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Physical Accessibility in the Workplace

Accessing the Worksite

From the desk of Lisa Mathess, M.A., SHRM-CP, Principal Consultant, ADA Specialist

“Our parking lot is ADA accessible, so I do not think we can do anything further for this employee.”

“The rest of the team works on the 3rd floor, so no, moving the employee to the ground level won’t work.”

“This employee is saying our door is too heavy to open but it meets the guidelines.”

These are some of the things employers have said to me when they call the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for technical assistance regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and workplace accommodations. I understand their confusion because often they are correct, their buildings and parking lots do in fact meet the ADA accessibility guidelines. But what does that mean for the employees who are still having trouble getting to the worksite, joining their team, or opening the door?

There are various parts of the ADA that might apply to these situations and that’s often the source of the confusion. Under Title II (state and local government facilities) and Title III (public accommodation and commercial facilities), existing facilities, renovations, and new construction require a baseline level of physical accessibility. These baseline requirements are called the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and were developed by the US Access Board and incorporated into Titles II and III of the ADA by the US Department of Justice.

JAN specializes in Title I (employment realm) of the ADA and we sometimes field questions regarding the physical accessibility of a worksite. For employers undergoing new construction and renovations, the ADAAG should be followed. However, an individualized assessment of additional physical access needs for a particular employee with a disability must be considered under an employer’s Title I reasonable accommodation obligation.

Some employers want to be proactive when renovating or doing new construction and not only follow the ADAAG, but also universal design principles to make their worksites accessible to as many people as possible. For these employers, an accessibility audit may be useful. An accessibility audit is a workplace assessment done by a professional to assess worksite accessibility, consisting of but not limited to parking lots, entrances and exits, hallways, restrooms, and common areas. JAN does not endorse or recommend any particular provider for such audits, but does maintain a vendor listing: Building Accessibility Universal Design Consultants.

Common considerations for workplace accessibility include, but are not limited to:

  • Parking
  • Entrances and Exits (e.g., width and ease in opening)
  • Interior Areas
    • HR office, interview/application process accessibility
    • Restroom, breakroom, cafeteria, water fountain, phone access
    • Elevator: panel height and button access

Parking: Assuming the parking lot is ADAAG compliant, but an employee with a disability cannot walk the distance from the existing accessible parking space to the work-site entrance, an employer would need to consider reasonable accommodations. Common accommodations include providing a closer reserved parking spot, granting access to the closest entrance to the employee’s workstation, or permitting telework to eliminate the need to travel to the worksite. For more information on parking, see JAN’s parking publication.

Entrances and Exits: When an employee with a disability cannot open entrance or exit doors due to their disability, there are modifications employers can consider. Automatic door openers permit an existing door to open with less physical force. Depending on fine motor abilities, doorknob grips and handles may be an effective alternative.

Interior Areas: For accessibility to various interior areas, such as the HR office, common break areas, restrooms, and cafeterias an employer may need to consider relocating these areas to an accessible floor with an accessible pathway or modifying elevator buttons and doors.

Employers should also be mindful of tax incentives that may be available for barrier removal and ensuring accessibility to employees and individuals with disabilities. For additional information on available tax incentives employers can contact a local IRS office, go to the IRS Tax Information for Businesses, or phone the IRS at 800-829-4933 (V) or 800-829-4059 (TTY).

For specific questions on ADAAG and standards, the US Access Board can provide technical assistance.

Additional Resources:

Opening Doors to All Candidates: Tips for Ensuring Access for Applicants with Disabilities (Department of Labor)

Creating an Accessible and Welcoming Workplace- Physical Accessibility (AskEARN)

The Americans with Disabilities Act Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal (Adaptive Environments Center, Inc., Checklist)