The cost of modification
Businesses with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable
accommodation to employees or prospective employees with
disabilities (mandated as of July 26, 1994, by the Americans With
Disabilities Act); businesses with 25 or more employees have been
required to do so since July 26, 1992. And as of January 26,
1992, the ADA also required that all businesses serving the
public be accessible.
So why aren't they?
Oh sure, there are ramps. In some places. But how many stores and
restaurants are stepless or have aisles wide enough for
wheelchairs? How many dressing rooms, parking structures,
offices, public parks, universities, etc., are truly accessible?
And what's the holdup? Money. Business owners are afraid of what
it will cost them to provide real access and accommodation. Are
their fears well founded? Not according to statistics collected
by the Job Accommodation Network, a federally funded consulting
service that provides free information to employers and people
with disabilities. Its research shows that 15 percent of
recommended accommodations would cost nothing. Nothing! And 52
percent would cost between $1 and $500. Only 22 percent would
cost more than $1,000.
In fact, the government offers incentives to businesses to make
the needed changes. IRS Code Section 190, the Architectural
Barrier Removal Deduction, applies to businesses of any size and
buildings of any age; it allows up to $15,000 a year for expenses
involving the removal of barriers. Section 44, the Disabled
Access Credit, applies to small businesses (less than $1 million
gross annual receipts or 30 or fewer full-time employees during
the preceding taxable year); it allows up to $5,000 a year that
can be used not only for barrier removal on buildings built since
1990 but also for other accommodations.
Still, many business owners insist that providing accommodation
will cause them "undue hardship," which the ADA defines as
"significant difficulty or expense." Although this is a vague
definition at best, factors considered include the net cost of
modifications after deductions, credits, and any other payment
(e.g., funds provided by a state department of vocational
rehabilitation). The size, structure and resources of the
business are also thrown into the equation.
Companies are always ready to spend money on anything they think
will give them a business edge: new technology, training for
their employees, etc. Yet what many firms don't realize is that
modifying their facilities to serve people with disabilities is
also good business; it opens the doors to a whole new contingent
of dedicated and well-trained employees -- and enables a whole
new contingent of paying customers to patronize their
-- Barrett Shaw
The author is editor of The Disabililty Rag & ReSource.
A sample copy of the Disability Rag is available to anyone
who thinks they might be interested in subscribing. The
Rag is available on disk as well as regular print, large
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