Thursday, June 19, 2008

Revamp of ADA?

Blog reader Veronica sent me the following article and I agree, it's definately worth posting and it's definately something we should be educating ourselves about. I have a few thoughts, but I'm on deadline so I'll share them with you all later. For now, here's what's going on.

Published in the New York Times

Sweeping ADA update would affect millions

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is about to propose far-reaching rules that would give people with disabilities greater access to tens of thousands of courtrooms, swimming pools, golf courses, stadiums, theaters, hotels and stores.

The proposal would substantially update and rewrite federal standards for enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark civil-rights law passed with strong bipartisan support in 1990.

The new rules would set more stringent requirements in many areas and address some issues for the first time, in an effort to meet the needs of an aging population and growing numbers of disabled war veterans.
More than 7 million businesses and all state and local government agencies would be affected. The proposal includes some exemptions for parts of existing buildings, but any new construction or renovations would have to comply.

The new standards would, for example, affect the location of light switches, the height of retail service counters and the use of monkeys as service animals.

The Bush administration approved the proposal in May after a five-month review. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, with 60 days for public comment. After considering those comments, the government would issue final rules with the force of law.
The proposal is stirring concern. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it would be onerous and costly, but advocates for disabled people say it does not go far enough.

The Census Bureau says more than 51 million Americans have a disability, with nearly two-thirds reporting severe impairments.

Proposed requirements

The proposed rules, under development for more than four years, flesh out the meaning of the 1990 law, which set forth broad objectives. The 215,000-word proposal includes these new requirements:
• Courts would have to provide a lift or ramp to ensure that people in wheelchairs could get into the witness stand.
• Auditoriums would have to provide a lift or ramp so wheelchair users could "participate fully and equally in graduation exercises and other events."
• Any sports stadium with a seating capacity of 25,000 or more would have to provide safety and emergency information by posting written messages on scoreboards and video monitors to alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
• Light switches in hotel rooms could not be more than 48 inches high. The current maximum is 54 inches.
• A new swimming pool with a perimeter of more than 300 feet would have to provide "at least two accessible means of entry," such as a gentle sloping ramp or a chair lift.

The Justice Department estimated the changes would cost $23 billion.
Under the 1990 law, businesses are supposed to remove barriers to people with disabilities if the changes are "readily achievable," meaning they can be "carried out without much difficulty or expense."
The Bush administration is proposing a safe harbor for small businesses. They could meet their obligations in a given year if, in the prior year, they had spent at least 1 percent of their gross revenues to remove barriers.

Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, a coalition of legal advocates, said: "Safe harbors make us very nervous. A small business could spend the requisite amount of money and still not be accessible."

Randel Johnson, a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed rules "are so long and technically complex that even the best-intentioned small business could be found out of compliance by a clever lawyer looking to force a settlement."

Limits on service animals

The proposed rules affirm the right of people with disabilities to use guide dogs and other service animals in public places, but they tighten the definition to exclude certain species.

When the existing rules were adopted in the early 1990s, the Justice Department said, few people anticipated the current trend toward "the use of wild, exotic or unusual species" as service animals.

The proposed rules define a service animal as "any dog or other common domestic animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks" for a person with a physical or mental disability.

Under this definition, monkeys would not qualify as service animals. The proposed rules also would exclude snakes and other reptiles; amphibians; rabbits, ferrets and rodents; and farm animals such as horses, pigs and goats.

The rules confirm that people with disabilities can use traditional wheelchairs, power wheelchairs and electric scooters in any public areas open to pedestrians. But shopping centers and other public places could impose reasonable restrictions on Segway vehicles, golf carts and similar devices.

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