By Kristina M. Launey

Contrary to popular belief, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply exclusively to public accommodations (businesses that provide goods and services to the general public).  Commercial facilities (privately-owned, non-residential facilities whose operations affect commerce but that do not serve customers or clients, such as factories, warehouses, or corporate office buildings) are also subject to Title III.

First, the similarities: As of March 15 of this year, commercial facilities – just like public accommodations – must comply with the new construction and alterations regulations of the 2010 Standards.  2010 Standards for new construction must be met unless site conditions make compliance structurally impracticable — a rare exception.  The commercial facility must also meet 2010 Standards accessibility requirements for (1) any elements or spaces that it is altering, and (2) that are part of the path of travel to a primary function area that it will be altering.  Exemplars of significant elements in commercial facilities to which the 2010 Standards apply are: accessible routes to the facility entrance, public entrances, doors, circulation paths in employee work areas, parking, elevators, restrooms, signage, and reach ranges.

Now, the differences: Unlike public accommodations, the 2010 Standards do not require commercial facilities to engage in the removal of existing barriers or comply with any rules relating to the facility’s operations.  While owners, operators, lessors, and lessees of public accommodations generally have an ongoing obligation to remove architectural barriers that exist (unless it is not readily achievable to do so) regardless of whether they had anything to do with the creation of the barriers, owners, operators, lessors, and lessees of commercial facilities do not have this obligation.  Their obligations only arise in connection with new construction or alteration activities.

What does this mean? If you’ve determined you do not have to comply with Title III or the 2010 Standards because you do not provide goods and services to the general public, think again.  Do your operations affect commerce?  Are you planning new construction or alterations to your existing facility?  If so, keep in mind your obligations under the 2010 ADA Standards.