Webinar: ADA Requirements for Food Service



audio version (opens in a new tab)




With COVID vaccine eligibility currently expanding across the U.S., some people might decide to dine in restaurants after hesitating to do so. It is important to consider the needs of everyone, including restaurant patrons with disabilities. On May 20, 2020, the

Great Lakes ADA Center


Southwest ADA Center

Hosted a webinar entitled

Food Service Providers and the ADA”. 

I heard the presentation twice: on date of broadcast and in archival form on April 6, 2021. The link above provides presentation materials and the recording. In this blog post, I will summarize what I learned.


Importance of Accessibility

Accessibility means, from a business perspective, that a person with a disability should be able to independently access goods and services. For example, some people with disabilities are unable to enter restaurants due to unusable doors. In such situations, alternative access to goods and services must be available. The presenter also stated that accessibility is important on a business’s web sites. Accessible design standards are also necessary for the business to consider.


Accessible Design Standards

Businesses, including restaurants, need to implement the

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design”.

Businesses must modify policies to integrate persons with disabilities. This includes specifying how to deal with customer service issues and standards for seating arrangement. Restaurants can provide whatever tables they want. If higher tables are the norm, a restaurant must, under the ADA, provide an alternative table to accommodate persons in wheelchairs. Additionally, the standards require removal of accessibility barriers. Any area available to the public in a business must be accessible. Policy priorities are also worth considering.


Policy Priorities

Under the ADA, effective communication with people who have disabilities is crucial. If a restaurant has an elevator available to the public, it needs to be in working condition. In both cases, accessibility can enable provision of goods and services. The presenter also said restaurant staff should be prepared to move tables and chairs around to accommodate people with disabilities. There are some situations where a business, including restaurants, can claim relevant ADA requirements do not need to be complied with.


Business Defenses

There are several defenses which a business can claim.

Eligibility Requirements

A business can claim that a person with disability does not meet eligibility criteria. This means requirements applied to everyone.

Undue Burden

If making a reasonable accommodation is too costly, the restaurant can claim undue burden defense. In an undue burden situation, a business would still be required to find an accommodation method.

Fundamental Alteration

The fundamental alteration defense means an alteration would be too difficult for the business to provide. For example, if a person wants fried chicken and it is not offered on the menu, the restaurant does not need to provide it.

Direct Threat

A final reason to decline policy changes or reasonable accommodation is the person with a disability poses a direct threat to him/herself or others. Such a defense is self-explanatory. To claim defenses discussed above, a business must make clear an inability to provide requested accommodations. In all situations, it is important to make reasonable disability-related accommodations when doing so is possible. There are other miscellaneous subjects discussed during the webinar which are worth mentioning.



My miscellaneous category covers 3 unrelated subjects.

Service animals:

Some people with disabilities use service animals, which are trained to perform tasks for the person with a disability. A restaurant cannot request medical documentation regarding a person’s disability or if a service dog has been trained. The only questions to ask in that situation are if the person uses the animal because of a disability and what work the dog has been trained to perform. The restaurant has discretion regarding whether to allow a service dog or not. The presenter also pointed out, in response to a question, that restaurants do not need to admit or accommodate an emotional support animal.

Accessibility barriers:

If a building was built prior to 1993, there is no grandfather clause in the ADA. Therefore, a business must remove accessibility barriers when doing so is readily achievable. The readily achievable mandate is flexible.


If a person is being disruptive due to a disability, the restaurant does not need to tolerate it. Disruption is typically obvious when it occurs. I remember dining in a restaurant some years ago where someone was screaming frequently. I don’t know if the person had a disability, such as a nonverbal one. However, I did notice the person was moved to a different location. Bottom line: through a combination of ADA standards compliance and flexibility by everyone involved, ideally everyone can have an enjoyable dining experience.



Question for readers: If you have encountered disability-related challenges when visiting a restaurant, what happened? I will return with another article.


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