28 CFR Appendix A to Part 35 - Guidance to Revisions to ADA Regulation on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services
This Appendix contains guidance providing a section-by-section analysis of the revisions to 28 CFR part 35 published on September 15, 2010.
This section provides a detailed description of the Department's changes to the title II regulation, the reasoning behind those changes, and responses to public comments received on these topics. The Section-by-Section Analysis follows the order of the title II regulation itself, except that, if the Department has not changed a regulatory section, the unchanged section has not been mentioned.
The Department has included in the final rule new definitions of both the “1991 Standards” and the “2004 ADAAG.” The term “1991 Standards” refers to the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, originally published on July 26, 1991, and republished as Appendix D to part 36. The term “2004 ADAAG” refers to ADA Chapter 1, ADA Chapter 2, and Chapters 3 through 10 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines, which were issued by the Access Board on July 23, 2004, 36 CFR 1191, app. B and D (2009), and which the Department has adopted in this final rule. These terms are included in the definitions section for ease of reference.
The Department has added to the final rule a definition of the term “2010 Standards.” The term “2010 Standards” refers to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which consist of the 2004 ADAAG and the requirements contained in § 35.151.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed revisions to the definition of auxiliary aids and services under § 35.104 to include several additional types of auxiliary aids that have become more readily available since the promulgation of the 1991 title II regulation, and in recognition of new technology and devices available in some places that may provide effective communication in some situations.
The NPRM proposed adding an explicit reference to written notes in the definition of “auxiliary aids.” Although this policy was already enunciated in the Department's 1993 Title II Technical Assistance Manual at II-7.1000, the Department proposed inclusion in the regulation itself because some Title II entities do not understand that exchange of written notes using paper and pencil is an available option in some circumstances. See Department of Justice, The Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II Technical Assistance Manual Covering State and Local Government Programs and Services (1993), available at http://www.ada.gov/taman2.html. Comments from several disability advocacy organizations and individuals discouraged the Department from including the exchange of written notes in the list of available auxiliary aids in § 35.104. Advocates and persons with disabilities requested explicit limits on the use of written notes as a form of auxiliary aid because, they argue, most exchanges are not simple and are not communicated effectively using handwritten notes. One major advocacy organization, for example, noted that the speed at which individuals communicate orally or use sign language averages about 200 words per minute or more while exchange of notes often leads to truncated or incomplete communication. For persons whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), some commenters pointed out, using written English in exchange of notes often is ineffective because ASL syntax and vocabulary is dissimilar from English. By contrast, some commenters from professional medical associations sought more specific guidance on when notes are allowed, especially in the context of medical offices and health care situations.
Exchange of notes likely will be effective in situations that do not involve substantial conversation, for example, blood work for routine lab tests or regular allergy shots. Video Interpreting Services (hereinafter referred to as “video remote interpreting services” or VRI) or an interpreter should be used when the matter involves greater complexity, such as in situations requiring communication of medical history or diagnoses, in conversations about medical procedures and treatment decisions, or when giving instructions for care at home or elsewhere. In the Section-By-Section Analysis of § 35.160 (Communications) below, the Department discusses in greater detail the kinds of situations in which interpreters or captioning would be necessary. Additional guidance on this issue can be found in a number of agreements entered into with health-care providers and hospitals that are available on the Department's Web site at http://www.ada.gov.
In the NPRM, in paragraph (1) of the definition in § 35.104, the Department proposed replacing the term “telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD)” with the term “text telephones (TTYs).” TTY has become the commonly accepted term and is consistent with the terminology used by the Access Board in the 2004 ADAAG. Commenters representing advocates and persons with disabilities expressed approval of the substitution of TTY for TDD in the proposed regulation.
Commenters also expressed the view that the Department should expand paragraph (1) of the definition of auxiliary aids to include “TTY's and other voice, text, and video-based telecommunications products and systems such as videophones and captioned telephones.” The Department has considered these comments and has revised the definition of “auxiliary aids” to include references to voice, text, and video-based telecommunications products and systems, as well as accessible electronic and information technology.
In the NPRM, the Department also proposed including a reference in paragraph (1) to a new technology, Video Interpreting Services (VIS). The reference remains in the final rule. VIS is discussed in the Section-By-Section Analysis below in reference to § 35.160 (Communications), but is referred to as VRI in both the final rule and Appendix A to more accurately reflect the terminology used in other regulations and among users of the technology.
In the NPRM, the Department noted that technological advances in the 18 years since the ADA's enactment had increased the range of auxiliary aids and services for those who are blind or have low vision. As a result the Department proposed additional examples to paragraph (2) of the definition, including Brailled materials and displays, screen reader software, optical readers, secondary auditory programs (SAP), and accessible electronic and information technology. Some commenters asked for more detailed requirements for auxiliary aids for persons with vision disabilities. The Department has decided it will not make additional changes to that provision at this time.
Several comments suggested expanding the auxiliary aids provision for persons who are both deaf and blind, and in particular, to include in the list of auxiliary aids a new category, “support service providers (SSP),” which was described in comments as a navigator and communication facilitator. The Department believes that services provided by communication facilitators are already encompassed in the requirement to provide qualified interpreters. Moreover, the Department is concerned that as described by the commenters, the category of support service providers would include some services that would be considered personal services and that do not qualify as auxiliary aids. Accordingly, the Department declines to add this new category to the list at this time.
Some commenters representing advocacy organizations and individuals asked the Department to explicitly require title II entities to make any or all of the devices or technology available in all situations upon the request of the person with a disability. The Department recognizes that such devices or technology may provide effective communication and in some circumstances may be effective for some persons, but the Department does not intend to require that every entity covered by title II provide every device or all new technology at all times as long as the communication that is provided is as effective as communication with others. The Department recognized in the preamble to the 1991 title II regulation that the list of auxiliary aids was “not an all-inclusive or exhaustive catalogue of possible or available auxiliary aids or services. It is not possible to provide an exhaustive list, and an attempt to do so would omit the new devices that will become available with emerging technology.” 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 560 (2009). The Department continues to endorse that view; thus, the inclusion of a list of examples of possible auxiliary aids in the definition of “auxiliary aids” should not be read as a mandate for a title II entity to offer every possible auxiliary aid listed in the definition in every situation.
In Appendix A of the Department's 1991 title II regulation, the Department included a detailed discussion of “direct threat” that, among other things, explained that “the principles established in § 36.208 of the Department's [title III] regulation” were “applicable” as well to title II, insofar as “questions of safety are involved.” 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 565 (2009). In the final rule, the Department has included an explicit definition of “direct threat” that is parallel to the definition in the title III rule and placed it in the definitions section at § 35.104.
The 1991 title II regulation provided definitions for “new construction” at § 35.151(a) and “alterations” at § 35.151(b). In contrast, the term “existing facility” was not explicitly defined, although it is used in the statute and regulations for title II. See 42 U.S.C. 12134(b); 28 CFR 35.150. It has been the Department's view that newly constructed or altered facilities are also existing facilities with continuing program access obligations, and that view is made explicit in this rule.
The classification of facilities under the ADA is neither static nor mutually exclusive. Newly constructed or altered facilities are also existing facilities. A newly constructed facility remains subject to the accessibility standards in effect at the time of design and construction, with respect to those elements for which, at that time, there were applicable ADA Standards. And at some point, the facility may undergo alterations, which are subject to the alterations requirements in effect at the time. See § 35.151(b)-(c). The fact that the facility is also an existing facility does not relieve the public entity of its obligations under the new construction and alterations requirements in this part.
