Is Your Bar or Restaurant Accessible?


Part 3: "Person-First" Terminology and Employing Individuals with a Disability

I want to share a true story about a man named Johnny. Johnny is a man with Down syndrome who is employed as a bagger at his local grocery store. This story begins when employees from this store were required to attend a store training which focused on making each customer’s visit memorable. The challenge offered to all of the employees was to add a personal touch to every customer interaction; to make each customer want to come back to their store. After this training, Johnny had the idea of a “thought of the day” that he would print out, cut into slips, and place into each customer’s bag that came through his line.

One day, the store manager noticed Johnny’s line was very long, extending to the back of the store. Even after the manager opened additional checkout lines, no one budged. They all wanted to stay in Johnny’s line to get his “thought of the day.” Johnny had made a difference.

Restaurant owner Tim Harris also makes a difference every day through his diner-style restaurant, Tim's Place, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Watch his video here.

In today’s society, individuals with disabilities are being offered more opportunities for inclusion in the workforce. This is likely due to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that has given individuals with disabilities more respect and consideration in our communities. Communities are opening their eyes to the idea that we are all more alike than different. Individuals with disabilities are being recognized as contributing members of society.

The Law

As stated in the first two parts of this series, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects all individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities in the community. Protection extends into employment which applies to state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, and private employers like bar and restaurant owners. This application must include all employment practices, including but not limited to hiring, firing, training, compensation, recruitment, and all other employment-related activities.

Important Terms

There are several terms which are important for bar and restaurant owners within Title I of the ADA, which focuses solely on employing individuals with disabilities. These terms include, but are not limited to: qualified individuals with disabilities, essential job functions, reasonable accommodation, and undue hardship. Let’s discuss these terms to gain a better understanding of what the law considers and requires.

A qualified individual with a disability is a person who meets all requirements of the job including education, experience, employment history, skills licenses, and the ability to perform the essential functions of the job.

Essential job functions are the fundamental duties of the job that the person must be able to do with or without an accommodation. The term essential assures that an individual with a disability will not be considered unqualified simply because of the inability to perform job functions that do not occur frequently. If the individual can perform the essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation, he/she must be considered.

A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to perform the essential job functions. Some examples include restructuring a job, modified work schedules, modified equipment or the purchase of such equipment, and readers or interpreters. Reasonable accommodations must be provided unless an undue hardship to the employer will result.

An undue hardship refers to an action that would be too costly, disruptive, or extensive that it would alter the operation of the business. Factors to be considered include the nature and cost of the accommodation, the type of operation, the employer’s size and financial resources, and the impact of the accommodation on the operation.

In addition to these important terms, the ADA also states that:

  • Employers may not retaliate against employees or applicants who apply the ADA.

  • Employers may not ask an applicant whether or not he/she has a disability.

  • Employers can deny employment to a person who poses a threat to the health and safety of himself/herself or others.

  • Employers may not require a qualified perspective employee to obtain a physical exam prior to the employment offer.

  • Employees with disabilities must have available to them the same health insurance coverage as all other employees.

For more information on the specifics of the ADA as they pertain to bars or restaurants, please refer to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website.

Communication with a Focus on “Person-First” Terminology

Whether with an employee or a customer who has a disability, communication is essential in your business’s work environment and customer interactions. Proper etiquette must be applied in all communications with individuals with disabilities to ensure the common respect that every individual deserves. Is this part of the ADA? No, but it is proper, respectful, and will ensure that every customer is treated fairly in the services that your bar or restaurant provides. So…what is proper etiquette in communicating with individuals with disabilities? Here are just a few considerations that you and your entire staff should follow:

  • When talking to an individual with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than to the individual who may be accompanying him or her.

  • When speaking to a person who uses a wheelchair, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.

  • Treat adults as adults. Address individuals by their first name and speak to them in a manner that is respectful and appropriate.

  • Listen attentively when you are speaking with an individual who may have difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for him or her to finish rather than speaking for him or her. Never pretend to understand what the individual is saying—rather, repeat what you did understand and give him or her the opportunity to respond.

  • When meeting a person with a visual impairment, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.

  • Never lean or hang on a person’s wheelchair. That is like invading the individual’s personal space.

  • Don’t assume that the only topic the individual with a disability wants to talk about is his or her disability. Rather, communication should focus on topics that are typical conversation amongst two individuals. And, when introducing someone with a disability, always refer to them by their first name. Do not mention their disability unless it is pertinent to the conversation at hand.

  • ALWAYS use “person-first” terminology—in other words, identify the person BEFORE the disability. Saying “Johnny, a man with Down syndrome” is much more considerate and respectful than saying “that Down syndrome man.”

As I conclude this series on accessibility for bar and restaurant owners, I am hopeful that the information that I have provided has been helpful. But more importantly, I hope that I have made you more consciously aware. I urge you to evaluate your facility and customer service when it comes to providing services for and/or employing individuals with disabilities. All bars and restaurants need to be accessible internally, externally, and in their communications with ALL staff and customers. I am thankful for this opportunity to share my passion on the topic of accessibility and hope after reading this series, you will make any appropriate changes to ensure accessibility for all.


Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328 (1990).

Snow, Katie. (2001). To Ensure Inclusion, Freedom, and Respect for All, It’s Time to Embrace People-First Language. Retrieved from

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

Kim Coffaro

Kim Coffaro writes for East Coast Chair & Barstool but offers a unique perspective on ADA-compliance for full service restaurants. With her husband, she owns and manages a local pizza restaurant and bowling alley, Coffaro’s Pizza, in her small town. With a Master’s Degree in Education, she also recently taught a course at Slippery Rock University that discussed universal design, adaptations, and inclusion in a person-centric world. Kim has three beautiful daughters, one of whom has a disability, two dogs, and a passion for improving the acceptance of people with disabilities in today’s society. For more information about how your restaurant can add the right mixture of furniture to your restaurant to accommodate all of your patrons, please visit

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