While many businesses have realized that they need to reach deeper into the employment pools to fill their ranks or make their businesses more accessible for their customers and clients, others have yet to come into compliance with the ADA on any front.
Many believe that compliance will be expensive or difficult to achieve, but that's not necessarily the case, according to one local expert.
"The most important thing you have to understand is that you don't have to do everything at once," says Joan Stein, president of Accessibility Development Associates Inc., a Downtown-based consulting firm that helps businesses and other organizations provide access to individuals with disabilities.
Stein's company's clients include Carnegie Mellon University, Oxford Development and Bayer Corp., among others
The ADA is a civil rights law, not a building code -- a law that is complaint-driven and not enforced through inspections. A business may not be in compliance and avoid complaints for a long time, but if a complaint is lodged against it, the nature of a judgment may hinge heavily on whether the business owner has made a good-faith effort to provide accessibility.
The law says that a business owner should look at his or her facilities and put together a plan to address accessibility issues. Because the law doesn't offer any hard definitions of what is reasonably achievable, you might be uncertain about what you have to do to comply.
But Stein says it doesn't have to be costly or disruptive. Providing accessible restrooms, for instance, can sometimes be accomplished by converting one at a time, or converting one to a "family" restroom, which can be used by either sex.
Rather than proving a drag on businesses, Stein says complying with the ADA can be a plus. Insurance premiums can be reduced with certain improvements, physical environments can be made safer for everyone and accessibility can bring new customers to your business.
And, says Stein, financial benefits also are possible. The IRS offers a 50 percent tax credit, up to $10,500 a year, for accessibility improvements.
Stein suggests that business owners review accessibility requirements when it comes time to renew leases, look at new ways to do business that will increase accessibility and put together a plan that documents what your company is doing to achieve accommodations.
According to Stein, the invisible obstacles are often more challenging than the physical barriers.
Says Stein: "The misconceptions and the attitudinal barriers are so much more pervasive than the physical barriers." How to reach: Accessibility Development Associates, (412) 471-4156 or www.adaconsults.com