For example, a facility constructed or altered after the effective date of the original title II regulations but prior to the effective date of the revised title II regulation and Standards, must have been built or altered in compliance with the Standards (or UFAS) in effect at that time, in order to be in compliance with the ADA. In addition, a “newly constructed” facility or “altered” facility is also an “existing facility” for purposes of application of the title II program accessibility requirements. Once the 2010 Standards take effect, they will become the new reference point for determining the program accessibility obligations of all existing facilities. This is because the ADA contemplates that as our knowledge and understanding of accessibility advances and evolves, this knowledge will be incorporated into and result in increased accessibility in the built environment. Under title II, this goal is accomplished through the statute's program access framework. While newly constructed or altered facilities must meet the accessibility standards in effect at the time, the fact that these facilities are also existing facilities ensures that the determination of whether a program is accessible is not frozen at the time of construction or alteration. Program access may require consideration of potential barriers to access that were not recognized as such at the time of construction or alteration, including, but not limited to, the elements that are first covered in the 2010 Standards, as that term is defined in § 35.104. Adoption of the 2010 Standards establishes a new reference point for title II entities that choose to make structural changes to existing facilities to meet their program access requirements.
The NPRM included the following proposed definition of “existing facility.” “A facility that has been constructed and remains in existence on any given date.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). The Department received a number of comments on this issue. The commenters urged the Department to clarify that all buildings remain subject to the standards in effect at the time of their construction, that is, that a facility designed and constructed for first occupancy between January 26, 1992, and the effective date of the final rule is still considered “new construction” and that alterations occurring between January 26, 1992, and the effective date of the final rule are still considered “alterations.”
The final rule includes clarifying language to ensure that the Department's interpretation is accurately reflected. As established by this rule, existing facility means a facility in existence on any given date, without regard to whether the facility may also be considered newly constructed or altered under this part. Thus, this definition reflects the Department's interpretation that public entities have program access requirements that are independent of, but may coexist with, requirements imposed by new construction or alteration requirements in those same facilities.
The Department has added a new definition to § 35.104, “housing at a place of education,” to clarify the types of educational housing programs that are covered by this title. This section defines “housing at a place of education” as “housing operated by or on behalf of an elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate school, or other place of education, including dormitories, suites, apartments, or other places of residence.” This definition does not apply to social service programs that combine residential housing with social services, such as a residential job training program.
Because relatively few individuals with disabilities were using nontraditional mobility devices in 1991, there was no pressing need for the 1991 title II regulation to define the terms “wheelchair” or “other power-driven mobility device,” to expound on what would constitute a reasonable modification in policies, practices, or procedures under § 35.130(b)(7), or to set forth within that section specific requirements for the accommodation of mobility devices. Since the issuance of the 1991 title II regulation, however, the choices of mobility devices available to individuals with disabilities have increased dramatically. The Department has received complaints about and has become aware of situations where individuals with mobility disabilities have utilized devices that are not designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability, including the Segway ® Personal Transporter (Segway ® PT), golf cars, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and other locomotion devices.
The Department also has received questions from public entities and individuals with mobility disabilities concerning which mobility devices must be accommodated and under what circumstances. Indeed, there has been litigation concerning the legal obligations of covered entities to accommodate individuals with mobility disabilities who wish to use an electronic personal assistance mobility device (EPAMD), such as the Segway ® PT, as a mobility device. The Department has participated in such litigation as amicus curiae.See Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., No. 6:07-cv-1785-Orl-31KRS, 2009 WL 3242028 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 6, 2009). Much of the litigation has involved shopping malls where businesses have refused to allow persons with disabilities to use EPAMDs. See, e.g.,McElroy v. Simon Property Group, No. 08-404 RDR, 2008 WL 4277716 (D. Kan. Sept. 15, 2008) (enjoining mall from prohibiting the use of a Segway ® PT as a mobility device where an individual agrees to all of a mall's policies for use of the device, except indemnification); Shasta Clark, Local Man Fighting Mall Over Right to Use Segway, WATE 6 News, July 26, 2005, available at http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?s=3643674 (last visited June 24, 2010).
In response to questions and complaints from individuals with disabilities and covered entities concerning which mobility devices must be accommodated and under what circumstances, the Department began developing a framework to address the use of unique mobility devices, concerns about their safety, and the parameters for the circumstances under which these devices must be accommodated. As a result, the Department's NPRM proposed two new approaches to mobility devices. First, the Department proposed a two-tiered mobility device definition that defined the term “wheelchair” separately from “other power-driven mobility device.” Second, the Department proposed requirements to allow the use of devices in each definitional category. In § 35.137(a), the NPRM proposed that wheelchairs and manually-powered mobility aids used by individuals with mobility disabilities shall be permitted in any areas open to pedestrian use. Section 35.137(b) of the NPRM provided that a public entity “shall make reasonable modifications in its policies, practices, and procedures to permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with disabilities, unless the public entity can demonstrate that the use of the device is not reasonable or that its use will result in a fundamental alteration of the public entity's service, program, or activity.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
The Department sought public comment with regard to whether these steps would, in fact, achieve clarity on these issues. Toward this end, the Department's NPRM asked several questions relating to the definitions of “wheelchair,” “other power-driven mobility device,” and “manually-powered mobility aids”; the best way to categorize different classes of mobility devices; the types of devices that should be included in each category; and the circumstances under which certain mobility devices must be accommodated or may be excluded pursuant to the policy adopted by the public entity.
Because the questions in the NPRM that concerned mobility devices and their accommodation were interrelated, many of the commenters' responses did not identify the specific question to which they were responding. Instead, the commenters grouped the questions together and provided comments accordingly. Most commenters spoke to the issues addressed in the Department's questions in broad terms and general concepts. As a result, the responses to the questions posed are discussed below in broadly grouped issue categories rather than on a question-by-question basis.
Two-tiered definitional approach. Commenters supported the Department's proposal to use a two-tiered definition of mobility device. Commenters nearly universally said that wheelchairs always should be accommodated and that they should never be subject to an assessment with regard to their admission to a particular public facility. In contrast, the vast majority of commenters indicated they were in favor of allowing public entities to conduct an assessment as to whether, and under which circumstances, other power-driven mobility devices would be allowed on-site.
Many commenters indicated their support for the two-tiered approach in responding to questions concerning the definition of “wheelchair” and “other-powered mobility device.” Nearly every disability advocacy group said that the Department's two-tiered approach strikes the proper balance between ensuring access for individuals with disabilities and addressing fundamental alteration and safety concerns held by public entities; however, a minority of disability advocacy groups wanted other power-driven mobility devices to be included in the definition of “wheelchair.” Most advocacy, nonprofit, and individual commenters supported the concept of a separate definition for “other power-driven mobility device” because it maintains existing legal protections for wheelchairs while recognizing that some devices that are not designed primarily for individuals with mobility disabilities have beneficial uses for individuals with mobility disabilities. They also favored this concept because it recognizes technological developments and that the innovative uses of varying devices may provide increased access to individuals with mobility disabilities.
