How does the Americans with Disabilities Act define “public accommodations”?
To be covered as a public accommodation under Title III of the ADA, a building must fall within at least one of the following 12 categories:
- Places of lodging (for example, inns, hotels, motels) except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms
- Establishments serving food or drink (for example, restaurants and bars)
- Places of exhibition or entertainment (for example, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, stadiums)
- Places of public gathering (for example, auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls)
- Sales or rental establishments (for example, bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers)
- Service establishments (for example, coin-operated laundries, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals)
- Public transportation terminals, depots or stations (not including airports or related places)
- Places of public display or collection (for example, museums, libraries, galleries)
- Places of recreation (for example, parks, zoos, amusement parks)
- Places of education (for example, nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate or postgraduate private schools)
- Social service center establishments (for example, day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies)
- Places of exercise or recreation (for example, gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses)
How is public accommodation discrimination defined under Title III of the ADA?
People with disabilities may not be denied full and equal enjoyment of the “goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” offered by a place of public accommodation.
Must a public accommodation make changes to its policies and practices for people with disabilities?
Yes. A public accommodation must reasonably modify its policies, practices or procedures to avoid discrimination, unless making those modifications would be a “fundamental alteration.”
Are religious entities covered by Title III of the ADA?
No. Religious entities are exempt. A religious entity, however, would be subject to the employment obligations of the ADA (Title I) if it has 15 or more employees.
Do both a landlord who leases space in a building to a tenant, and the tenant who operates a place of public accommodation, have responsibilities under the ADA?
Under the ADA, both the landlord and tenant have obligations to make a facility ADA complaint.
Here is information from the Department of Justice’s Technical Assistance Manual on this question:
- Do both a landlord who leases space in a building to a tenant and the tenant who operates a place of public accommodation have responsibilities under the ADA? Both the landlord and the tenant are public accommodations and have full responsibility for complying with all ADA title III requirements applicable to that place of public accommodation. The title III regulation permits the landlord and the tenant to allocate responsibility, in the lease, for complying with particular provisions of the regulation. However, any allocation made in a lease or other contract is only effective as between the parties, and both landlord and tenant remain fully liable for compliance with all provisions of the ADA relating to that place of public accommodation.
- ILLUSTRATION: ABC Company leases space in a shopping center it owns to XYZ Boutique. In their lease, the parties have allocated to XYZ Boutique the responsibility for complying with the barrier removal requirements of title III within that store. In this situation, if XYZ Boutique fails to remove barriers, both ABC Company (the landlord) and XYZ Boutique (the tenant) would be liable for violating the ADA and could be sued by an XYZ customer. Of course, in the lease, ABC could require XYZ to indemnify it against all losses caused by XYZ’s failure to comply with its obligations under the lease, but again, such matters would be between the parties and would not affect their liability under the ADA.
In addition, here is information from the ADA National Network’s Disability Law Handbook:
- If a business operates out of a space it leases, who is responsible for ADA compliance €“ the tenant or the landlord?
- The ADA places the responsibility for compliance on both the landlord and the tenant. But the landlord and tenant might decide, through the terms of the lease, who will actually make the changes, remove the barriers, provide the aids and services, and pay for them. However, both the tenant and the landlord remain legally obligated.
Are businesses housed in old buildings protected by a “grandfather” clause?
No, there is no “grandfather clause” under the ADA. However, accessibility standards differ based on the age of the building in question.
For new construction and alterations, the ADA has very specific accessibility requirements. The current standards for new construction are the 2010 ADA Standards.
For existing facilities (buildings that existed before the ADA), the ADA requires the business to remove barriers when it is “readily achievable” to do so. Something is readily achievable if it is easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense.
- ADA Update: Primer for Small Businesses (section regarding barrier removal)
- Title III regulations regarding barrier removal
Where can I file a complaint about a business that is not accessible?
People with disabilities who wish to file complaints have a number of options:
- The Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Disability Rights Bureau investigates complaints of accessibility violations in Illinois.
- The U.S. Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section investigates certain complaints of accessibility violations across the country.
In addition to these administrative agencies, people with disabilities can seek legal action in state or federal court. There are deadlines to file in court, so be sure to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Can private child care centers deny enrollment to a child with disabilities because of the assistance she needs, such as help navigating stairs or using the bathroom?
Private child care centers are covered by Title III of the ADA. The U.S. Department of Justice published a technical assistance document about the ADA and childcare that answers a number of questions, including when a child care provider needs to provide diapering to a student with a disability.
- Questions #15-16 discuss when diapering is required under the ADA.
- Question #7 could be helpful to show that the child should not be disqualified, even if s/he requires individualized attention in navigating stairs.
Is it illegal to block access to an accessible parking spot?
While the ADA regulates the number of accessible parking spaces and the characteristics of such spaces, rules enforcing parking requirements are done at the State and local level.
A state law, the Illinois Vehicle Code, specifically states that it is unlawful for a car to park in the access aisle adjacent to the accessible parking space. Your local municipality may also have a local ordinance about parking requirements.
The Illinois Secretary of State may be able to offer additional guidance.
Can you give me a written interpretation of the ADA or the Illinois Accessibility Code?
No. The Illinois ADA Project provides informal technical assistance. For formal guidance on the Illinois Accessibility Code, you should contact the Illinois Capital Development Board.
For additional free technical assistance on the ADA and architectural issues, you may also reach out to the following hotlines:
Are gas stations required to provide pumping assistance to drivers with disabilities?
People with disabilities may require assistance to purchase fuel at self-service pumps. The ADA requires gas stations to provide equal access for their customers with disabilities. If necessary to provide access, stations must provide refueling assistance upon the request of an individual with a disability. A service station or convenience store is not required to provide such service at any time that it is operating on a remote control basis with a single employee, but is encouraged to do so, if feasible.
