Universal Design in the Restaurant Industry: Bridging the Gap Between ADA Guidelines and Customer Needs

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Reid, Rosemary
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University Honors College, Middle Tennessee State University
This thesis addresses the issue of accessibility in the restaurant industry beyond the minimal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even with laws in place that enforce accessibility, recent studies have shown that two-thirds of disabled people who dine out experience obstacles. The methods for this study involved creating a questionnaire asking participants about their needs within a restaurant setting. Using this data as a foundation for observing dining facilities, the second part of the study involved auditing restaurants in a midsize city in the Southeast United States. Questionnaire participants reported that they encountered inaccessible areas when dining out, even though the audited restaurants were generally in compliance with ADA guidelines. This reflects a gap between ADA guidelines and customers’ needs. The answer to this gap is to put in place design features supported by the Universal Design Theory, which supports creating an accessible place for everyone, no matter the extent of their physical disabilities.