Many environmental, transit system, and government commenters indicated they opposed in its entirety the concept of “other power-driven mobility devices” as a separate category. They believe that the creation of a second category of mobility devices will mean that other power-driven mobility devices, specifically ATVs and off-highway vehicles, must be allowed to go anywhere on national park lands, trails, recreational areas, etc.; will conflict with other Federal land management laws and regulations; will harm the environment and natural and cultural resources; will pose safety risks to users of these devices, as well as to pedestrians not expecting to encounter motorized devices in these settings; will interfere with the recreational enjoyment of these areas; and will require too much administrative work to regulate which devices are allowed and under which circumstances. These commenters all advocated a single category of mobility devices that excludes all fuel-powered devices.
Whether or not they were opposed to the two-tier approach in its entirety, virtually every environmental commenter and most government commenters associated with providing public transportation services or protecting land, natural resources, fish and game, etc., said that the definition of “other power-driven mobility device” is too broad. They suggested that they might be able to support the dual category approach if the definition of “other power-driven mobility device” were narrowed. They expressed general and program-specific concerns about permitting the use of other power-driven mobility devices. They noted the same concerns as those who opposed the two-tiered concept - that these devices create a host of environmental, safety, cost, administrative and conflict of law issues. Virtually all of these commenters indicated that their support for the dual approach and the concept of other power-driven mobility devices is, in large measure, due to the other power-driven mobility device assessment factors in § 35.137(c) of the NPRM.
By maintaining the two-tiered approach to mobility devices and defining “wheelchair” separately from “other power-driven mobility device,” the Department is able to preserve the protection users of traditional wheelchairs and other manually powered mobility aids have had since the ADA was enacted, while also recognizing that human ingenuity, personal choice, and new technologies have led to the use of devices that may be more beneficial for individuals with certain mobility disabilities.
Moreover, the Department believes the two-tiered approach gives public entities guidance to follow in assessing whether reasonable modifications can be made to permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices on-site and to aid in the development of policies describing the circumstances under which persons with disabilities may use such devices. The two-tiered approach neither mandates that all other power-driven mobility devices be accommodated in every circumstance, nor excludes these devices. This approach, in conjunction with the factor assessment provisions in § 35.137(b)(2), will serve as a mechanism by which public entities can evaluate their ability to accommodate other power-driven mobility devices. As will be discussed in more detail below, the assessment factors in § 35.137(b)(2) are designed to provide guidance to public entities regarding whether it is appropriate to bar the use of a specific “other power-driven mobility device in a specific facility. In making such a determination, a public entity must consider the device's type, size, weight, dimensions, and speed; the facility's volume of pedestrian traffic; the facility's design and operational characteristics; whether the device conflicts with legitimate safety requirements; and whether the device poses a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources, or conflicts with Federal land management laws or regulations. In addition, if under § 35.130(b)(7), the public entity claims that it cannot make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with disabilities, the burden of proof to demonstrate that such devices cannot be operated in accordance with legitimate safety requirements rests upon the public entity.
Categorization of wheelchair versus other power-driven mobility devices. Implicit in the creation of the two-tiered mobility device concept is the question of how to categorize which devices are wheelchairs and which are other power-driven mobility devices. Finding weight and size to be too restrictive, the vast majority of advocacy, nonprofit, and individual commenters opposed using the Department of Transportation's definition of “common wheelchair” to designate the mobility device's appropriate category. Commenters who generally supported using weight and size as the method of categorization did so because of their concerns about potentially detrimental impacts on the environment and cultural and natural resources; on the enjoyment of the facility by other recreational users, as well as their safety; on the administrative components of government agencies required to assess which devices are appropriate on narrow, steeply sloped, or foot-and-hoof only trails; and about the impracticality of accommodating such devices in public transportation settings.
Many environmental, transit system, and government commenters also favored using the device's intended-use to categorize which devices constitute wheelchairs and which are other power-driven mobility devices. Furthermore, the intended-use determinant received a fair amount of support from advocacy, nonprofit, and individual commenters, either because they sought to preserve the broad accommodation of wheelchairs or because they sympathized with concerns about individuals without mobility disabilities fraudulently bringing other power-driven mobility devices into public facilities.
Commenters seeking to have the Segway® PT included in the definition of “wheelchair” objected to classifying mobility devices on the basis of their intended use because they felt that such a classification would be unfair and prejudicial to Segway® PT users and would stifle personal choice, creativity, and innovation. Other advocacy and nonprofit commenters objected to employing an intended-use approach because of concerns that the focus would shift to an assessment of the device, rather than the needs or benefits to the individual with the mobility disability. They were of the view that the mobility-device classification should be based on its function - whether it is used for a mobility disability. A few commenters raised the concern that an intended-use approach might embolden public entities to assess whether an individual with a mobility disability really needs to use the other power-driven mobility device at issue or to question why a wheelchair would not provide sufficient mobility. Those citing objections to the intended use determinant indicated it would be more appropriate to make the categorization determination based on whether the device is being used for a mobility disability in the context of the impact of its use in a specific environment. Some of these commenters preferred this approach because it would allow the Segway® PT to be included in the definition of “wheelchair.”
Many environmental and government commenters were inclined to categorize mobility devices by the way in which they are powered, such as battery-powered engines versus fuel or combustion engines. One commenter suggested using exhaust level as the determinant. Although there were only a few commenters who would make the determination based on indoor or outdoor use, there was nearly universal support for banning the indoor use of devices that are powered by fuel or combustion engines.
A few commenters thought it would be appropriate to categorize the devices based on their maximum speed. Others objected to this approach, stating that circumstances should dictate the appropriate speed at which mobility devices should be operated - for example, a faster speed may be safer when crossing streets than it would be for sidewalk use - and merely because a device can go a certain speed does not mean it will be operated at that speed.
The Department has decided to maintain the device's intended use as the appropriate determinant for which devices are categorized as “wheelchairs.” However, because wheelchairs may be intended for use by individuals who have temporary conditions affecting mobility, the Department has decided that it is more appropriate to use the phrase “primarily designed” rather than “solely designed” in making such categorizations. The Department will not foreclose any future technological developments by identifying or banning specific devices or setting restrictions on size, weight, or dimensions. Moreover, devices designed primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities often are considered to be medical devices and are generally eligible for insurance reimbursement on this basis. Finally, devices designed primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities are less subject to fraud concerns because they were not designed to have a recreational component. Consequently, rarely, if ever, is any inquiry or assessment as to their appropriateness for use in a public entity necessary.
Definition of “wheelchair.” In seeking public feedback on the NPRM's definition of “wheelchair,” the Department explained its concern that the definition of “wheelchair” in section 508(c)(2) of the ADA (formerly section 507(c)(2), July 26, 1990, 104 Stat. 372, 42 U.S.C. 12207, renumbered section 508(c)(2), Public Law 110-325 section 6(a)(2), Sept. 25, 2008, 122 Stat. 3558), which pertains to Federal wilderness areas, is not specific enough to provide clear guidance in the array of settings covered by title II and that the stringent size and weight requirements for the Department of Transportation's definition of “common wheelchair” are not a good fit in the context of most public entities. The Department noted in the NPRM that it sought a definition of “wheelchair” that would include manually-operated and power-driven wheelchairs and mobility scooters (i.e., those that typically are single-user, have three to four wheels, and are appropriate for both indoor and outdoor pedestrian areas), as well as a variety of types of wheelchairs and mobility scooters with individualized or unique features or models with different numbers of wheels. The NPRM defined a wheelchair as “a device designed solely for use by an individual with a mobility impairment for the primary purpose of locomotion in typical indoor and outdoor pedestrian areas. A wheelchair may be manually-operated or power-driven.” 73 FR 34466, 34479 (June 17, 2008). Although the NPRM's definition of “wheelchair” excluded mobility devices that are not designed solely for use by individuals with mobility disabilities, the Department, noting that the use of the Segway® PT by individuals with mobility disabilities is on the upswing, inquired as to whether this device should be included in the definition of “wheelchair.”
