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Searching for Office Space (and ADA Compliance)

I love getting questions from students, especially about specific business decisions we make while starting into practice.  This was a wonderful question and an important consideration when searching for your new chiropractic office space:

I'm looking at an office space that seems to be ideal in every way, other than the fact that it's located down a flight of stairs (6-7 steps). How does the Americans with Disabilities Act affect this (i.e. would I need to put in some kind of lift or a ramp in order for the office to be handicapped accessible)? If this is not a problem with ADA, is it still a bad idea to be located down stairs? How much of an impact would that have in practice?

With regards to how the ADA can affect your decision, the following is a statement made by the U.S. Department of Justice in an illustrated guide to help small businesses understand the requirements of the revised ADA regulations.

Making the Building Environment Accessible

People with disabilities continue to face architectural barriers that limit or make it impossible to access the goods or services offered by businesses. Examples include:

  • a parking space with no access aisle to allow deployment of a van’s wheelchair lift
  • steps at a facility’s entrance or within its serving or selling space
  • aisles too narrow to accommodate mobility devices
  • counters that are too high
  • restrooms that are too small to use with a mobility device

The ADA strikes a careful balance between increasing access for people with disabilities and recognizing the financial constraints many small businesses face. Its flexible requirements allow businesses confronted with limited financial resources to improve accessibility without excessive expense.
In my own experience, the ADA is very forgiving, especially when moving into a structure that already exists.  We started our practice just a little over 3 years ago and when we first opened, our needs were so different than they are today.  During our launch, our needs had less to do with our patients and more about what we required to keep our costs down (since we only had a handful of patients).

For this reason, we took advantage of a wonderful start-up space, in the perfect location and for the right money. Our office had only two stairs leading up to the entrance and it lacked handicapped accessibility. In addition, the building happened to be one of the oldest in the city and, therefore, it was considered historic.

The stairs were always a concern of mine and we explored many options to overcome the inaccessibility. Most of the options were expensive and since the building was considered historic, the owner didn’t have an obligation to pay for the changes.

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