Discrimination by Businesses
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public accommodations, which are private businesses open to the public. The ADA requires public accommodations to be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with the ADA’s accessibility standards.
To be covered as a public accommodation, entities must fall within
1 of 12 categories in an exhaustive list
- Places of lodging (e.g. , inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms);
- Establishments serving food or drink (e.g. , restaurants and bars);
- Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g. , motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums);
- Places of public gathering (e.g. , auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls);
- Sales or rental establishments (e.g. , bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers);
- Service establishments (e.g. , laundromats, 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 facilities relating to air transportation);
- Places of public display or collection (e.g. , museums, libraries, galleries);
- Places of recreation (e.g. , parks, zoos, amusement parks);
- Places of education (e.g. , nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools);
- Social service center establishments (e.g. , day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies); and
- Places of exercise or recreation (e.g. , gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses).
Public Accommodations have many responsibilities under Title III of the ADA
- Provide goods and services in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity.
- Eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services of the public accommodation.
- Make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration would result in the nature of the goods and services provided.
- Furnish auxiliary aids when necessary to ensure effective communication, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result.
- Remove architectural and structural communication barriers in existing facilities where readily achievable.
- Provide readily achievable alternative measures when removal of barriers is not readily achievable.
- Provide equivalent transportation services and purchase accessible vehicles in certain circumstances.
- Maintain accessible features of facilities and equipment.
- Design and construct new facilities and, when undertaking alterations, alter existing facilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines
There are different accessibility requirements depending on whether the public accommodation is new construction, an existing facility or an altered existing facility
All newly constructed public accommodations must be accessible to individuals with disabilities to the extent that it is not structurally impracticable. The new construction requirements apply to any facility occupied after January 26, 1993, for which the last application for a building permit or permit extension is certified as complete after January 26, 1992. Full compliance will be considered “structurally impracticable” only in those rare circumstances when the unique characteristics of terrain prevent the incorporation of accessibility features (e.g., marshland that requires construction on stilts).
The ADA requires the removal of physical barriers, such as stairs, if it is readily achievable. However, if removal is not readily achievable, alternative steps must be taken to make goods and services accessible. Examples of alternative measures include:
- Providing goods and services at the door, sidewalk, or curb,
- Providing home delivery,
- Retrieving merchandise from inaccessible shelves or racks,
- Relocating activities to accessible locations.
Extra charges may not be imposed on individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures used as alternatives to barrier removal.
Alteration of Existing Facilities
Alterations after January 26, 1992 to existing places of public accommodation must be accessible to the maximum extent feasible. An alteration is a change that affects usability of a facility. For example, if during remodeling, renovation, or restoration, a doorway is being relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the requirements of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. When alterations are made to a “primary function area”, such as the lobby of a bank, an accessible path of travel to the altered area, and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area, must be made accessible to the extent that the added accessibility costs are not disproportionate to the overall cost of the original alteration.
- Visit the U.S. Department of Justice’s website (ADA.gov) for more information about the rights of people with disabilities and the rights of public accommodations under Title III of the ADA
- View our Businesses Resources page
- Visit our Businesses Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page
- Get legal help
Last updated: September 10, 2021