ADA Centers Offer Accessibility Guide For Disability-Friendly Businesses & Meeting Planners

Editor’s Note: If you’re a person who’s disabled, if you’re a caregiver, if you’re a meeting planner, if you host conferences, or if you’re a business person and want to know how to attract customers who are disabled and make your facility accessible to them, the 10 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Centers across the nation have plenty of information for you. To learn more about what these centers have to offer, Wheel:Life interviewed Marian Vessels, Director of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center (  

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The 10 ADA Centers at different locations throughout the nation focus on providing information, guidance and training. They are federally funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ( We offer a toll-free number at 1-800-949-4232 where anyone can receive information and guidance or learn more about the ADA.

Marian Vessels, Director of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center
Marian Vessels, Director of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center

Some of the calls we receive at the ADA Center are from:

  • Parents who have children with disabilities. They want to know what rights their children have and what services are available for them and their children through the ADA.
  • Businesses that ask how wide the aisles in their stores need be to make their stores accessible.

  • Employers who want to know what type of reasonable accommodations they need to make for an employee with a disability.

  • Individuals who say, “I just found out I have a disability. Do I have to disclose that information to my employer?”

  • State and local government officials who ask, “What does providing accommodations for employees with disabilities mean?”

  • Anyone who has a question about how the ADA applies to him or her, his family and/or his business or the government.

Information Available at ADA Centers

  • Smartphone Numbers – One of the unique features about our 1-800 number program is this number is a Smartphone number. So, depending on where you’re calling from, the phone routes your call to the ADA Center nearest to you. For instance, if someone’s calling from the Mid-Atlantic region, his call automatically will be connected with our Mid-Atlantic ADA Center. Someone calling from the South will get the Atlanta ADA Center. Too, each of the 10 centers has its own website. We also have a national website at When you go to the national website, you’ll see a map that shows which regional office you should contact. Then, you can check your regional ADA’s website for information.

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  • Training Sessions and Materials – Each ADA center does face-to-face training sessions based on the needs of the audience. We also have an abundance of materials, training and information on each website. The ADA offers distance learning, training courses, webinars, teleconferences and podcasts, as well as some very-targeted information to meet specific needs. For instance, we have a section on tax credits and deductions for businesses that provide accommodations for people with disabilities, and we have information on service animals. There are a large number of resources on these webpages designed to appeal to a variety of individuals, businesses, companies, corporations and governmental organizations. We also have information on how to make your website information more accessible for people with disabilities.

“The Accessible Meeting Guide”

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The Mid-Atlantic ADA Center has developed an accessible meeting guide online This guide will show you what’s necessary to make a meeting in your office accessible.

If you’re having an expo with thousands of people participating, the guide will walk you through what you need to consider to make sure the expo is accessible.

Perhaps you’re holding a conference for several hundred people. The guide will walk you through what you need to consider to make the conference accessible. You also can learn what you need to consider to make any other type of meeting that an individual or a group is considering having accessible to all different kinds of people with various disabilities.

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If you plan for a person with a disability to speak, you need to be sure he/she can get to the stage, using whatever type of equipment he has.

We’ll also discuss with you how to provide materials in accessible formats for meetings and conferences, and many other things that an individual or a group needs to know about and consider when planning a meeting. Too, we explain how to ask the question, “Do you have a disability? If so, what do we need to do to make sure you can get to all parts of the meeting?”

The last comprehensive meeting guide was 20 years old. So, we’ve redesigned a new one that has much more and better information to suit the time we live in and the people we serve. The meeting guide also has lots of links to other resources that will help anyone planning a meeting or a gathering of people. You can enter the meeting guide as a participant, a meeting planner or as the host site of a meeting.

Don't leave your speakers in a lurch if they can't get on stage due to unaccessible stairs.
Don’t leave your speakers in a lurch if they can’t get on stage due to unaccessible stairs.

One suggestion the ADA gives is to send out a flyer or an advertisement stating, “If you need any type of accommodations, and you’re coming to this meeting, please let us know 2 weeks ahead of time, so we can ensure we meet your needs.”

This way you’re requesting that the meeting attendees let you know what type of accommodations you need to consider making to be sure they can attend all functions of the meeting. For instance, if you’re planning a big meeting, and a large number of people are coming, but the attendees have to go up 10 steps to get into the meeting, then if one of the attendees is in a wheelchair, you know you’ll need to have a ramp for the attendees to go up and down the steps. In the meeting planning guide, we also have a link to an existing facilities check list that you can use to review the site where the meeting will be held. That way you can make sure that the meeting place is accessible for all attendees.

