The ADA and Public Places

Summary: This article focuses on businesses—stores, restaurants, salons, theaters, and more—that are open to the public. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a lot to say about such places. This article discusses which types of businesses Title III applies to. It also explains what these businesses must do in order to follow the law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) describes certain public places that are government-run in Title II, and it describes general businesses in Title III. These different titles set out slightly different rules for applying the ADA.


Title II is about public places and services that are run by or funded by a state or local government. Title II covers state or local government buildings, as well as facilities, like parks. It also covers programs and services. The ADA doesn’t apply to the federal government; that aspect of disability civil rights law is covered by the Rehabilitation Act.

[ Read: The ADA and Title II Public Entities ]


Let’s focus on how the ADA applies to public places that are not part of (or funded by) the federal, state, or local government. Most businesses are what Title III of the ADA calls a place of public accommodation.

A place of public accommodation means any place that is open to the public where commerce is carried out. Commerce happens when things are bought or sold, or when services are bought or sold. Examples include banks, restaurants, theaters, and hotels. Private schools and colleges, museums, shopping malls, bowling alleys, and sports arenas, as well as spas, hospitals, and zoos, are also places of public accommodation. Title III also covers private transportation (Title II covers public transportation).

Examples of Public Accommodations

The ADA Title III Technical Manual (in III-1.2000 Public accommodations) provides 12 examples of public accommodations. This is not a complete list; other businesses that fit within these categories are also considered places of public accommodation.

1) Places of lodging (e.g., inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms)

2) Establishments serving food or drink (e.g., restaurants and bars)

3) Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g., motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums)

4) Places of public gathering (e.g., auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls)

5) Sales or rental establishments (e.g., bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers)

6) Service establishments (e.g. , laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals)

7) Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation)

8) Places of public display or collection (e.g., museums, libraries, galleries)

9) Places of recreation (e.g., parks, zoos, amusement parks)

10) Places of education (e.g., nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools)

11) Social service center establishments (e.g., day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies)

12) Places of exercise or recreation (e.g., gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses)

Physical access

Title III requires that places of public accommodation not discriminate based on disability in providing goods and services. It also requires that they remove all structural and architectural barriers to accessibility if such removal is readily achievable, and that new construction and alterations comply with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Title III defines readily achievable as “easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.” It is an ongoing obligation that must be continually re-evaluated to determine if barriers to access exist, and if feasible, to remove those barriers.

Like Title II, Title III forbids unnecessary inquiries into disability, surcharges associated with ADA compliance, and eligibility criteria that screen out people with disabilities without legitimate safety reasons.

Title III also requires reasonable modifications to ensure access for people with disabilities, unless doing so causes a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service or program or causes excessive financial and administrative burden.


Title III requires that public accommodations provide auxiliary aids and services to assist with communications.

The terms auxiliary aid and auxiliary service are often used to describe methods of improving communication with someone who has a sensory disability. For example, for brief, simple communication, a pen and paper can improve communication with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, as can text messaging on smart phones. For more extensive or complex communication, other types of services or aids may be needed, such as sign language interpreters and CART (Communication Access Real-Time Captioning), as well as TTY for telephony. Additional examples include braille and large-print reading materials, audiobooks, and more.


Because Title III covers private schools and universities, it includes rules for exams and courses. Covered entities must offer exams and courses in way that is accessible to individuals with disabilities or offer an accessible alternative. Also, exams should be administered so the results accurately reflect an individual’s aptitude or achievement level, not the impairment.

The Purpose of Title III

Title III is about making it possible for people with disabilities to enjoy the same access to the physical buildings, goods and services, and programs and other benefits, offered by businesses as anyone else. This simple goal may require a business to rethink the built environment around it and various elements inside of it. The business may also need to retool some of its policies and be flexible and creative when providing customer service to people with disabilities.

[ Read: The Spirit of the ADA and Your Business ]

[ Read: What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act? ]

[ Downloadable fact sheet: Shopping and Customer Service ]


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