D.O.J. Revises Americans With Disabilities Act With Changes Effective This Thursday

Last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced major revisions were being made to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) guidelines on accessibility. All entities covered by the ADA have until Thursday, March 15, to comply with these new standards.

“The new rules usher in a new day for the more than 50 million individuals with disabilities in this country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “The rules will expand accessibility in a number of areas and, for the first time, provide detailed guidance on how to make recreation facilities, including parks and swimming pools, accessible.”

Under the guidance of Attorney General Eric Holder, the new ADA rules were signed on July 23, 2010, the official text was published in the Federal Register on September 15, 2010, the regulations went into effect March 15, 2011, and the compliance deadline is set for this Thursday.

“The new ADA rules adopt the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which have been retooled to be more user-friendly for building code officials, builders, and architects, and have been harmonized with state and local accessibility codes,” the DOJ explained last year.

The revisions will affect “more than 80,000 units” of state and local government and “more than seven million places of public accommodation,” according the DOJ’s news release.

The “units” and businesses affected by new ADA rules include: stores, restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, museums, sporting arenas, movie theaters, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, hotels, jails and prisons, polling places, and emergency preparedness shelters.

“Fortunately, the new provisions allow for ‘safe harbor’ for elements that were required under and comply with the old 1991 Standards for Accessible Design,” Patrick Mayock of HotelNewsNow.com explains.

He continues:

If a hotelier previously moved the light switch in a single-user, lobby bathroom down to 52 inches above the finished floor in order to comply with the original ADA regulations for Title III, for example, that hotelier would not have to then move the switch down to the revised 48-inch requirement as under the more stringent 2010 standards, he said.

“If you comply with the 1991 standard, which might be slightly different, that would qualify for this safe harbor,” said Doug Anderson, a partner with LCM Architects.

The new regulations signed off by Eric Holder will apply only to, say, hoteliers who modify or renovate after 15 March 2012 — the deadline for the new ADA regulations.

The DOJ’s revisions include new standards on making swimming pools, parks, golf courses, boating facilities, exercise clubs, and other recreation facilities more “accessible for individuals with disabilities.”

For instance, according to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, all swimming pools must have at least two accessible means of entry for individuals with disabilities and all wading pools and spas must have one. And by “accessible means,” the DOJ includes swimming pool lifts, sloped entries, transfer walls, transfer systems, and/or pool stairs.

The 2010 ADA rules stipulate that swimming pools must have a lift or a slope, wading pools must have a slope, and spas must have a pool lift, a transfer wall or a transfer system. The 2010 ADA standards are actually quite detailed.

EXCEPTIONS:

1. Where a swimming pool has less than 300 linear feet (91 m) of swimming pool wall, no more than one accessible means of entry shall be required provided that the accessible means of entry is a swimming pool lift complying with 1009.2 or sloped entry complying with 1009.3.

2. Wave action pools, leisure rivers, sand bottom pools, and other pools where user access is limited to one area shall not be required to provide more than one accessible means of entry provided that the accessible means of entry is a swimming pool lift complying with 1009.2, a sloped entry complying with 1009.3, or a transfer system complying with 1009.5.

3. Catch pools shall not be required to provide an accessible means of entry provided that the catch pool edge is on an accessible route.

In addition to adopting the 2010 ADA standards, the revised regulations contain several new or expanded provisions on “general nondiscrimination policies” including:

  • The use of service animals
  • The use of wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices
  • Selling tickets for wheelchair-accessible seating at sports and performance venues
  • Reserving and guaranteeing accessible rooms at hotels
  • Providing interpreter services through video conferencing
  • The effect of the new regulations on existing facilities

To assist government units and private businesses in meeting the requirements of the amended regulations (and understanding what’s all included in the changes) the DOJ has released two documents that can be viewed here:  “ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business and ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Effective Date/Compliance Date.