How to Make Your Small Business Accessible to Everyone

This is a guest post form my friend Eleanor Hecks.  It’s important reading for anyone who operates a business in which people show up in person.

Most store owners want their business to be accessible to everyone. Balancing the cost of ensuring you have wide enough doors for wheelchair access, ramps where needed, and adding technology to help people with all types of disabilities isn’t easy, though. Your funds to improve the structure of your building may be limited.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is federal law and requires nearly every facility to offer reasonable accommodation for customers. ADA standards require structures built after January 26, 1993, to meet specific criteria. Older buildings may fall under varying rules. You are required not to discriminate, so make sure you’re following guidelines carefully.

While it’s crucial to meet ADA regulations for legal purposes, your goal should be to exceed what’s required. To create the best experience possible for all your customers, you must ensure every aspect of your small business is fully compliant and accessible.

1. Complete an Audit

The best place to start is by conducting an audit of your business location.

You can go through the checklist on the ADA website, or you can enlist the help of a Certified Access Specialist (CASp). A CASp is specially trained in ADA regulations and will ensure you meet the standards.

Be aware that some localities require ADA certification to receive building permits or permission for renovations. The CASp can offer ideas for how to get your building up to code in the most cost-effective way.

2. Know Local Regulations

It’s essential to understand the requirements for accessibility from your local government. For example, California has stricter ADA regulations through the California Title 24 law. So, where the federal ADA requires a 36-inch counter height maximum, the California ADA gives a 34-inch height at most.

Make sure you follow both federal and local regulations to avoid any penalties. Your employees and customers have a right to expect accessibility, so it helps you sidestep problems before they arise.

3. Train Your Employees

As a business, you might come into contact with people living with a wide array of disabilities. You could serve someone with vision limitations or hearing impairments, wheelchair-bound users, and those with traumatic brain injuries.

Train your employees to be aware of a struggling customer. How can they go out of their way to help the person? If your area is under a mask mandate, be mindful of how difficult it is for the deaf to communicate when they can’t read lips. Either provide transparent plastic masks or have pen and paper handy for conversing.

Teach kindness. It might require a little more patience and effort to serve everyone’s needs, but it’s a vital part of being a positive part of a community.

4. Allow Service Animals

Around 500,000 Americans use service dogs to help them through their daily lives. Be aware that a service dog is a highly trained tool for the disabled person. People may not appear to have a limitation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need their service dog to help them.

For example, a person with diabetes may need their animal to warn them when their sugar is extremely high or low.

There is a difference between service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs). However, you can only ask some minimal questions to the person claiming to have a service dog.

According to the ADA website, you may ask:

  • Is the dog or service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task is the dog trained to perform?

Anything outside of those two queries may create an issue for your business. It’s better to assume the best and allow the dog in your place of business than to mistakenly discriminate against someone who needs their work animal.

5. Check Your Website

When making your small business accessible to everyone, consider your website as well. Do you have alt tags in place? Those using readers need alt tags to understand what the images are on your site.

Make sure your site works well with voice search, too. Think about minor disabilities such as color blindness. Did you use red and blue together? Certain color combinations create an issue where multiple shades look gray to some people.

There are online checks you can run to see if your site is ADA-compliant. Plug your website’s URL into any free ADA accessibility checker and get a report to see what you need to tweak. There are lawsuits over ADA compliance on websites, so make sure you do everything you can to make your site match the standards.

6. Clear the Aisles

In your brick-and-mortar store or office space, keep aisles clear and free of clutter. Over time, it’s easy to put boxes in center aisles or for staff to start stacking things outside the cubicle.

Not only does it make things difficult for a person in a wheelchair, but it could also be a hazard for everyone else. Make it a habit to walk through your store or offices at least once a week and look for anything that might present a problem for others.

7. Take Suggestions

Do you listen to all your customers? Send out a survey and ask them if they spot any accessibility issues in your place of business. Sometimes a simple fix, such as moving customer service to the front of the store, makes a massive difference in how easy it is to do business with you.

Be open to recommendations from your employees, too. You may want to offer things such as remote work, which can help those who have to travel to a workplace.

Put yourself in the shoes of a blind person. Not only do they have to navigate to transportation, but they may also have to take several buses and take along a work computer and service dog in the process. How much easier it would be for them to have the option to work from home at least some of the time.

Audit Annually

Finally, remember to conduct an audit each year. Things change over time in any business. You may move to a new location, add to a current space, or bring in additional products. Paying attention to accessibility for everyone ensures you don’t embrace changes that leave out some of your fans. Be aware of changes in the laws and always talk to your customers and employees about best practices.


Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a prominent digital marketing agency prior to becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.