On July 26, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will have a 21-year anniversary. The landmark legislation mandates equal rights for people with disabilities in the areas of transportation, employment, public and commercial buildings, housing and telecommunications.
The ADA was introduced in Congress in 1988 and signed into law in 1990. It was the result of years of activism through individual and community efforts to advocate for the rights of people of all ages with disabilities and oppose institutionalization. Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which banned discrimination against people with disabilities by groups that receive federal funds, paved the way for the landmark legislation.
Lawmakers continue to update the ADA and this year made a number of technical changes to promote inclusion and prohibit discrimination in areas such as building design and commercial facilities.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently amended Title III of the ADA, altering the regulations of places of public accommodations and private and commercial buildings. Those changes will make the ADA consistent with guidelines set by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board).
“These guidelines are our guarantee that when a building is built or renovated anywhere in the nation, its doors are wide open to our citizens with disabilities,” said Jan Tuck, vice chair of the Access Board. “This new version of the guidelines will not only improve access but will also enhance compliance by making it easier to achieve.”
Included are changes to the ADA section on Standards for Accessible Design based on 2004 guidelines set by the Access Board. The changes took effect March 15, 2011. Any facilities and buildings newly constructed or altered must be in compliance with the revised standards within one year of that date.
The revised regulations require amusement park rides for children to be located on an accessible route (though not all are required to have wheelchair seating spaces) and for at least one type of exercise machine in a facility to be positioned and located in an accessible spot. The changes also require five percent of ramps from boats to shore and 25 percent of handrails at newly designed fishing piers to be 34 inches or lower.
The amendments govern ticket sales for theater seats, requiring venues to exchange tickets for inaccessible seating for accessible ones when available and regulating the purchase of multiple accessible seats as well as fraud prevention in the purchase of accessible seats.
The amendments clarify the definition of service animals to include dogs that are trained to perform tasks for people with mental disabilities and those that otherwise serve to mitigate the effects of a disability. Trained miniature horses that serve the same purpose are also permitted, though they are not included in the definition of a service animal.
The amendments distinguish wheelchairs (which must be permitted inside a business) from other power-driven mobility devices such as the Segway® PT that are designed for the general population but may be used by people with mobility disabilities, requiring businesses to allow the second class of devices unless they violate safety standards. The revised law provides criteria for making this determination with the goal of allowing people with disabilities a wider range of mobility device options.
The changes also take new technology into account. “Revisions have been made so that the guidelines continue to meet the needs of people with disabilities and keep pace with technological innovations,” the Access Board said in a press release.
“For example, new provisions for ATMs specify audible output so that people with vision impairments are provided equal access, and reach ranges have been lowered to better serve people who use wheelchairs and persons of short stature. The guidelines also feature a new format and organization and have been extensively edited for greater clarity,” the board explained.
The amended regulations include video remote interpreting (VRI) services as an auxiliary aid and establish performance standards for the high-quality video and interpreting service. The amendments require training for users and operators.
Hotel reservation requirements were updated to ensure that accessible rooms remain available to people with disabilities and are kept closed to other customers until all other rooms are filled, and to provide customers with disabilities with a reservation system that follows the same hours and manner as other reservations. Amendments to hotel requirements will take effect March 15, 2012.
The amendments provide guidelines about timeshares, condominiums and places of lodging that are not considered motels, hotels or inns, clarifying that these businesses are subject to Title III regulations even though they are not subject to the specific accessibility rules that apply to hotels.
The amendments also establish design requirements for residential dwelling units governed by Title II that are built by or for public entities if the units are planned for sale to individuals. The requirement for detention and correctional facilities to contain accessible cells has been raised from two percent to three percent of newly constructed or altered units.
More information is available at: https://www.access-board.gov/news/ada-aba.htm.
Justice Department Settles with Megabus
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently reached a settlement with two intercity bus companies: Megabus USA LLC and Megabus Northeast LLC, which are based in Chicago and Elizabeth, N.J.
Megabus is required by the settlement to provide full accessibility, including wheelchair access, on all its vehicles and to alter its online reservation system to make schedule information and reservations accessible to people with disabilities.
Megabus must also pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the DOJ as well as $12,5000 to a passenger who had to transfer from his wheelchair to board a bus where no entry ramp was available on a trip from New York to Baltimore.
Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division said, “Commercial passenger buses are an affordable and growing sector of the transportation industry and making sure that they are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities is a necessary part of integrating individuals with disabilities into all aspects of American life.”
Title III of the ADA prohibits private transportation services from discriminating against people with disabilities. The settlement follows a DOJ investigation into the accessibility of multiple private transportation services.
This article and sidebar were published in the July 2011 issue of Able News.