Many environment and Federal government employee commenters objected to the Department's proposed definition of “wheelchair” because it differed from the definition of “wheelchair” found in section 508(c)(2) of the ADA - a definition used in the statute only in connection with a provision relating to the use of a wheelchair in a designated wilderness area. See 42 U.S.C. 12207(c)(1). Other government commenters associated with environmental issues wanted the phrase “outdoor pedestrian use” eliminated from the definition of “wheelchair.” Some transit system commenters wanted size, weight, and dimensions to be part of the definition because of concerns about costs associated with having to accommodate devices that exceed the dimensions of the “common wheelchair” upon which the 2004 ADAAG was based.
Many advocacy, nonprofit, and individual commenters indicated that as long as the Department intends the scope of the term “mobility impairments” to include other disabilities that cause mobility impairments (e.g., respiratory, circulatory, stamina, etc.), they were in support of the language. Several commenters indicated a preference for the definition of “wheelchair” in section 508(c)(2) of the ADA. One commenter indicated a preference for the term “assistive device,” as it is defined in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, over the term “wheelchair.” A few commenters indicated that strollers should be added to the preamble's list of examples of wheelchairs because parents of children with disabilities frequently use strollers as mobility devices until their children get older.
In the final rule, the Department has rearranged some wording and has made some changes in the terminology used in the definition of “wheelchair,” but essentially has retained the definition, and therefore the rationale, that was set forth in the NPRM. Again, the text of the ADA makes the definition of “wheelchair” contained in section 508(c)(2) applicable only to the specific context of uses in designated wilderness areas, and therefore does not compel the use of that definition for any other purpose. Moreover, the Department maintains that limiting the definition to devices suitable for use in an “indoor pedestrian area” as provided for in section 508(c)(2) of the ADA, would ignore the technological advances in wheelchair design that have occurred since the ADA went into effect and that the inclusion of the phrase “indoor pedestrian area” in the definition of “wheelchair” would set back progress made by individuals with mobility disabilities who, for many years now, have been using devices designed for locomotion in indoor and outdoor settings. The Department has concluded that same rationale applies to placing limits on the size, weight, and dimensions of wheelchairs.
With regard to the term “mobility impairments,” the Department intended a broad reading so that a wide range of disabilities, including circulatory and respiratory disabilities, that make walking difficult or impossible, would be included. In response to comments on this issue, the Department has revisited the issue and has concluded that the most apt term to achieve this intent is “mobility disability.”
In addition, the Department has decided that it is more appropriate to use the phrase “primarily” designed for use by individuals with disabilities in the final rule, rather than “solely” designed for use by individuals with disabilities - the phrase proposed in the NPRM. The Department believes that this phrase more accurately covers the range of devices the Department intends to fall within the definition of “wheelchair.”
After receiving comments that the word “typical” is vague and the phrase “pedestrian areas” is confusing to apply, particularly in the context of similar, but not identical, terms used in the proposed Standards, the Department decided to delete the term “typical indoor and outdoor pedestrian areas” from the final rule. Instead, the final rule references “indoor or of both indoor and outdoor locomotion,” to make clear that the devices that fall within the definition of “wheelchair” are those that are used for locomotion on indoor and outdoor pedestrian paths or routes and not those that are intended exclusively for traversing undefined, unprepared, or unimproved paths or routes. Thus, the final rule defines the term “wheelchair” to mean “a manually-operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor or of both indoor and outdoor locomotion.”
Whether the definition of “wheelchair” includes the Segway® PT. As discussed above, because individuals with mobility disabilities are using the Segway® PT as a mobility device, the Department asked whether it should be included in the definition of “wheelchair.” The basic Segway® PT model is a two-wheeled, gyroscopically-stabilized, battery-powered personal transportation device. The user stands on a platform suspended three inches off the ground by wheels on each side, grasps a T-shaped handle, and steers the device similarly to a bicycle. Most Segway® PTs can travel up to 12 1/2 miles per hour, compared to the average pedestrian walking speed of three to four miles per hour and the approximate maximum speed for power-operated wheelchairs of six miles per hour. In a study of trail and other non-motorized transportation users including EPAMDs, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found that the eye height of individuals using EPAMDs ranged from approximately 69 to 80 inches. See Federal Highway Administration, Characteristics of Emerging Road and Trail Users and Their Safety (Oct. 14, 2004), available at http://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/pubs/04103 (last visited June 24, 2010). Thus, the Segway® PT can operate at much greater speeds than wheelchairs, and the average user stands much taller than most wheelchair users.
The Segway® PT has been the subject of debate among users, pedestrians, disability advocates, State and local governments, businesses, and bicyclists. The fact that the Segway® PT is not designed primarily for use by individuals with disabilities, nor used primarily by persons with disabilities, complicates the question of to what extent individuals with disabilities should be allowed to operate them in areas and facilities where other power-driven mobility devices are not allowed. Those who question the use of the Segway® PT in pedestrian areas argue that the speed, size, and operating features of the devices make them too dangerous to operate alongside pedestrians and wheelchair users.
Comments regarding whether to include the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair” were, by far, the most numerous received in the category of comments regarding wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices. Significant numbers of veterans with disabilities, individuals with multiple sclerosis, and those advocating on their behalf made concise statements of general support for the inclusion of the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair.” Two veterans offered extensive comments on the topic, along with a few advocacy and nonprofit groups and individuals with disabilities for whom sitting is uncomfortable or impossible.
While there may be legitimate safety issues for EPAMD users and bystanders in some circumstances, EPAMDs and other non-traditional mobility devices can deliver real benefits to individuals with disabilities. Among the reasons given by commenters to include the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair” were that the Segway® PT is well-suited for individuals with particular conditions that affect mobility including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, amputations, spinal cord injuries, and other neurological disabilities, as well as functional limitations, such as gait limitation, inability to sit or discomfort in sitting, and diminished stamina issues. Such individuals often find that EPAMDs are more comfortable and easier to use than more traditional mobility devices and assist with balance, circulation, and digestion in ways that wheelchairs do not. See Rachel Metz, Disabled Embrace Segway, New York Times, Oct. 14, 2004. Commenters specifically cited pressure relief, reduced spasticity, increased stamina, and improved respiratory, neurologic, and muscular health as secondary medical benefits from being able to stand.
Other arguments for including the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair” were based on commenters' views that the Segway® PT offers benefits not provided by wheelchairs and mobility scooters, including its intuitive response to body movement, ability to operate with less coordination and dexterity than is required for many wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and smaller footprint and turning radius as compared to most wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Several commenters mentioned improved visibility, either due to the Segway® PT's raised platform or simply by virtue of being in a standing position. And finally, some commenters advocated for the inclusion of the Segway® PT simply based on civil rights arguments and the empowerment and self-esteem obtained from having the power to select the mobility device of choice.