Service Stations should:
- Let customers know (e.g., using signs or notification on or near pumps) that individuals with disabilities can obtain refueling assistance by honking their horn or otherwise signaling an employee. Some stations provide a call button.
- Provide the refueling assistance without any charge beyond the self-serve price, if the customer wants only fuel. The attendant may provide assistance at a self-service pump or at a full-service pump. In either case, the customer must be charged the self-service price.
The DOJ has issued guidance on the ADA’s application to gas stations.
In Illinois, there is a state law called the Motor Fuel Sales Act that also requires service stations with more than one attendant on duty to service a person with a disability at no additional cost. By January 1, 2014, all gas stations within the state of Illinois must be in compliance with the ADA by providing an ADA complaint motor fuel dispenser with a direct phone number to the refilling station so a person with a disability can request service. The provided number must be in close proximity to the international symbol of accessibility. If, however, the refueling station is unable to provide an ADA compliant gas dispenser, there must be a direct number to the station that allows the person with the disability to request fueling.
The Illinois Department of Human Services provides information on refueling stations that are in compliance with the ADA.
What are the requirements for providing accessible bathrooms in public places of business? Can stores choose to not offer public bathrooms?
The ADA does not require installation of public bathrooms. Instead, it states that when bathrooms are provided, they must comply with the ADA. The ADA’s requirements for accessible bathrooms vary depending upon the type of building involved, as well as whether or not the building is an existing facility, new construction or alteration of an existing facility.
In Illinois, public toilet rooms may be required to have a minimum number of plumbing fixtures under the Illinois Plumbing Code, based on the type of building, occupant load, and whether the toilet rooms are new, altered/modified, or part of a buildings’ change of use.
If a business is sold and no physical changes are made to the building can the new business go on as usual?
Nearly all private businesses are covered by the requirements of Title III of the ADA, and most private businesses in Illinois are also covered by the Illinois Environmental Barriers Act. Under the ADA, all existing facilities must remove barriers when it is “readily achievable” to do so. “Readily achievable” means “easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”
For example, in a situation where a restaurant (or other business) is sold and no alterations or renovations have been done to the space, the new owners still must remove existing barriers when it is readily achievable to do so, regardless of whether the prior owners complied with the barrier removal requirements. However, even if a restaurant can show that removing existing barriers is not readily achievable or will cause undue hardship, it still must make its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations available through alternative methods, if those methods are readily achievable (i.e. free delivery service – even if delivery service is not generally offered – or curbside service.)
If you lease space in a building, your landlord or building manager also has obligations under the ADA to ensure accessibility.
- ADA Update: A Primer for Small Businesses
- ADA Checklist for Barrier Removal
- Information about tax credits for ADA compliance
Does an organization violate the ADA if it refuses to provide a sign language interpreter for its conference? What if the organization is a very small nonprofit? Would it be an undue burden?
Organizations that hold conferences are required to provide “effective communication” to participants who are deaf and hard of hearing. The National Association of the Deaf has published a helpful document that explains this requirement.
As you referenced, there are some limitations to this requirement, for instance, when it would constitute an “undue burden.” It is hard to know whether something would be an undue burden without knowing more about the size and budget of the organization. However, as you’ll see from the factors below, the emphasis should be on the overall financial resources of the organization, as opposed to the cost of registration for the conference. The DOJ has identified the following factors that organizations and businesses should use to determine whether something is an “undue burden.”
- What is an undue burden? “”Undue burden”” is defined as “”significant difficulty or expense. “” Among the factors to be considered in determining whether an action would result in an undue burden are the following:
- The nature and cost of the action;
- The overall financial resources of the site or sites involved; the number of persons employed at the site; the effect on expenses and resources; legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation, including crime prevention measures; or any other impact of the action on the operation of the site;
- The geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the site or sites in question to any parent corporation or entity;
- If applicable, the overall financial resources of any parent corporation or entity; the overall size of the parent corporation or entity with respect to the number of its employees; the number, type, and location of its facilities; and
- If applicable, the type of operation or operations of any parent corporation or entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the parent corporation or entity.
If it truly would be an “”undue burden”” to provide the specific requested auxiliary aid, the organization should still do its best to provide effective communication. The DOJ has a great document about accessible meetings, and says the following: “”If providing a particular auxiliary aid or service at the meeting will result in an undue burden (i.e., will cause significant difficulty or expense) for the organizers, the organizers are not required to provide that exact service. However, they must try to find an alternative auxiliary aid or service that will not result in an undue burden but will ensure that participants with disabilities can participate fully in the session. Talk with the participant to find the best solution.”””
What are the parking requirements under the ADA?
In addition, under Illinois law, the Illinois Environmental Barriers Act and the Illinois Administrative Code establish accessibility requirements and apply to any renovations and/or new construction. This fact sheet from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office summarizes the parking standards under state law.
Do I need to register my service animal in Illinois? What are my rights?
No. You do not need to register your seizure alert dog with in Illinois. There are a handful of laws that protect you as an individual who has a service animal.
Under the ADA, there is no certification/registration requirement for your service animal. To be protected by the law, your dog must meet the ADA’s definition of service animal, which is a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks directly related to your disability. The DOJ has a FAQ document about service animals and the ADA that is very helpful.
Illinois also has two state laws called the White Cane Law and the Service Animal Access Act, neither of which require you to provide identification or certification that your dog is a service animal. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office has a brochure about services animals, the ADA and state law that is helpful.
Last updated: February 17, 2023