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Consultant Michele Ohmes answers your Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) questions.

Author's note: Originally I stated that the path of travel must have a 48-inch wide path for the actual pedestrian access route (PAR) for public sidewalks and facility sidewalks. I was wrong. Facility sidewalks can still be 36 inches wide for the pedestrian access route. The Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines are still not in affect for the 48-inch wide PAR. It was published July 26, 2011 and public comments are welcomed. For more on this issue, see my post from Aug. 3.

Q: Is it true that the standards have finally been updated?

A: YES!

On July 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed the first major update since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1991.

The new standards take effect March 15, 2011.

However, under the "safe harbor" allowance, facilities built or altered according to the original standards don't have to comply until they undergo a planned alteration.

Other important changes:

  • For the first time, residential housing for sale to individual owners that are built by or on behalf of public entities are subject to disability-design requirements.
  • Also for the first time, 3% of newly constructed or altered detention and correctional facility cells must be accessible.
  • Exact measurements such as a maximum or minimum (i.e., 48 inches maximum height) are allowed construction tolerances (deviations). However, measurements with a range allowance (i.e., 17 to19 inches) have no allowances since they are already built-in.
  • Side reaches must be no higher than 48 inches (instead of 54 inches) and no lower than 15 inches (instead of 9 inches). These dimensions apply to operable parts on accessible elements, to elements located on accessible routes, and to elements in accessible rooms and spaces.
  • The actual "path of travel" that pedestrians use either on public sidewalks or to facilities is now 48 inches versus 36 inches.
  • Wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices designed for people with mobility limitations must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use. Other devices - like the Segway PT, which is often used by individuals with disabilities as their mobility device of choice - must be permitted unless your agency demonstrates their use would fundamentally alter programs, services, or activities or create a direct threat or safety hazard. The rule lists factors to consider in making this determination. This approach accommodates both the legitimate business interests in the safe operation of a facility and the growing use of the Segway PT as a mobility device by returning veterans and others.
  • Childrens' scoping and measurements for reach ranges are now addressed according to age where building elements such as coat hooks, lockers, or operable parts are designed for use primarily by children.
  • Service animals are defined as trained dogs, with specific guidelines clarified.

    The revisions amend Title II regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 35, and Title III regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 36.

    Appendix A to each regulation includes a section-by-section analysis of the rule, and responses to public comments on the proposed rule.

    Appendix B to the Title III regulation discusses major changes in the Standards for Accessible Design and responds to public comments received on the proposed rules.

    The department's Final Regulatory Impact Analysis detailing financial impacts on those who must comply with the new regulations will be posted on www.ada.gov as soon as it is available.

    You'll also find fact sheets summarizing:

  • Changes to Title II
  • Changes to Title III
  • Changes to Standards for Accessible Design

    My advice: start complying now. It's a best practice that will lead you to a better access for all.

    - Michele S. Ohmes (michele@michele-able.com) is an ADA specialist who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. Her design manual, ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical, is available on CD-ROM through the American Public Works Association's Web site. Author's note: Michele & Associates does not render legal advice and has no enforcement authority regarding the ADA or other federal disability-rights legislation.