Many commenters, regardless of their position on whether to include the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair,” noted that the Segway® PT's safety record is as good as, if not better, than the record for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
Most environmental, transit system, and government commenters were opposed to including the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair” but were supportive of its inclusion as an “other power-driven mobility device.” Their concerns about including the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair” had to do with the safety of the operators of these devices (e.g., height clearances on trains and sloping trails in parks) and of pedestrians, particularly in confined and crowded facilities or in settings where motorized devices might be unexpected; the potential harm to the environment; the additional administrative, insurance, liability, and defensive litigation costs; potentially detrimental impacts on the environment and cultural and natural resources; and the impracticality of accommodating such devices in public transportation settings.
Other environmental, transit system, and government commenters would have banned all fuel-powered devices as mobility devices. In addition, these commenters would have classified non-motorized devices as “wheelchairs” and would have categorized motorized devices, such as the Segway® PT, battery-operated wheelchairs, and mobility scooters as “other power-driven mobility devices.” In support of this position, some of these commenters argued that because their equipment and facilities have been designed to comply with the dimensions of the “common wheelchair” upon which the ADAAG is based, any device that is larger than the prototype wheelchair would be misplaced in the definition of “wheelchair.”
Still others in this group of commenters wished for only a single category of mobility devices and would have included wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and the Segway® PT as “mobility devices” and excluded fuel-powered devices from that definition.
Many disability advocacy and nonprofit commenters did not support the inclusion of the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair.” Paramount to these commenters was the maintenance of existing protections for wheelchair users. Because there was unanimous agreement that wheelchair use rarely, if ever, may be restricted, these commenters strongly favored categorizing wheelchairs separately from the Segway® PT and other power-driven mobility devices and applying the intended-use determinant to assign the devices to either category. They indicated that while they support the greatest degree of access in public entities for all persons with disabilities who require the use of mobility devices, they recognize that under certain circumstances, allowing the use of other power-driven mobility devices would result in a fundamental alteration of programs, services, or activities, or run counter to legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of a public entity. While these groups supported categorizing the Segway® PT as an “other power-driven mobility device,” they universally noted that in their view, because the Segway® PT does not present environmental concerns and is as safe to use as, if not safer than, a wheelchair, it should be accommodated in most circumstances.
The Department has considered all the comments and has concluded that it should not include the Segway® PT in the definition of “wheelchair.” The final rule provides that the test for categorizing a device as a wheelchair or an other power-driven mobility device is whether the device is designed primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities. Mobility scooters are included in the definition of “wheelchair” because they are designed primarily for users with mobility disabilities. However, because the current generation of EPAMDs, including the Segway® PT, was designed for recreational users and not primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities, the Department has decided to continue its approach of excluding EPAMDs from the definition of “wheelchair” and including them in the definition of “other power-driven mobility device.” Although EPAMDs, such as the Segway® PT, are not included in the definition of a “wheelchair,” public entities must assess whether they can make reasonable modifications to permit individuals with mobility disabilities to use such devices on their premises. The Department recognizes that the Segway® PT provides many benefits to those who use them as mobility devices, including a measure of privacy with regard to the nature of one's particular disability, and believes that in the vast majority of circumstances, the application of the factors described in § 35.137 for providing access to other-powered mobility devices will result in the admission of the Segway® PT.
Treatment of “manually-powered mobility aids.” The Department's NPRM did not define the term “manually-powered mobility aids.” Instead, the NPRM included a non-exhaustive list of examples in § 35.137(a). The NPRM queried whether the Department should maintain this approach to manually-powered mobility aids or whether it should adopt a more formal definition.
Only a few commenters addressed “manually-powered mobility aids.” Virtually all commenters were in favor of maintaining a non-exhaustive list of examples of “manually-powered mobility aids” rather than adopting a definition of the term. Of those who commented, a few sought clarification of the term “manually-powered.” One commenter suggested that the term be changed to “human-powered.” Other commenters requested that the Department include ordinary strollers in the non-exhaustive list of “manually-powered mobility aids.” Since strollers are not devices designed primarily for individuals with mobility disabilities, the Department does not consider them to be manually-powered mobility aids; however, strollers used in the context of transporting individuals with disabilities are subject to the same assessment required by the ADA's title II reasonable modification standards at § 35.130(b)(7). The Department believes that because the existing approach is clear and understood easily by the public, no formal definition of the term “manually-powered mobility aids” is required.
Definition of “other power-driven mobility device.” The Department's NPRM defined the term “other power-driven mobility device” in § 35.104 as “any of a large range of devices powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines - whether or not designed solely for use by individuals with mobility impairments - that are used by individuals with mobility impairments for the purpose of locomotion, including golf cars, bicycles, electronic personal assistance mobility devices (EPAMDs), or any mobility aid designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
Nearly all environmental, transit systems, and government commenters who supported the two-tiered concept of mobility devices said that the Department's definition of “other power-driven mobility device” is overbroad because it includes fuel-powered devices. These commenters sought a ban on fuel-powered devices in their entirety because they believe they are inherently dangerous and pose environmental and safety concerns. They also argued that permitting the use of many of the contemplated other power-driven mobility devices, fuel-powered ones especially, would fundamentally alter the programs, services, or activities of public entities.
Advocacy, nonprofit, and several individual commenters supported the definition of “other power-driven mobility device” because it allows new technologies to be added in the future, maintains the existing legal protections for wheelchairs, and recognizes that some devices, particularly the Segway® PT, which are not designed primarily for individuals with mobility disabilities, have beneficial uses for individuals with mobility disabilities. Despite support for the definition of “other power-driven mobility device,” however, most advocacy and nonprofit commenters expressed at least some hesitation about the inclusion of fuel-powered mobility devices in the definition. While virtually all of these commenters noted that a blanket exclusion of any device that falls under the definition of “other power-driven mobility device” would violate basic civil rights concepts, they also specifically stated that certain devices, particularly, off-highway vehicles, cannot be permitted in certain circumstances. They also made a distinction between the Segway® PT and other power-driven mobility devices, noting that the Segway® PT should be accommodated in most circumstances because it satisfies the safety and environmental elements of the policy analysis. These commenters indicated that they agree that other power-driven mobility devices must be assessed, particularly as to their environmental impact, before they are accommodated.
Although many commenters had reservations about the inclusion of fuel-powered devices in the definition of other power-driven mobility devices, the Department does not want the definition to be so narrow that it would foreclose the inclusion of new technological developments (whether powered by fuel or by some other means). It is for this reason that the Department has maintained the phrase “any mobility device designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes” in the final rule's definition of other power-driven mobility devices. The Department believes that the limitations provided by “fundamental alteration” and the ability to impose legitimate safety requirements will likely prevent the use of fuel and combustion engine-driven devices indoors, as well as in outdoor areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. The Department notes, however, that in the future, technological developments may result in the production of safe fuel-powered mobility devices that do not pose environmental and safety concerns. The final rule allows consideration to be given as to whether the use of a fuel-powered device would create a substantial risk of serious harm to the environment or natural or cultural resources, and to whether the use of such a device conflicts with Federal land management laws or regulations; this aspect of the final rule will further limit the inclusion of fuel-powered devices where they are not appropriate. Consequently, the Department has maintained fuel-powered devices in the definition of “other power-driven mobility device.” The Department has also added language to the definition of “other power-driven mobility device” to reiterate that the definition does not apply to Federal wilderness areas, which are not covered by title II of the ADA; the use of wheelchairs in such areas is governed by section 508(c)(2) of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12207(c)(2).
