The notion of “getting America back to work” is trending nationwide. With national emphasis on workforce revitalization, employers should take this opportunity to ensure that their workplace is accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and applicable state laws, employers are required to provide a work space to employees with disabilities, where they can move about freely and accomplish their essential job functions. However, there are different legal requirements, depending upon whether the office is a newly built or pre-existing building.
Employers must strictly comply with the accessibility guidelines set forth by the ADA for newly constructed buildings, or when making renovations or alterations to existing buildings. The standards provide specific construction requirements for things such as parking spaces, entrances and exits, doorways, elevators, signs, restrooms, and passageways.
Notably, there are no laws that compel an employer to make an existing building accessible where there are no planned renovations. However, if an employee with a disability has difficulty performing his/her job due to barriers within a given work space, an employer may be required to modify the space as a reasonable accommodation, unless this would be unduly burdensome.
But even if there are no current employees requesting barrier removal as reasonable accommodations, employers should consider taking proactive steps to make the workplace accessible for future employees. This ADA Office Checklist (provided by the U.S. Office of Compliance) is a helpful starting point to ensure basic ADA compliance:
- Accessible entrances and exits, including ramps for wheelchair access
- Accessible parking spaces
- Office doors that are at least 32 inches wide
- Doors to office suites that are less than 5 pounds (heavier doors propped open)
- At least 36 inches of hallway space for passage by an individual in a wheelchair
- Conference tables at least 27 inches high
- Secured carpeting
- Office access to a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD)
- Braille signs 60 inches above the floor indicating office room numbers
- Restrooms with grab bars 33-36 inches above the floor
Employers who take steps to make their office ADA compliant may deduct the cost of a renovation from their taxes, up to $15,000 each year. By making the workplace accessible, employers will ensure that employees, both with and without disabilities, are able to “get back to work.”