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By Joan Stein
ADA Article Use Policy
July 26, 2010 was a day meant for celebration: the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seized the moment to take a long-awaited action, announcing adoption of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
The new regulations do several things. They update the federal requirements based on advances in technology and lessons learned since the 1991 standards were established. The regulations attempt to make ADA more consistent with building codes. They create requirements for areas not previously covered (children's environments, outdoor recreation, judicial settings). The regulations clarify or expand policies on things such as effective communication, accessible seating and ticket sales at assembly areas, and policies related to transient lodging. And, for the first time, the regulations include residential areas (residential dwelling units).
These requirements look similar to the Final Guidelines that were published by the U.S. Access Board in July 2004. Despite the wishful thinking of many design professionals, the 2004 Final Guidelines did not become enforceable standards for Title II and Title III entities until DOJ adopted them in July 2010. Several of the technical changes to the requirements now reflect those currently found in the International Building Code (IBC) 2009 and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117 – 2003.
Are the new standards tougher than the ones they replaced? Some believe that the 2010 standards are more stringent than the 1991 standards because the parallel approach — maximum 54 inches above finished floor — has been removed, and there is one maximum reach range of 48 inches above finished floor. What's more, the number of van-accessible parking spaces increased from one of every eight accessible spaces to one of every six accessible spaces.
Others, however, might say that the 2010 standards have been reduced or loosened. The required number of wheelchair seats in assembly areas has been reduced in the 2010 standards. The centerline for a toilet/water closet is no longer an absolute 18 inches; it has been changed to mirror the ANSI standard range of 16 to 18 inches from the side wall.
While there might be some dispute about whether the new standards are tougher or not, everyone would agree that DOJ made great efforts to clarify the issue of construction tolerances. As stated in Section 104.1.1 Construction and Manufacturing Tolerances: All dimensions are subject to conventional industry tolerances except where the requirement is stated as a range with specific minimum and maximum end points. The industry tolerances recognized by this provision include those for field conditions and those that may be a necessary consequence of a particular manufacturing process. Recognized tolerances are not intended to apply to design work.
It's important to understand the dates for use and enforcement of the new standards. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the Title III Final Rule Amending 28 CFR Part 36: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities were published in the Federal Register on Sept. 15, 2010. That created the following enforcement dates:
It's essential to understand the impact of these dates on design or construction for either alterations or new buildings.
Safe harbor is a legal term that refers to facilities that can remain in compliance with the 1991 standards until the facilities are part of a renovation, alteration or new construction project. There are two ways a facility can qualify for safe harbor treatment: if readily-achievable barrier removal done since 1992 is compliant with the 1991 ADA standards; or if completed alterations or new construction since 1992 are in full compliance with the 1991 ADA standards. If either of those two is true, the areas will not have to comply with the 2010 standards until those areas become part of a renovation, alteration or new construction. DOJ is encouraging businesses to determine whether they are in compliance with the current standards so they will know where they stand with regard to the safe harbor provisions.
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