In the NPRM, the Department proposed adding language to the definition of “qualified interpreter” to clarify that the term includes, but is not limited to, sign language interpreters, oral interpreters, and cued-speech interpreters. As the Department explained, not all interpreters are qualified for all situations. For example, a qualified interpreter who uses American Sign Language (ASL) is not necessarily qualified to interpret orally. In addition, someone with only a rudimentary familiarity with sign language or finger spelling is not qualified, nor is someone who is fluent in sign language but unable to translate spoken communication into ASL or to translate signed communication into spoken words.
As further explained, different situations will require different types of interpreters. For example, an oral interpreter who has special skill and training to mouth a speaker's words silently for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may be necessary for an individual who was raised orally and taught to read lips or was diagnosed with hearing loss later in life and does not know sign language. An individual who is deaf or hard of hearing may need an oral interpreter if the speaker's voice is unclear, if there is a quick-paced exchange of communication (e.g., in a meeting), or when the speaker does not directly face the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing. A cued-speech interpreter functions in the same manner as an oral interpreter except that he or she also uses a hand code or cue to represent each speech sound.
The Department received many comments regarding the proposed modifications to the definition of “interpreter.” Many commenters requested that the Department include within the definition a requirement that interpreters be certified, particularly if they reside in a State that licenses or certifies interpreters. Other commenters opposed a certification requirement as unduly limiting, noting that an interpreter may well be qualified even if that same interpreter is not certified. These commenters noted the absence of nationwide standards or universally accepted criteria for certification.
On review of this issue, the Department has decided against imposing a certification requirement under the ADA. It is sufficient under the ADA that the interpreter be qualified. However, as the Department stated in the original preamble, this rule does not invalidate or limit State or local laws that impose standards for interpreters that are equal to or more stringent than those imposed by this definition. See 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 566 (2009). For instance, the definition would not supersede any requirement of State law for use of a certified interpreter in court proceedings.
With respect to the proposed additions to the rule, most commenters supported the expansion of the list of qualified interpreters, and some advocated for the inclusion of other types of interpreters on the list as well, such as deaf-blind interpreters, certified deaf interpreters, and speech-to-speech interpreters. As these commenters explained, deaf-blind interpreters are interpreters who have specialized skills and training to interpret for individuals who are deaf and blind; certified deaf interpreters are deaf or hard of hearing interpreters who work with hearing sign language interpreters to meet the specific communication needs of deaf individuals; and speech-to-speech interpreters have special skill and training to interpret for individuals who have speech disabilities.
The list of interpreters in the definition of qualified interpreter is illustrative, and the Department does not believe it necessary or appropriate to attempt to provide an exhaustive list of qualified interpreters. Accordingly, the Department has decided not to expand the proposed list. However, if a deaf and blind individual needs interpreter services, an interpreter who is qualified to handle the needs of that individual may be required. The guiding criterion is that the public entity must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with the individual. Commenters also suggested various definitions for the term “cued-speech interpreters,” and different descriptions of the tasks they performed. After reviewing the various comments, the Department has determined that it is more accurate and appropriate to refer to such individuals as “cued-language transliterators.” Likewise, the Department has changed the term “oral interpreters” to “oral transliterators.” These two changes have been made to distinguish between sign language interpreters, who translate one language into another language (e.g., ASL to English and English to ASL), from transliterators who interpret within the same language between deaf and hearing individuals. A cued-language transliterator is an interpreter who has special skill and training in the use of the Cued Speech system of handshapes and placements, along with non-manual information, such as facial expression and body language, to show auditory information visually, including speech and environmental sounds. An oral transliterator is an interpreter who has special skill and training to mouth a speaker's words silently for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. While the Department included definitions for “cued-speech interpreter” and “oral interpreter” in the regulatory text proposed in the NPRM, the Department has decided that it is unnecessary to include such definitions in the text of the final rule.
Many commenters questioned the proposed deletion of the requirement that a qualified interpreter be able to interpret both receptively and expressively, noting the importance of both these skills. Commenters stated that this phrase was carefully crafted in the original regulation to make certain that interpreters both (1) are capable of understanding what a person with a disability is saying and (2) have the skills needed to convey information back to that individual. These are two very different skill sets and both are equally important to achieve effective communication. For example, in a medical setting, a sign language interpreter must have the necessary skills to understand the grammar and syntax used by an ASL user (receptive skills) and the ability to interpret complicated medical information - presented by medical staff in English - back to that individual in ASL (expressive skills). The Department agrees and has put the phrase “both receptively and expressively” back in the definition.
Several advocacy groups suggested that the Department make clear in the definition of qualified interpreter that the interpreter may appear either on-site or remotely using a video remote interpreting (VRI) service. Given that the Department has included in this rule both a definition of VRI services and standards that such services must satisfy, such an addition to the definition of qualified interpreter is appropriate.
After consideration of all relevant information submitted during the public comment period, the Department has modified the definition from that initially proposed in the NPRM. The final definition now states that “[q]ualified interpreter means an interpreter who, via a video remote interpreting (VRI) service or an on-site appearance, is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Qualified interpreters include, for example, sign language interpreters, oral transliterators, and cued-language transliterators.”
The 1991 title II regulation identifies a qualified reader as an auxiliary aid, but did not define the term. See 28 CFR 35.104(2). Based upon the Department's investigation of complaints alleging that some entities have provided ineffective readers, the Department proposed in the NPRM to define “qualified reader” similarly to “qualified interpreter” to ensure that entities select qualified individuals to read an examination or other written information in an effective, accurate, and impartial manner. This proposal was suggested in order to make clear to public entities that a failure to provide a qualified reader to a person with a disability may constitute a violation of the requirement to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services.
The Department received comments supporting inclusion in the regulation of a definition of a “qualified reader.” Some commenters suggested the Department add to the definition a requirement prohibiting the use of a reader whose accent, diction, or pronunciation makes full comprehension of material being read difficult. Another commenter requested that the Department include a requirement that the reader “will follow the directions of the person for whom he or she is reading.” Commenters also requested that the Department define “accurately” and “effectively” as used in this definition.
While the Department believes that its proposed regulatory definition adequately addresses these concerns, the Department emphasizes that a reader, in order to be “qualified,” must be skilled in reading the language and subject matter and must be able to be easily understood by the individual with the disability. For example, if a reader is reading aloud the questions for a college microbiology examination, that reader, in order to be qualified, must know the proper pronunciation of scientific terminology used in the text, and must be sufficiently articulate to be easily understood by the individual with a disability for whom he or she is reading. In addition, the terms “effectively” and “accurately” have been successfully used and understood in the Department's existing definition of “qualified interpreter” since 1991 without specific regulatory definitions. Instead, the Department has relied upon the common use and understanding of those terms from standard English dictionaries. Thus, the definition of “qualified reader” has not been changed from that contained in the NPRM. The final rule defines “qualified reader” to mean “a person who is able to read effectively, accurately, and impartially using any necessary specialized vocabulary.”
