accessed. All fixtures should also be installed so that people can approach them from either side.
What About Doors?
Doors can be a problem. While they provide egress into your establishment, they can be difficult to navigate for disabled individuals. Consider upgrading all of the doors in your facility with automatic openers — either ones that use motions sensors or ones that can be activated with the press of a button. Many of these devices can be attached to existing doors, so it doesn't take much effort to upgrade your facility and make it more handicap accessible.
Making these changes doesn’t just ensure that you’re compliant with ADA rules — it can also make your business more welcoming for individuals with disabilities. Take some time to assess your business and see where you can make changes and improvements.