Images of people with disabilities using mobility aids, signing, and playing games

Renewing the Commitment: An ADA Compliance Guide for Nonprofits

You can also view and download this report in PDF format.





How to Use This Guide

Section 1. Overview: Laws and Accommodations

Section 2. Building Blocks

Section 3. Taking Stock: A Quick-Check Tool

Section 4. Serving with Sensitivity & Courtesy

Section 5. Facilities

Section 6. Communication

Section 7. General Policy Considerations

Section 8. Meetings, Classes, Trainings & Events

Section 9. Specific Services & Activities

Section 10. An Agenda for Action

Section 11. Conclusion



Tip Sheet 1: Interacting with Persons with Disabilities

Tip Sheet 2: Choosing & Using Interpreters

Tip Sheet 3: Service Animals

Tip Sheet 4: Communicating with TTYs and Telecommunication Relay Services

Tip Sheet 5: Making Information Accessible to People who are Blind or Have Low Vision

Tip Sheet 6: Planning for Accessible Meetings

Tip Sheet 7: The Day of a Meeting: Arranging Accessible Space

Tip Sheet 8: Conducting Meetings

Tip Sheet 9: Maintaining Access

Tip Sheet 10: Special Events

Template A: Sample Meeting Notices

Template B: How [Our Nonprofit] Provides Communication Assistance for People with Disabilities

Template C: How [Our Nonprofit] Makes Policy Modifications and Accommodations for People with Disabilities

Template D: Accessible Features of A Building



2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA embodies—and makes enforceable—this nation's promise of full access to nonprofit organizations, businesses that serve the public, state and local governments, transportation, employment, and telecommunications. This anniversary brings new, expanded ADA regulations and prompts us to reflect on whether we are meeting our responsibilities to people with disabilities.

People with disabilities comprise more than 19 percent of the people living in the United States —an even larger percentage than Hispanics and Latinos, who are the largest ethnic, racial or cultural minority group in the United States, making up 15 percent of the population. (Source:;, PDF format) Those who have disabilities include people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, ages and sexual orientations.

Nonprofits are committed to serving the needs of the community in a variety of areas: the arts, education, recreation, human services, health, advocacy, community development and housing. In greater Chicago, as elsewhere, people with disabilities are more likely than their peers to be unemployed, undereducated or living in poverty—and thus more likely to be served by nonprofits carrying out community development programs or delivering services focusing on basic human needs. At the same time, individuals with disabilities are among those seeking other types of opportunities offered by nonprofits: access to education, recreation, arts and culture, as well as physical and mental health care.

The first major revisions to the original Department of Justice regulations, which were issued in 1991, are in place as of September 2010. They include new accessibility standards as well as new and more detailed guidance in several policy arenas. All nonprofits should review and evaluate their obligations and renew their efforts to offer full and equal access to people with disabilities in light of the new requirements.

This guide is for all nonprofit organizations that share The Chicago Community Trust's commitment to diversity:

  • We believe that the diversity of our community is a fundamental strength of our region.
  • Our mission is best fulfilled when we embrace diversity as a value and a practice.
  • We maintain that achieving diversity requires an enduring commitment to inclusion that must find full expression in our organizational culture, values, norms and behaviors.
  • Leading by example, we aspire to make diversity a core and abiding strength of the nonprofit sector.
    Source: The Chicago Community Trust's Diversity Statement

The Trust expects its grantees to show a renewed commitment to these principles, serve all members of the public, and take steps to ensure that they are complying with the act. This manual will assist nonprofits of all types and sizes—whether in Chicago or other metropolitan areas, smaller cities and towns, or rural areas—to understand the basic principles of the ADA and to develop their own plans for compliance. It is our hope that every nonprofit, with its own original, individual and effective approach to compliance, will welcome with equal dignity all people they serve and offer equal opportunity to those within their reach.