Although there is no specific language in the 1991 title II regulation concerning service animals, title II entities have the same legal obligations as title III entities to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to allow service animals when necessary in order to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity. See 28 CFR 35.130(b)(7). The 1991 title III regulation, 28 CFR 36.104, defines a “service animal” as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.” Section 36.302(c)(1) of the 1991 title III regulation requires that “[g]enerally, a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” Section 36.302(c)(2) of the 1991 title III regulation states that “a public accommodation [is not required] to supervise or care for a service animal.”
The Department has issued guidance and provided technical assistance and publications concerning service animals since the 1991 regulations became effective. In the NPRM, the Department proposed to modify the definition of service animal, added the definition to title II, and asked for public input on several issues related to the service animal provisions of the title II regulation: whether the Department should clarify the phrase “providing minimal protection” in the definition or remove it; whether there are any circumstances where a service animal “providing minimal protection” would be appropriate or expected; whether certain species should be eliminated from the definition of “service animal,” and, if so, which types of animals should be excluded; whether “common domestic animal” should be part of the definition; and whether a size or weight limitation should be imposed for common domestic animals even if the animal satisfies the “common domestic animal” part of the NPRM definition.
The Department received extensive comments on these issues, as well as requests to clarify the obligations of State and local government entities to accommodate individuals with disabilities who use service animals, and has modified the final rule in response. In the interests of avoiding unnecessary repetition, the Department has elected to discuss the issues raised in the NPRM questions about service animals and the corresponding public comments in the following discussion of the definition of “service animal.”
The Department's final rule defines “service animal” as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”
This definition has been designed to clarify a key provision of the ADA. Many covered entities indicated that they are confused regarding their obligations under the ADA with regard to individuals with disabilities who use service animals. Individuals with disabilities who use trained guide or service dogs are concerned that if untrained or unusual animals are termed “service animals,” their own right to use guide or service dogs may become unnecessarily restricted or questioned. Some individuals who are not individuals with disabilities have claimed, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly), that their animals are service animals covered by the ADA, in order to gain access to courthouses, city or county administrative offices, and other title II facilities. The increasing use of wild, exotic, or unusual species, many of which are untrained, as service animals has also added to the confusion.
Finally, individuals with disabilities who have the legal right under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) to use certain animals in their homes as a reasonable accommodation to their disabilities have assumed that their animals also qualify under the ADA. This is not necessarily the case, as discussed below.
The Department recognizes the diverse needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities protected under the ADA, and does not wish to unnecessarily impede individual choice. Service animals play an integral role in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and, with the clarification provided by the final rule, individuals with disabilities will continue to be able to use their service animals as they go about their daily activities and civic interactions. The clarification will also help to ensure that the fraudulent or mistaken use of other animals not qualified as service animals under the ADA will be deterred. A more detailed analysis of the elements of the definition and the comments responsive to the service animal provisions of the NPRM follows.
Providing minimal protection. As previously noted, the 1991 title II regulation does not contain specific language concerning service animals. The 1991 title III regulation included language stating that “minimal protection” was a task that could be performed by an individually trained service animal for the benefit of an individual with a disability. In the Department's “ADA Business Brief on Service Animals” (2002), the Department interpreted the “minimal protection” language within the context of a seizure (i.e., alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure). The Department received many comments in response to the question of whether the “minimal protection” language should be clarified. Many commenters urged the removal of the “minimal protection” language from the service animal definition for two reasons: (1) The phrase can be interpreted to allow any dog that is trained to be aggressive to qualify as a service animal simply by pairing the animal with a person with a disability; and (2) the phrase can be interpreted to allow any untrained pet dog to qualify as a service animal, since many consider the mere presence of a dog to be a crime deterrent, and thus sufficient to meet the minimal protection standard. These commenters argued, and the Department agrees, that these interpretations were not contemplated under the original title III regulation, and, for the purposes of the final title II regulations, the meaning of “minimal protection” must be made clear.
While many commenters stated that they believe that the “minimal protection” language should be eliminated, other commenters recommended that the language be clarified, but retained. Commenters favoring clarification of the term suggested that the Department explicitly exclude the function of attack or exclude those animals that are trained solely to be aggressive or protective. Other commenters identified non-violent behavioral tasks that could be construed as minimally protective, such as interrupting self-mutilation, providing safety checks and room searches, reminding the individual to take medications, and protecting the individual from injury resulting from seizures or unconsciousness.
Several commenters noted that the existing direct threat defense, which allows the exclusion of a service animal if the animal exhibits unwarranted or unprovoked violent behavior or poses a direct threat, prevents the use of “attack dogs” as service animals. One commenter noted that the use of a service animal trained to provide “minimal protection” may impede access to care in an emergency, for example, where the first responder, usually a title II entity, is unable or reluctant to approach a person with a disability because the individual's service animal is in a protective posture suggestive of aggression.
Many organizations and individuals stated that in the general dog training community, “protection” is code for attack or aggression training and should be removed from the definition. Commenters stated that there appears to be a broadly held misconception that aggression-trained animals are appropriate service animals for persons with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While many individuals with PTSD may benefit by using a service animal, the work or tasks performed appropriately by such an animal would not involve unprovoked aggression but could include actively cuing the individual by nudging or pawing the individual to alert to the onset of an episode and removing the individual from the anxiety-provoking environment.
The Department recognizes that despite its best efforts to provide clarification, the “minimal protection” language appears to have been misinterpreted. While the Department maintains that protection from danger is one of the key functions that service animals perform for the benefit of persons with disabilities, the Department recognizes that an animal individually trained to provide aggressive protection, such as an attack dog, is not appropriately considered a service animal. Therefore, the Department has decided to modify the “minimal protection” language to read “non-violent protection,” thereby excluding so-called “attack dogs” or dogs with traditional “protection training” as service animals. The Department believes that this modification to the service animal definition will eliminate confusion, without restricting unnecessarily the type of work or tasks that service animals may perform. The Department's modification also clarifies that the crime-deterrent effect of a dog's presence, by itself, does not qualify as work or tasks for purposes of the service animal definition.
Alerting to intruders. The phrase “alerting to intruders” is related to the issues of minimal protection and the work or tasks an animal may perform to meet the definition of a service animal. In the original 1991 regulatory text, this phrase was intended to identify service animals that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of others. This language has been misinterpreted by some to apply to dogs that are trained specifically to provide aggressive protection, resulting in the assertion that such training qualifies a dog as a service animal under the ADA. The Department reiterates that title II entities are not required to admit any animal whose use poses a direct threat under § 35.139. In addition, the Department has decided to remove the word “intruders” from the service animal definition and replace it with the phrase “the presence of people or sounds.” The Department believes this clarifies that so-called “attack training” or other aggressive response types of training that cause a dog to provide an aggressive response do not qualify a dog as a service animal under the ADA.
Conversely, if an individual uses a breed of dog that is perceived to be aggressive because of breed reputation, stereotype, or the history or experience the observer may have with other dogs, but the dog is under the control of the individual with a disability and does not exhibit aggressive behavior, the title II entity cannot exclude the individual or the animal from a State or local government program, service, or facility. The animal can only be removed if it engages in the behaviors mentioned in § 35.136(b) (as revised in the final rule) or if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration to the nature of the service, program, or activity of the title II entity.
