Businesses must meet new ADA accessibility requirements in Chicago by July 1


Matthew D. Lango, Deputy Commissioner, Commission on Human Relations

All Chicago businesses that serve the general public must be  accessible to people with all types of disabilities based on 16 protected classes by July 1, explained Matthew Lango, Deputy Commissioner, Commission on Human Relations (CCHR), at a 1st Ward Small Business Seminar, Monday in Lazo's Tacos Restaurant, 2009 N Western Ave. 

Among other things, the Ordinance requires that businesses ensure that their facilities, products and services are available to individuals with disabilities. 

This compliance requirement is for existing as well as new businesses and no business is "grandfathered." Non-compliance is punishable by up to $1,000 per incident paid to the City of Chicago, with damages and attorney fees paid to the complaining party. 

Investigation of accused violators will be prompted by a complaint. 

Examples of compliance situations

  • Customers with disabilities must be able to maneuver within your business safely and efficiently.
  • Exterior entrances must provide for a customer in a wheelchair to enter where a step or steps are present with a lift or ramp or provide an alternative entry.
  • If restrooms are provided, the must be accessible to all customers with disabilities, including those using a wheelchair or those with a visual impairment.
  • Restaurant and bar menus should be available in large print or braille. Where unavailable, staff should be prepared to read the menu aloud.
  • Restaurants and bars cannot deny entry or service to customers with service animals.
  • Cashier and food-ordering counters must be installed at a height that will ensure adequate service to customers in wheelchairs 

The new regulations clearly specify requirements for private businesses covered by the ordinance are nearly identical to those found in Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to CCHR. They go on to list  structural accessibility as well as policies, practices and procedures. 

  • The regulations provide varying standards, both structural and practical, depending on what is required, including:  
  • The construction and alteration of facilities.
  • The removal of architectural barriers that interfere with accessibility in existing facilities.
  • The removal of criteria that screen out individuals with a disability.
  • The revision of policies necessary to provide full and equal enjoyment
  • The provision of auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication. 

Structural Accessibility Under the New Regulations

  • New Construction
    • Facilities must be built in accordance with the accessibility requirements of the Chicago Building Code, unless a condition of the terrain makes it impossible to comply.
  • Alterations to Existing Facilities
    • Any physical changes to a facility (build-outs, renovations) must be done so that the altered elements are built in accordance with the accessibility requirements of the Chicago Building Code.
    • When the primary function area of an establishment is altered (e.g. the dining room of a restaurant), improvements in access to other parts of the facility may be required.
  • Existing Facilities
    • Any structural barriers preventing access to people with disabilities must be removed where such removal is readily achievable, meaning easily completed without much difficulty or expense (based on the size and resources of the business).
    • If removing a barrier is not readily achievable, the business may need to provide alternative means of providing access to their goods and services (e.g. curbside service and home delivery).
    • Businesses are under a continuing obligation to remove barriers to access over time. 

Accessibility of Policies, Practices, & Procedures

  • Intentional Discrimination
    • A business may not deny service to people based on their disabilities.
    • A business may not provide to people with disabilities  unequal access to goods and services or access to lesser quality goods or services.
  • Eligibility Criteria
    • A business may not impose rules that exclude people with disabilities, unless those rules are necessary to provide goods and services, or are related to a legitimate safety requirement.
    • Example:  A store requires customers using a credit card to produce a driver’s license, thereby excluding people whose disabilities prohibit them from driving (e.g. people who are blind).
  • Modifications to Policies, Practices, and Procedures
    • A business must reasonably modify its procedures when necessary to afford goods or services to individuals with disabilities, unless such a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the business.
  • Ensuring Effective Communication
    • A business must ensure that it communicates in the most effective manner with customers who have visual, hearing, or speech impairments, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the business or create significant difficulty or expense.
    • The most effective auxiliary aid or service to facilitate communication will depend on the context of the business transaction and the disability of the customer.
    • Example: A written note might be enough to communicate with a person who is deaf at a donut shop but the same person might require a sign language interpreter when visiting a doctor’s office.  

Among the many resources available, CHR has provided the following list:

Great Lakes ADA Center 1640 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60608, 312.413.1407 and 800.949.4232 (Voice/TTY), Provides information, problem solving assistance, and referrals for implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws requiring accessibility for people with disabilities.  It is one of ten regional centers funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.  It operates out of the Department of Disability and Human Development under the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  

Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), City of Chicago  Architectural Services Unit  121 North LaSalle Street, City Hall, Room 1104, Chicago, IL 60602, 312.744.4441, TTY 312.744.4964, Division of City of Chicago government.  It provides consultative services and technical assistance to business owners, architects, and developers who are renovating or building a residential or public accommodation facility.  Professional staff answer questions about the rights and responsibilities of business owners, employees, and consumers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), Illinois Accessibility Code (IAC), Chicago Building Code, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

City of Chicago Department of Community Development  Small Business Improvement Fund, 312. 744.0678  The Department of Community Development administers the Small Business Improvement Fund which provides grants to businesses for improvements to small business properties in select Chicago neighborhoods.  The program uses Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenues to help owners of commercial properties and tenants within specific TIF districts to repair or remodel their facilities.  Assistance is available to make improvements to accommodate patrons or workers with disabilities. 

Access Living 115 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60610, 312.640.2100, TTY 312.640.2102, Not-for-profit organization which works to integrate people with disabilities into community life.  It has an information and referral service which can help locate products and services to support accessibility.  Call and ask for the Information and Referral Coordinator, or possibly submit a question through Access Living’s web site. 

Illinois Attorney General Illinois Accessibility Code Site Inspection Checklist, a 24-page booklet.  

U.S. Department of Justice  The ADA Home Page has many informational publications such as: - ADA Guide for Small Businesses, 15 pp - Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal, 15 pp - Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business, 3 pp - Communicating with Guests Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hotels, Motels, and other Places of Transient Lodging, 2 pp 

For additional information, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations may be reached at 312.744.4111.



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