New rules on business accessibility go into effect March 15

New rules guiding businesses about accessibility for disabled people go into effect March 15.

The Department of Justice’s revised regulations work toward fulfilling the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1991.

For example, for the first time since the passage of the ADA, there are now accessibility standards specific to the  features of recreation facilities – including swimming pools, amusement parks, play areas, exercise machines, miniature golf facilities, recreational boating facilities and bowling alleys.

All new construction of recreation facilities must begin using the new ADA standards starting next week.

The new rules have created some confusion, said Jana Burke, the director of the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, which provides information on the ADA for architects, contractors, local government representatives and small business owners.

The reality is that existing facilities should already be in compliance with the 1991 standards, Burke said. If they are, the new law says they can be brought up to current standards one element at a time – as those elements are replaced or upgraded – as long as the individual pieces meet the 1991 guidelines.

The revised rules, which include the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, were adopted by the DOJ in 2010 and went into effect last March. Beginning this March 15, all state and local government entities and privately owned businesses such as restaurants, hotels, hospitals, stores, factories and warehouses are required to comply with the new regulations.

“There has been a lot of misinformation and confusion out there; March 15, 2012 is not a deadline; if anything, it should be viewed as a starting point to building an accessible future for the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities,” Burke said. “March 15, 2012 has been designated by the DOJ as the compliance date where all government and business must begin using the 2010 ADA Standards when doing new construction or making alterations to existing facilities – making them the new accessibility standards of the land.”

If an existing facility is not in compliance, it needs to make March 15, 2012, the date to commit to using the 2010 standards to make its facility fully accessible for people with disabilities, she said.

Among the new regulations: businesses should provide access so people can get into the business; provide access so that people are able to use the space where goods and services are provided; make restrooms accessible; and take any other measures necessary to make the business’s goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations accessible to people with disabilities.

The new regulations are complex and must be carefully reviewed prior to undertaking any significant design, renovation or construction, Burke said. Failure to comply could lead to expenses in the form of avoidable rebuilds, or lawsuits and civil penalties to the business.

Additional information on the 2010 Standards is available from the Rocky Mountain ADA Center at www.adainformation.org/buildingprofessionals.