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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Starting the Conversation with a Business Guide

July 13, 2018
Source: North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD)

Blog post by Pam Williamson, Assistant Director, Southeast ADA Center, and Karen Hamilton, former NC ADA Network Coordinator.

[Photo removed; Caption:] The Self Advocates of Mecklenburg group poses for a photo in front of a restaurant before conducting an ADA project to measure the amount of force required to open restroom doors at Mecklenburg County businesses.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Starting the Conversation with a Business Guide was developed by the [North Carolina] ADA Network, a project of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD) and the Southeast ADA Center. It was designed to start a conversation with a business about [one or two] steps that might be taken to make the business more accessible to customers with disabilities.

Using the Guide, a team of people with disabilities can: (1) identify [one or two] specific changes to improve access at a local business; (2) provide targeted information on voluntarily making the business more accessible; (3) provide specific information on the ADA; and (4) follow up to track changes and improvements. A group of self-advocates with intellectual and other developmental disabilities ensured that plain language was used throughout the document.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Starting the Conversation with a Business Guide is enabling people with disabilities to promote voluntary compliance with the ADA in North Carolina. NCCDD’s NC ADA Network initiative reports that self-advocacy groups, Centers for Independent Living, youth with disabilities and other grassroots groups led by people with disabilities have successfully used the Guide to achieve systems change in their local communities. Some of these changes include: less tension on hard to open restroom doors; new accessible parking spaces; and wider access isles in stores.

Self Advocates of Mecklenburg, a grassroots group of individuals with intellectual and other disabilities, continues to successfully use the Guide to improve accessibility in Charlotte. The group learned to identify barriers to access, find accurate ADA information addressing those barriers, share that ADA information with a business, and then follow up to learn if the business made any changes. As a result more than 10 businesses adjust[ed] the tension on hard to open restroom doors. This summer the self-advocacy group is using the same process to talk to businesses about accessible menus at restaurants.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Starting the Conversation with a Business Guide has also been used in the state of Alabama to increase accessibility in local communities. In 2017, Disability Rights and Resources, a Center for Independent Living in Birmingham, Alabama and the Southeast ADA Center’s State Affiliate, received two $5,000 grants from the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities to use the Guide.

The Guide was used by self-advocacy groups in Shelby County, Alabama and Blount County, Alabama. The group’s participants were made up of individuals with various disabilities from People First. All group members were given the opportunity to provide input for the project. Officers were elected from the group of self-advocates. The larger group broke into several smaller teams to conduct surveys. The small teams selected seven places to survey. These included a movie theater, museum, city hall, restaurants and a department store.

The teams contacted the Southeast ADA Center to complete their reports for each business and to identify appropriate publications to share. Feedback was very positive. Oneonta City Hall in Oneonta, Alabama made several changes to increase access based on the team report.

Conducting projects using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Starting the Conversation with a Business: A Leader’s Guide allowed team members to learn more the ADA and their communities. It also provided an easy to use tool to encourage businesses to make their services more accessible to people with disabilities. Information about the project in Birmingham, Alabama was provided by Elizabeth Patton, Programs Coordinator, Disability Rights and Resources. The Guide was also featured at the ADA Knowledge Translation Center’s State of the Science Conference on the ADA on May 4, 2016 in Washington, DC.

More information: Check out the webpage Celebrating the ADA’s 28th Anniversary from the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities at

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