Taking Stock of New ADA Regulations

  April 18, 2011

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, new ADA regulations.

The issue of accessibility is never too far from the minds of maintenance and engineering managers in institutional and commercial facilities. But mid-March 2011 is among the most important moments related to this issue in the last two decades. Why? Long-awaited final regulations revising existing laws from the U.S. Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design, became effective March 15, 2011.

Joan Stein, president and CEO of Accessibility Development Associates, presented a session on the impact of the new regulations at the recent NFMT Conference and Expo in Baltimore. She emphasized ADA is far more than a set of requirements.

"The ADA is a civil rights law and a building code," she said, adding it continues to have a major impact on facilities 20 years after its enactment. More than 200 private ADA lawsuits are filed monthly in U.S. federal courts nationwide, she said. How can managers determine whether their facilities present barriers to accessibility? Stein said one test is to check whether somebody with a disability has to do something that is unequal before visiting a facility, such as calling ahead or going out of their way to gain access. If so, the facility has a problem. Facilities can resort to several permissible explanations for not complying with the regulations, Stein said. These explanations cover three instances: cases where changes to a facility would be structurally impractical, would alter the basic nature of the operation, or would create financial hardship for the organization. But she advised managers to tread carefully in one particular situation.

"Don’t say 'financial hardship' unless you are prepared to open your books," Stein said. "They will make you open your books, and it is painful." Managers can find out more about what not to do related to accessibility by visiting www.ada.gov/settlemt.htm to review settlement agreements organizations have made with the department.


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