COVID-19 Regulations Make Businesses Inaccessible To The Disabled

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Published August 5, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

Pandemic reopening guidelines forced businesses and restaurants to make a number of changes to their normal operations. Advocacy groups for the disabled are speaking out against changes that have made these businesses less accessible for some individuals and have pushed businesses to be out of compliance with federal laws protecting the rights of those people.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

The restaurant industry in particular has been marred by these changes. Indoor capacity was decreased, outdoor seating was expanded, and preventative tools such as sneezeguards and hand sanitizing stations were set up in an attempt to serve customers while minimizing the spread of the virus.

While these changes may have allowed restaurants to open their doors, they are not opening them to all customers. Many of these changes, such as setting up chairs and tables on public sidewalks, have created additional difficulty for disabled individuals.

State Representative Darren Jernigan of Old Hickory – a wheelchair user – says these changes are not just an inconvenience – they are a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This legislation provides specific guidelines for restaurants and other businesses about accessibility for individuals.

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“That was stunning to me, that they’re just going to block the sidewalk for people to sit,” Jernigan said. “For folks, especially folks in chairs, I had to go to the other end, cross the street, and use that (and) go back the other way.”

Advocates for the disability community hope that loosening COVID-19 restrictions will lead to a return of those accessibility options.

“Accessibility is good business,” said Brandon Brown, executive director of Empower Tennessee. “When you can make your business accessible to the greatest number of customers, then your ability to widen and deepen your customer base and your bottom-line profit increases. Why wouldn’t a business want to do that?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 1.7 million Tennessee residents with some form of a disability – nearly one-third of adults in the state.

Advocates say that businesses are cutting themselves off from a large number of customers by pushing the needs of those people aside.

“(Restaurant owners) are in the business to make money, I get that. So as many tables as they can fill, obviously, the better off they’re doing,” said Evan Espey, Technology and Access Coordinator at Empower Tennessee. “But remember, people with disabilities do have money to spend as well.”

Not only do businesses risk the loss of profit from those individuals, but they potentially lose out on money from the friends and families of those people as well.

“The disability community is a very tight-knit community,” stated Jernigan. “If you find out some place doesn’t have access, we just don’t go there.”

Other COVID regulations, such as masks, have created unnecessary problems for others, such as those who are hearing impaired and rely on reading lips for communication.

Espey says that he hopes the changes made at a moment’s noticed because of the pandemic will show restaurants and other businesses just how easy it is to make adjustments to accommodate people.

“I’m hopeful that, at least on an individual basis, (the pandemic) will enlighten owners and managers,” Espey stated. “Oh yeah, we can easily flip some tables. Just give us a couple of minutes, and we can easily accommodate you.”

The Tennessee Disability Coalition provides guidelines on their website, reminding people that “the rights of people with disabilities to accessible programs and services remain and cannot be waived during a pandemic.”

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About the Author:

Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative 

Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at

4 thoughts on “COVID-19 Regulations Make Businesses Inaccessible To The Disabled

  • August 5, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    I’m a paraplegic and have to use a wheelchair, and while I largely stay away from Nashville, I just don’t like cities, nothing against Nashville in particular, in the past it was the bikes and scooters that people would use as a community/rent, they littered sidewalks and made them completely impassable.

  • August 5, 2021 at 6:02 pm

    The advocate group for Americans with disabilities is 100% correct! Here is a section straight from the Americans With Disabilities Act, signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush.

    Cookeville Regional Medical Center and ALL other medical facilities, take note of the last paragraph!

    Americans With Disabilities Act Title III

    (b) “No private or public entity shall coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his or her having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other individual in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by the Act or this part.
    (c) Illustrations of conduct prohibited by this section include, but are not limited to:
    (1) Coercing an individual to deny or limit the benefits, services, or advantages to which he or she is entitled under the Act or this part;
    (2) Threatening, intimidating, or interfering with an individual with a disability who is seeking to obtain or use the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a public accommodation;”

    36.208 Direct threat.
    (a) “This part does not require a public accommodation to permit an individual to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of that public accommodation when that individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
    (b) “In determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public accommodation must make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence, to ascertain: The nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures or the provision of auxiliary aids or services will mitigate the risk.”

    “The ADA requires that health care entities provide full and equal access for people with disabilities.
    This can be done through:
    Reasonable Modifications of Policies, Practices, and Procedures. Adjusting policies, practices, and procedures, if needed, to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.”

  • August 5, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    I’m an Adult Meniere’s caused Hearing Impaired person, and need Hearing Aids to hear, I speak, I can basically read lips, there are NO programs for Adults who lose their hearing. If I can’t hear because you deem MUSIC AT A HIGH VOLUME NECESSARY, I can’t shop your establishment. It is not necessary at the grocery store, and many places that think it is. Masks made life miserable as I could not understand your mumbling. I stopped doing things I’d normally do. With a heart condition those mask cut my Oxygen down. My normal doctor visits had to be put off, same with dental and vision. You are trying to violate my Rights by insisting I take a shot that could kill me. Human Rights, Nuremberg Code, Helsinki Accords, HIPPA, 4th Amendment, Civil Rights Act, Belmont Report and other Human Rights. I may live rural by choice, but I sure am not a Uneducated Hick. And that drug you kept screaming was worthless, Hydroxychloroquine is the Generic name for Plaquenil the most prescribed RA and Lupus drug Rheumatoid Arthritis doctors script yearly. And for other off label Autoimmune’s. My niece takes it for SLE Lupus.

  • August 5, 2021 at 9:57 pm

    This stupidity shall not end until we rise up en masse and simply refuse to comply. Vaccination that caused death and injury but no immunity is not a vaccine. No mask works shirt of full face respirators and as this alleged virus contamination is all pervasive one needs a moon suit and bottled air.


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