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How New ADA Rules Impact Businesses

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

a hotel parking lot and disabled=

After more than 20 years since its inception, the Americans with Disabilities Act continues to evolve with revised rules that went into effect on March 15. These new regulations touch on everything from the design of new buildings to what constitutes a service animal and what qualifies as a mobility device. The bottom line: The new ADA rules are intended to expand accessibility for people with disabilities, but with certain limits.

In fact, more than 7 million public places including stores, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, museums, sporting arenas, movie theaters, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, hotels, jails and prisons, polling places and emergency preparedness shelters will be affected by the new ADA rules. These regulations adopt the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design which have been reworked to be more user-friendly for building code officials, builders and architects and have been brought in line with state and local accessibility codes.

More Accessible Facilities

For the first time, the 2010 standards also include making swimming pools, parks, golf courses, boating facilities, exercise clubs and other recreation facilities accessible for people with disabilities. New construction and alterations must comply with the 2010 standards by March 15, 2012.

In the period between September 15, 2010 and March 15, 2012, existing construction that falls under the ADA can choose between the 1991 standards and the 2010 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.”

Service Animals and Mobility Devices

Additionally, the new ADA rules define service animals as a “dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” And that other animals do not qualify as service animals, including dogs that are not trained to perform tasks to help people with disabilities and those used for purely emotional support. But individuals with mental disabilities whose service animals are trained to perform specific tasks are protected by the ADA.

As for the mobility device policy, the new ADA rules state that wheelchairs (and other mobility devices like the Segway ® PT) must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use. However, if a facility can demonstrate that the “other power-driven mobility device” (meaning other than a wheelchair) negatively impacts its programs, services or activities or creates a hazard, then it can be prohibited from that facility.

Other nondiscrimination policies included in the new rules involve accommodating people in wheelchairs in ticket sales for seating at sports and performance venues, reserving and guaranteeing accessible rooms at hotels, and providing interpreter services through video conferencing. The date for compliance on the nondiscrimination rules, with the exception of the hotel reservations, is March 15, 2011. (Hotel reservations provisions aren’t required until March 15, 2012.)

To learn more, the Department of Justice has also released a new user-friendly document, “ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business” to help explain some of the ADA’s changes. See it here: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/smallbusiness/smallbusprimer2010.htm#whoiscovered.