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March 15 Brings New ADA Deadline
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The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design were adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as of Sept. 15, 2010. Until March 15, 2012, facility managers have a choice of which ADA rules and regulations to follow for a project: the 1991 ADA Standards or the 2010 ADA Standards. The advantage of the 1991 ADA Standards is that elements that comply will become "safe harbors" under the 2010 ADA Standards.
But facility managers are about to lose that option. To use the 1991 Standards, a project must have a permit or physical construction must commence (for projects not requiring a permit) before March 15, 2012.
On March 15, 2011, the new rules under the 2010 ADA Standards became enforceable. These included new policies and procedures related to service animals, the types of mobility devices individuals with disabilities can use in facilities, effective communication (particularly ATMs), and ticket sales and reservations for assembly (sports and entertainment) facilities.
On March 15, 2012, the final two pieces go into effect: hotel reservation policies and the end of using the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
Policies and Procedures
The changes made by DOJ involve more than "bricks and sticks" — design and construction issues. There are a host of new requirements for policies and procedures that affect all public accommodations.
These include policies on the availability of accessible seating, ticketing policies, policies on reservations for accessible guest rooms in transient lodging, policies on the use of service animals and policies on the use of wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices (e.g., Segways).
Many facility managers must be concerned with more than the "bricks and sticks" of ADA; policies, procedures and operational issues can demand just as much attention.
These new rules went into effect on March 15, 2011, and DOJ has begun enforcing them.
- If a facility is an assembly area (sports, entertainment or performance venue) there are new rules regulating the availability, dispersal, reservations and sale of wheelchair seating. The one significant change for assembly areas is the reduction in the number of accessible wheelchair seat locations and companion seats. The 2010 ADA Standards allow a facility to reduce the percentage of wheelchair accessible seats and companion seats (as well as aisle seats with swing-away/folding arm rests). This change can be made at any time.
- All public accommodations (including commercial office buildings) need to review (or develop) policies on service animals, power-driven mobility devices and effective communications, particularly at ATMs. If an ATM is owned by a financial institution, the requirement to modify the machine can be placed on the owner of the ATM.
Thorough policies and procedures (and the communication of those to your employees) are critical. A facility manager can build the Taj Mahal of accessibility, but if someone with a disability is not treated appropriately by security staff, a receptionist or salespeople, the facility manager may wind up explaining everything to a federal judge or the Justice Department.
ADA is a complaint-driven law, and it's not going away. But that's not bad news for facilities. People with disabilities represent the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States — with the greatest spending power. There's no reason to lock customers out and risk a lawsuit (or bad publicity) at the same time. Proactive ADA compliance efforts can maximize the return on investment. It's the right thing to do, and it's the smart thing to do.
Joan Weiss Stein is president and CEO of Accessibility Development Associates, Inc. (ADA, Inc.), a Pittsburgh-based national ADA consulting firm. ADA, Inc. has been providing ADA consulting services to publicly and privately owned entities nationally since 1992. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.