If you are operating a farmed animal sanctuary in the United States and have been granted 501(c)3 nonprofit status, you must then consider how to best implement the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in all aspects of your organization. The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental limitation that substantially impairs a major life activity, such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, doing manual tasks, standing, lifting, working, thinking, and also includes protections for people with epilepsy, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, major depression, and bipolar disorder.
Although providing expanded accessibility at your organization might seem daunting given the rest of your sanctuary’s daily concerns and the needs of your residents, consider that according to the US Census Bureau, nearly one in five Americans has a disability. That’s a lot of people to spread your sanctuary’s mission to, provided that they are given due consideration!
ADA enforcement takes into account that certain accommodations may not be possible for every organization, but there are many reasonably inexpensive (or even free!) ways that a sanctuary can be made more accessible.
ADA Compliance And Accessibility Improvements At Your Sanctuary
The section of the ADA that most directly applies to small nonprofits is how they handle public accommodations. If you are bringing in visitors or have a strong educational component to your work, it’s likely that your organization should consider how to improve its ADA compliance.
The ADA asks for “reasonable accommodations”. In a sanctuary environment, this could come in many forms. State and local laws might include further compliance requirements that you’ll have to review and consider as your sanctuary grows.
Physical Accessibility At Your Facility
Your residents should always come first when it comes to your sanctuary’s design, but if you are creating facilities with the intention of a visiting public, consider how you could best accommodate more folks. This could be achieved by ensuring fine gravel, asphalt, or concrete access paths to some or all of the barns on your public tours, using ramps, gates, and doorways that can accomodate wheelchairs, and removing physical barriers in the path of visitors that may impede free motion.
You could also ensure that your sanctuary has an ADA compliant restroom, provide accessible parking spots, and make sure there’s adequate, clear signage around your facilities. In some cases, tax incentives are available to help with the cost of creating better accessibility. These changes won’t necessarily just affect a small segment of your visiting population; all of these modifications can help improve your sanctuary’s experience for all!
Accessibility In Regular Programming
Think about how you can make your regular events and programming at your sanctuary as accessible as possible. What barriers are currently preventing people with disabilities from attending your events? Would it be possible to provide auxiliary aids or services to people who have sight, speech, or hearing disabilities upon request? If you lack the resources to make your regular events accessible, consider providing alternative tour programming, such as providing tours with American Sign Language interpreters or taking a path that requires less off-pavement or smooth path travel without compromising the program’s quality. Per the ADA, accommodations based on disability are not allowed to cost more to those who need them than what you charge a visitor without a disability.
You should also generally include accessibility information or what barriers to an activity may exist in your program’s communication and marketing so that potential visitors are better informed before deciding to attend.
Accessibility In The Digital World
Your sanctuary’s online presence can also be made more accessible with a few mindful choices. This includes steps like adding captions into your videos for people who have hearing disabilities and ensuring a plain text version of resources, publications, and announcements so that people who use accessibility devices can easily navigate your website. You should also avoid any design elements that include flashing colors or backgrounds that make text hard to read. You can find more resources for making an accessible website here.
Like other accessibility choices, making your website more accessible improves the experience for everyone who visits regardless of disability; for instance, captioning your videos means that people without hearing disabilities who by circumstance cannot currently listen to them can still take in the information visually!
Your sanctuary’s staff and volunteers should know fully well your stance on nondiscrimination. Your sanctuary’s commitment to accessibility and desire to create a welcoming environment should be included in your employee handbook, volunteer policies, and public facing statements. If possible, your staff should receive training for respectfully connecting with people who have disabilities, and ensuring that everyone is aware of appropriate and inclusive language choices. Volunteers with disabilities should be given the opportunity to fully participate at your sanctuary whenever possible as well.
Your sanctuary can also make it a policy to publicly offer accessible materials upon request, letting folks know that you’re willing to help if there’s some way that they could better access your materials. Evaluating the demand for your programming from a diverse array of folks can help you make longterm programming and outreach decisions. These requests can also be used as a strong case for fundraising in order to provide more resources to help reach more people who are open to your mission.
Listen To Feedback
Consider soliciting feedback from all of your visitors, but especially those with disabilities. There may be many areas of your sanctuary that could be made much more comfortable for visitors that you haven’t considered due to a different set of life experiences. You could also collaborate with and seek advice from local disability advocacy organizations to see how your organizations could work together on projects and events. When someone who has a different perspective has feedback for your mission, you may find many valuable insights and areas where you could grow and help make your sanctuary a welcome place for everybody.
ADA Compliance For Your Sanctuary’s Employment Practices
Title 1 of the ADA covers employment decisions for nonprofits who have at least 15 employees. This means that you cannot discriminate against people on the basis of disability in any part of their recruitment, hiring, or any aspect of their employment. If someone is qualified and able to perform the essential duties to do the position you’re looking to fill, you must provide reasonable accommodations for them to work at your organization. This could include providing assistive technology, restructuring their job or schedule, modifying training materials, providing interpreters, and making your workplace readily accessible.
This rule can only be challenged if it would require “undue hardship” (significant difficulty or expense) in order to provide accommodation, but doing so will likely lead to a discussion between your organization, your employee, and the government.
If you’re looking for more clarity regarding compliance and how your sanctuary can best implement better accessibility, you can call the ADA information line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY)
Putting It Into Action
Now that you’ve learned about how you can make your sanctuary more ADA-compliant, check out The Open Sanctuary Project’s free downloadable resource to help make your organization a more accessible place for everyone!