Flat walking surfaces are essential when creating a more accessible space for all life stages and abilities. Imagine you’re a new parent who wants to bring your child to the store and they’re just beginning to walk. Or you’re recovering from surgery and need to use crutches/a wheelchair/a scooter. Or you have a mobility aid. Or you’re an elderly person who has a hard time going up stairs. Creating an accessible space makes a building more welcoming for all.
Creating welcoming spaces: How flat walking surfaces are good for business
Good for customers, good for employees
Flat walking surfaces allow for multigenerational spaces, since strollers, walkers, and other mobility aids can navigate the ground more easily. They also help those with visual, autoimmune, and mobility impairments navigate through your business and remove barriers to customers and employees who have varying mobility needs.
According to the World Health Survey, the global employment rate for people with disabilities is 44 percent, compared to 75 percent for those without a disability. Considering that about 15 percent of the global population has a disability and almost everyone will have a temporary or permanent disability at some point during their lives, having a more accessible space opens up your employee base to many more people who may struggle to find accessible workplaces.
… And good for business!
Consumers are 92% more likely to support a business that is physically and digitally accessible to all. In fact, the Disability Equality Index (which gives US businesses a score on their disability inclusion policies and practice) states the 45 companies that stand out for disability employment and inclusion had 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher profit margins than other companies over a four-year span.
“For those who struggle with mobility, our world is filled with obstacles. Slippery, uneven surfaces and a lack of universally accessible walkways create dangerous conditions that can lead to serious injuries. The fear of falling can lead to anxiety and a less active lifestyle. It is important that all public settings maintain flat, accessible surfaces to ensure a safe environment for everyone. Addressing these issues in our community will help create a world where everyone feels they belong.”
-Bob Brazill, Director of Community Relations & Development at Racker
Understanding accessibility laws
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 30 years ago, but many public spaces and businesses are still difficult or impossible to navigate for people with mobility disabilities.
Some of the ADA compliance regulations include:
- Ground and floor surfaces must be stable, firm, and slip-resistant to be accessible.
- Any changes in ground level larger than ¼ inch need to be beveled with a slope no greater than 1:2.
- Any change larger than ½ inch needs to have a ramp.
- Carpets need to be securely attached and have a maximum pile thickness of ½ inch.
- Grates located on walking surfaces should have spaces no larger than ½ inch in one direction and if there are elongated openings, the long dimension should be perpendicular to the direction of travel.
Nearly all businesses that serve the public are required to meet ADA compliance. If a person feels that a public space is not compliant, they can file an ADA complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, and the claim will be investigated through the U.S. Attorney’s Office or via the ADA Mediation Program.
Easy ways to make your space more accessible
In general, accessible ground surfaces must be stable, firm, and slip-resistant, so make sure that there are no carpets or materials that may buckle when objects move over them. Rough surfaces, like gravel, can also make it difficult to navigate with mobility aids.
If your business has a gravel or pebble pathway, consider replacing it with a tile, asphalt, or wood path. Other things that may inhibit accessibility are water fountains, coat hooks, low wall sconces and doorknobs, small door offsets, and crowded furniture. Having a clear floor space allows all customers to move throughout the space easily without tripping hazards.
Some easy alterations include:
- Adding a ramp to areas with stairs
- Covering grate openings or other gaps to ensure mobility aids do not get stuck
- Moving sandwich boards, freestanding movable signs, merchandise racks, etc. out of the path of travel
Investing in an inclusive space
Investing in creating an accessible space is good for business, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some estimated costs:
- The average wheelchair ramp costs $938-$2,917, depending on the material and size your business needs.
- Installing a concrete path costs $3 to $18 per square foot, depending on customizations like different colors.
- Grate covers can cost as low as $4 for covering small drains. Non-slip mats and smaller grate holes can also be a low-cost and easy switch.
Your investment can be offset by grants, loans, and tax deductions:
- Grants for Businesses Run by People with Disabilities
- US Small Business Association Grant List
- Tax Deductions for Making Businesses More Accessible
- US Disability Grants
- Government Grants, Loans, Funding Resources for Handicapped & Disabled
Shifting towards a more inclusive and accessible workspace benefits everyone. Investing in more inclusive spaces will pave the way for a cultural shift in your business where customers, employees, and staff will be more aware of how to adjust workspaces to be more accessible and beneficial for everyone.
Learn more about accessibility
The best way to learn how your business can be more accessible for community members with disabilities? Talk to them! While the ADA provides guidance on structural issues, talking to members of your community will give you insight on the nuances of your neighborhood and what people need to feel welcome in your space.
You could also try the simple but effective practice of moving around your business using crutches, a scooter, or wheelchair. Can you access all parts of the space? Are you able to enjoy your experience?
Another way to learn more about accessibility and to keep issues top of mind is to follow advocates on social media. Consider following some of these social media accounts to add their voices to your feed:
- Fierce Disabled Women: 5 Instagram Accounts to Follow
- 10 Body Positive Instagrammers With Disabilities You Should Follow Immediately
- Top 6 Influencers with Disabilities You Should Follow on Instagram
If you have any questions about flat walking surfaces and ADA guidelines, here are some resources for more information.
- ADA Ground and Floor Surfaces Guidelines
- Access Board Directory on ADA Standards
- ADA Guidelines on Alterations and Additions to Buildings
- Business of Accessibility Handbook
- 10 Ways to Make your Business More Accessible
And, of course, check out the Ithaca.Community listings to see which businesses have flat walking surfaces!