Businesses could be losing thousands of potential customers by failing to make their facilities accessible to all.
That’s according to one local nonprofit offering a solution to help businesses identify ways to improve access to their facilities for people with disabilities.
Often through lack of knowledge or negligence, many businesses do not realize the extent of the inaccessibility of their facilities.
It’s something many people without disabilities do not spend too much time thinking about.
But Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living in Allentown is looking to change that by raising awareness among businesses about the need to create facilities truly accessible and free of barriers.
“The roots are in advocacy, but we want to do that in the most cost-effective way, improve accessibility for all,” said Nanci White, community accessibility program assistant at LVCIL. “We try to tell them the benefits to the business. We tell businesses to advertise that they are handicapped-accessible.”
IDENTIFYING FIRST PRIORITIES
LVCIL can help with AccessCheck, in which it does a site survey to show businesses and organizations what they need to do to improve access by removing architectural barriers. The survey identifies areas of the facility that need to be addressed.
These are first-priority items, such as a building’s entrance and accessibility approach, parking, restrooms and access to goods and services, which can be tackled first before taking on other items such as water fountains, doorknobs and placement of fire extinguishers.
“We try to, in the report, give them the priorities, what they should do first,” White said. “It gives them a comprehensive plan, but they don’t have to do it all at once.”
AVERAGE COST IS $2,500
LVCIL completes the survey using Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility.
It has completed 95 surveys for everything from trails to playgrounds to restaurants across the state.
The cost of the survey to businesses varies based on the type and size of the facility, while the cost of improvements depends on the recommendations.
The cost for completing the report for an average building is about $2,500 but it depends on how much is needed, said Brian Rogers, community accessibility coordinator for LVCIL.
During a tour of LVCIL’s site in West Allentown, Greg Bott, director of development, noted his organization’s facility is a model of accessibility.
Its wide hallways and large, strategically placed signs and grab bars are just a few examples of the building’s barrier-free design, which benefits the consumers the organization serves.
“This place is 100 percent accessible,” Bott said. “Everything here is a shining example of what accessibility should be.
“Greater than 50 percent of our staff, our board, are people with disabilities. We have that unique aspect because we come at it from an advocacy standpoint.”
The organization wants to work with businesses to make the accessibility report a fee-for-service program and help businesses and other places improve accessibility, Bott said.
“A lot of places don’t understand what it takes to be accessible,” Bott said. “Businesses are all worried about the bottom line.”
By 2012, every business should have been ADA-compliant, Rogers noted about the act. In the ADA, there is no such thing as a rule allowing a business to be grandfathered into compliance, he added.
Businesses can get fined by the U.S. Department of Justice if they are not compliant, and fines can be hefty, Rogers added.
“What we want to do is, we want to help them,” he said. “We want to partner with you. We are there for the person and for the law.”
As an example, in compiling a report LVCIL shows businesses how to build accessible spaces, such as parking areas. It can tell businesses how high the signs should be, then go into where ramps should be placed and other items, including offering training on proper language to use.
“It’s such a detailed report,” Bott said. “Signage is something that people miss a lot.”
One organization that LVCIL helped was Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, which created an ADA-accessible trail and increased parking for people with disabilities.
“You make it accessible, it’s easier for everyone,” Bott said.
Lehigh Valley Zoo, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and DeSales University are a few examples of local organizations that have taken part in AccessCheck.
HELPFUL ROAD MAP
One LVCIL client has completed many of its recommendations.
“The accessibility assessment service provided by LVCIL was outstanding,” said Rabbi Allen Juda, president of the Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown. “It was complete, practical and sensitive to the needs of both our agency and those with various forms of accessibility issues. The report LVCIL gave us … was a very helpful road map for updating our building inside and out.”
Businesses that “get accessibility right” in the Valley include big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, as well as the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall Township and Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, according to Rogers.
NEW CONSTRUCTION MISSES, TOO
Many restaurants are in great need of being ADA-compliant and often newly constructed buildings miss ADA requirements, Bott said.
As an example in the construction of new buildings, ADA-compliant items such as the placement of grab bars and doors in restrooms often are missed by engineers, architects and builders. Other items commonly missed include counter heights and insufficient signage.
“We will review the places and give them recommendations and point them in the right direction,” Bott said.
TAX CREDITS, DEDUCTIONS
Once companies complete the report and implement the recommendations to become ADA-compliant, they gain the ability to increase business by being more accessible. Also, there are tax credits and deductions for being ADA-compliant.
Plus, businesses and organizations can join LVCIL’s database of ADA-compliant businesses, White said.
“Our goal is to give this info to our consumers so they go out to those businesses,” she said.