Terry Mazany

President & CEO

The Chicago Community Trust


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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has been hailed as one of the most significant civil rights laws since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its intent is to ensure that people with physical and mental disabilities have equal access to, and equal opportunity to enjoy, the services and activities of state and local governments, as well as most private entities including most nonprofit organizations.

Almost one in five people living in the United States—a total of about 54 million—have one or more disabilities, including those related to sight, hearing and mobility, as well as mental disabilities and learning disabilities. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau,, PDF format) Of people living in Chicago in 2000, 22 percent identified themselves as having a disability. Disabilities are most frequently related to mobility, followed by limitations in hearing and vision. Others experience speech disabilities, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, mental illness, disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson's, HIV/AIDS, asthma and diabetes. (Source: Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities,

People with disabilities live below the poverty line at twice the rate of those without disabilities: 20 percent vs. 10 percent. Compared to those without disabilities, individuals with disabilities are about half as likely to have a college degree or to be in the workforce. Once they do enter the workforce, they experience a significant earnings gap. (Source: American Community Survey 2006,

The ADA seeks to address the causes of these disparities with broad and wide-ranging prohibitions of discrimination. It requires reasonable changes to policies, effective communication with people with disabilities, and physical access to buildings and facilities. Almost all of the Trust's grantees are subject to the ADA because they are government entities or groups providing “public accommodations.”

The ADA requires most nonprofits to provide equal access to services. It applies to your organization whether it offers performing arts programs to the public, works to prevent homelessness and hunger, or provides shelter for those who are homeless or have survived domestic violence. It applies to you whether you provide mental or physical health care or promote wellness or community development. It applies whether your group strives to improve the quality of education or offers a food pantry or thrift shop open to the public.

The ADA applies to nonprofits of all sizes, whether they work with generous funding or on a shoestring budget. But the law is flexible: It accounts for differences in the ways public and private groups deliver services or carry out activities and has built-in limitations on what is required. It takes into account cost, difficulty and the nature of particular programs.

This guide is just that—a guide. It does not set standards for grantees of The Chicago Community Trust. It is not intended as legal advice. (Note: We have attempted to make this guide thorough and accurate but cannot provide definitive statements for many of the areas covered because of the nature of the ADA and its interpretation. If an organization needs specific opinions regarding particular circumstances, discussion with a consultant or attorney is recommended.) At times, this guide states the ADA's explicit requirements and identifies them as such. At other times, it makes suggestions that go beyond the minimum requirements of the ADA, providing guidance for improving access and adopting best practices. It is intended to give your organization information about compliance, along with tools that make compliance possible—tools that you can use and adapt according to your size, activities and resources.


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How to Use This Guide

Section 1 offers background information. It casts disability discrimination issues against the backdrop of our social environment. It then describes the types of disabilities that individuals may experience. Finally, it sets out the ADA "at a glance," along with other disability rights laws that may apply.

Section 2 describes the hallmarks that underlie almost all the requirements of the ADA.

Section 3 helps you take stock of where you are—whether you're just starting to consider ADA issues or have incorporated the law’s principles into some of your activities. See what steps you can take immediately with little or no cost or difficulty.

Section 4 offers suggestions for interacting in ways that are effective and not condescending.

Sections 5 through 8 explore some issues almost all nonprofits will face including facility access, communication and other interactions, common policy issues, and public gatherings such as meetings. Each section ends with a list of next steps to take.

Section 9 will give you specific ideas about how to make the ADA work for your particular organization's services and activities such as health care, human services and recreation.

Section 10 sets out seven steps to put your nonprofit on the road to full compliance.

A glossary defines communication terms that may not be familiar.

An extensive list of resources and links is sorted by topic.


You are also encouraged to use this information as a resource for your clients with disabilities when you inform them of their rights under the ADA, advocate for their greater access to services other than your own or empower them to advocate for themselves.

Accessibility cannot be guaranteed for external websites. The Chicago Community Trust provides links as a courtesy and does not endorse, take responsibility for or exercise control of the organizations to which it links nor does it vouch for the accuracy of the contents of the destination links.


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