Federal disabilities act is nothing to be afraid of

SMALL BUSINESS

October 26, 1992|By JANE APPLEGATE

Mention the Americans with Disabilities Act to most small-business owners and watch them tremble. But the much-debated law, which covers all businesses employing more than 25, is nothing to be afraid of -- if you understand its basic intent.

The ADA, as it is known, is aimed at giving the estimated 8.2 million disabled Americans who want to work a chance to work.

It is not meant to put you out of business or cost you enormous amounts of money.

Businesses are basically required to make "reasonable accommodations" for handicapped employees and customers. In addition to making physical improvements, business owners must eliminate barriers to employment.

"It's a total myth that handicapped workers get sick more or miss more work than other employees," said Lawrence Levin, a Chicago attorney who specializes in legal issues relating to employment.

Instead of resisting the ADA, Levin said business owners should be "thinking about how to best tap this pool of outstanding workers."

The ADA requires business owners to make sure that their job application and interview process does not discriminate against disabled workers.

For example, requiring people to fill out a written application might discriminate against a qualified blind applicant, while showing an instructional videotape might discriminate against the hearing impaired, Levin said.

The primary enforcement of ADA hinges on people filing complaints with the Justice Department if they believe that they have been discriminated against or denied access.

While you are adapting your hiring guidelines, you may also need to make a few physical adjustments, especially if you plan to remodel your office.

California, for instance, requires all new construction and certain remodeling projects to accommodate handicapped workers and customers.

Dr. Barry Leonard, a Panorama City, Calif., optometrist, had to deal with both California and federal regulations when he remodeled his office.

Although he only expanded his office from 1,300 square feet to 2,000, Leonard was required to knock down walls and install a bathroom accessible to the handicapped.

Having to meet the state and federal handicap-related requirements added about $5,000 to the cost of the $50,000 remodeling,he said.

And, if you believe that the ADA is something new to deal with, think again: Forty states already have laws preventing such discrimination.

Owners of retail stores, auto sales and service businesses, restaurants and bars, grocery stores, private medical practices and recreation and fitness centers can order six new industry-specific guides to understanding the ADA.

The guides, published by the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation (CBBBF), focus on how to make your place of business more accessible to people with disabilities.

There are six versions of "Access Equals Opportunity -- Your Guide to the ADA." To order a copy, specify what kind of business you are in and send $2.50 and a self-addressed, business-size envelope with 52 cents postage for each guide.

If you would like all six guides, the cost is $10. Bulk discounts are also available. For information and orders write: CBBBF, Dept. 024, Washington, D.C. 20042-0024.

(Jane Applegate is a syndicated columnist and author. Write to her through the Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.)

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