We have a number of tools in the guide too that will help meeting planners solve problems before any problem occurs. The guide is meant not only for meeting planners, but too for anyone to use to make sure that the facility is accessible for everyone. We also encourage people with disabilities to become proactive and send this check list to the venues where they’re planning to attend events. For instance, the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD) ( is posting the link to this meeting guide on its webpage and in the organization’s newsletter to encourage people with disabilities to advocate more for accessible meetings and conferences.

The ADA Film – “At Your Service”

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“At Your Service” ( is a 20-minute film that features people with disabilities talking about what they need from anyone who provides customer service for a business, a state or local government or any other type of organization. The U.S. homes numbers of people with a wide variety of disabilities, and they share in this film what they want provided for them, as they purchase goods and services.

Businesses have told the ADA Center that they need and want more current information on the needs of people with disabilities. This is why we’ve developed the “At Your Service” film and the “Accessible Meeting Guide.” The film and the meeting guide are free for anyone, and the information for both are on our website. T

here are a number of ways that individuals and organizations can use these resources. They can stream these two resources, embed them in PowerPoint presentations and put them on their websites, including links to both of these resources. The film also has captions for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. We have foreign-language support too. The film and meeting guide are also audio transcribed for people with vision disabilities, and too, the film can be viewed and listened to in Spanish. The ADA Center also has a 2-minute preview to give people a better idea of what the movie is about before they decide to watch the entire movie.

More on What the ADA Center Does

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Here’s a walk-through to reach these two resources on the ADA Center website:

  • Go to, which will take you to the homepage.
  • Scroll down at the homepage to see a graphic that says “Accessible Meetings Events and Conferences Guide,” and you’ll also see an icon for the movie, “At Your Service.” You can click on that icon and go to the movie and the preview.

In July, 2015, the ADA organization just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We’ve learned that the most requested training people have asked for is, “How do we interact with people who have disabilities?” We’ve learned that this question is being asked not because people don’t want to interact with people with disabilities. Perhaps people are fearful to interact with people with disabilities, because they don’t want to say the wrong thing and be embarrassed or misunderstood. So, oftentimes, instead of speaking to or acknowledging people with disabilities, they shy away from them or don’t say anything at all. We’ve seen this as a very important need that our organization can meet by providing information and help for people who don’t have disabilities to interact with people who do.

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One of the individuals in our film “At Your Service” explains, “My dollars spend just like anyone else’s do,” to bring up the point that one in five people have some form of disability, and that people with disabilities spends billions of dollars in this country and overseas. Many businesses don’t understand how to tap into that market to make sure their businesses are accessible, and that their customer service people know how to talk with and serve people with disabilities. Businesses are now wanting to learn how to market to this huge demographic of people with disabilities.

We also have people from other countries who come to our website to learn how to interact and serve people with disabilities in their countries. We have met with the U.S. Department of State and explained what we do, and how we do it. Then other countries can learn how the ADA Center does business, and what the ADA Center’s provisions and services are like. We also get emails not only from this country, but from overseas. Each regional office has its email address on its website. You can email your requests for information, if you don’t call.

Another resource the ADA Center has is our website that’s set-up for the hospitality, lodging and service industry. This site has many tools and resources for people in the hospitality industry. So, we encourage anyone in the hospitality or lodging industry to go to this website and learn how to better tap into travel and lodgings for people with disabilities. Also, we encourage people to call us if they have questions. Our goal is to make sure that the ADA is fully implemented to enable people with disabilities to participate in the mainstream of our society. Call us at 1-800-949-4232 with any questions.

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Download Discovering: Accessible US Travel Guide for Wheelchair Users

Discovering-Coverlowres240x240In this book, you’ll discover a state-by-state directory of accessible travel destinations across the United States.

These accessible travel suggestions are part of the Get Out & Enjoy Life [GOEL] program that is a joint educational initiative between Wheel:Life, a global community of wheelchair users, and SPORTS ‘N SPOKES magazine, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

More than 70,000 wheelchair users from 108 countries took part in Wheel:Life resources in 2014.

You’ll find that each chapter of this book provides easily-accessible destinations that are fun and engaging for friends who use wheelchairs. Discovering is an easy, encouraging read that will help you explore all kinds of travel destinations and family fun spots, whether you are new to using a wheelchair or a seasoned pro.

Please note that not every state in the US is featured in this travel guide, just the ones that we have included in our GOEL program to date.


About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at


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