Doing “work” or “performing tasks.” The NPRM proposed that the Department maintain the requirement, first articulated in the 1991 title III regulation, that in order to qualify as a service animal, the animal must “perform tasks” or “do work” for the individual with a disability. The phrases “perform tasks” and “do work” describe what an animal must do for the benefit of an individual with a disability in order to qualify as a service animal.
The Department received a number of comments in response to the NPRM proposal urging the removal of the term “do work” from the definition of a service animal. These commenters argued that the Department should emphasize the performance of tasks instead. The Department disagrees. Although the common definition of work includes the performance of tasks, the definition of work is somewhat broader, encompassing activities that do not appear to involve physical action.
One service dog user stated that in some cases, “critical forms of assistance can't be construed as physical tasks,” noting that the manifestations of “brain-based disabilities,” such as psychiatric disorders and autism, are as varied as their physical counterparts. The Department agrees with this statement but cautions that unless the animal is individually trained to do something that qualifies as work or a task, the animal is a pet or support animal and does not qualify for coverage as a service animal. A pet or support animal may be able to discern that the individual is in distress, but it is what the animal is trained to do in response to this awareness that distinguishes a service animal from an observant pet or support animal.
The NPRM contained an example of “doing work” that stated “a psychiatric service dog can help some individuals with dissociative identity disorder to remain grounded in time or place.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). Several commenters objected to the use of this example, arguing that grounding was not a “task” and therefore, the example inherently contradicted the basic premise that a service animal must perform a task in order to mitigate a disability. Other commenters stated that “grounding” should not be included as an example of “work” because it could lead to some individuals claiming that they should be able to use emotional support animals in public because the dog makes them feel calm or safe. By contrast, one commenter with experience in training service animals explained that grounding is a trained task based upon very specific behavioral indicators that can be observed and measured. These tasks are based upon input from mental health practitioners, dog trainers, and individuals with a history of working with psychiatric service dogs.
It is the Department's view that an animal that is trained to “ground” a person with a psychiatric disorder does work or performs a task that would qualify it as a service animal as compared to an untrained emotional support animal whose presence affects a person's disability. It is the fact that the animal is trained to respond to the individual's needs that distinguishes an animal as a service animal. The process must have two steps: Recognition and response. For example, if a service animal senses that a person is about to have a psychiatric episode and it is trained to respond for example, by nudging, barking, or removing the individual to a safe location until the episode subsides, then the animal has indeed performed a task or done work on behalf of the individual with the disability, as opposed to merely sensing an event.
One commenter suggested defining the term “task,” presumably to improve the understanding of the types of services performed by an animal that would be sufficient to qualify the animal for coverage. The Department believes that the common definition of the word “task” is sufficiently clear and that it is not necessary to add to the definitions section. However, the Department has added examples of other kinds of work or tasks to help illustrate and provide clarity to the definition. After careful evaluation of this issue, the Department has concluded that the phrases “do work” and “perform tasks” have been effective during the past two decades to illustrate the varied services provided by service animals for the benefit of individuals with all types of disabilities. Thus, the Department declines to depart from its longstanding approach at this time.
Species limitations. When the Department originally issued its title III regulation in the early 1990s, the Department did not define the parameters of acceptable animal species. At that time, few anticipated the variety of animals that would be promoted as service animals in the years to come, which ranged from pigs and miniature horses to snakes, iguanas, and parrots. The Department has followed this particular issue closely, keeping current with the many unusual species of animals represented to be service animals. Thus, the Department has decided to refine further this aspect of the service animal definition in the final rule.
The Department received many comments from individuals and organizations recommending species limitations. Several of these commenters asserted that limiting the number of allowable species would help stop erosion of the public's trust, which has resulted in reduced access for many individuals with disabilities who use trained service animals that adhere to high behavioral standards. Several commenters suggested that other species would be acceptable if those animals could meet nationally recognized behavioral standards for trained service dogs. Other commenters asserted that certain species of animals (e.g., reptiles) cannot be trained to do work or perform tasks, so these animals would not be covered.
In the NPRM, the Department used the term “common domestic animal” in the service animal definition and excluded reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including horses, miniature horses, ponies, pigs, and goats), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents from the service animal definition. 73 FR 34466, 34478 (June 17, 2008). However, the term “common domestic animal” is difficult to define with precision due to the increase in the number of domesticated species. Also, several State and local laws define a “domestic” animal as an animal that is not wild. The Department agrees with commenters' views that limiting the number and types of species recognized as service animals will provide greater predictability for State and local government entities as well as added assurance of access for individuals with disabilities who use dogs as service animals. As a consequence, the Department has decided to limit this rule's coverage of service animals to dogs, which are the most common service animals used by individuals with disabilities.
Wild animals, monkeys, and other nonhuman primates. Numerous business entities endorsed a narrow definition of acceptable service animal species, and asserted that there are certain animals (e.g., reptiles) that cannot be trained to do work or perform tasks. Other commenters suggested that the Department should identify excluded animals, such as birds and llamas, in the final rule. Although one commenter noted that wild animals bred in captivity should be permitted to be service animals, the Department has decided to make clear that all wild animals, whether born or bred in captivity or in the wild, are eliminated from coverage as service animals. The Department believes that this approach reduces risks to health or safety attendant with wild animals. Some animals, such as certain nonhuman primates including certain monkeys, pose a direct threat; their behavior can be unpredictably aggressive and violent without notice or provocation. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued a position statement advising against the use of monkeys as service animals, stating that “[t]he AVMA does not support the use of nonhuman primates as assistance animals because of animal welfare concerns, and the potential for serious injury and zoonotic [animal to human disease transmission] risks.” AVMA Position Statement, Nonhuman Primates as Assistance Animals, (2005) available at http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/nonhuman_primates.asp (last visited June 24, 2010).
An organization that trains capuchin monkeys to provide in-home services to individuals with paraplegia and quadriplegia was in substantial agreement with the AVMA's views but requested a limited recognition in the service animal definition for the capuchin monkeys it trains to provide assistance for persons with disabilities. The organization commented that its trained capuchin monkeys undergo scrupulous veterinary examinations to ensure that the animals pose no health risks, and are used by individuals with disabilities exclusively in their homes. The organization acknowledged that the capuchin monkeys it trains are not necessarily suitable for use in State or local government facilities. The organization noted that several State and local government entities have local zoning, licensing, health, and safety laws that prohibit nonhuman primates, and that these prohibitions would prevent individuals with disabilities from using these animals even in their homes.
The organization argued that including capuchin monkeys under the service animal umbrella would make it easier for individuals with disabilities to obtain reasonable modifications of State and local licensing, health, and safety laws that would permit the use of these monkeys. The organization argued that this limited modification to the service animal definition was warranted in view of the services these monkeys perform, which enable many individuals with paraplegia and quadriplegia to live and function with increased independence.
The Department has carefully considered the potential risks associated with the use of nonhuman primates as service animals in State and local government facilities, as well as the information provided to the Department about the significant benefits that trained capuchin monkeys provide to certain individuals with disabilities in residential settings. The Department has determined, however, that nonhuman primates, including capuchin monkeys, will not be recognized as service animals for purposes of this rule because of their potential for disease transmission and unpredictable aggressive behavior. The Department believes that these characteristics make nonhuman primates unsuitable for use as service animals in the context of the wide variety of public settings subject to this rule. As the organization advocating the inclusion of capuchin monkeys acknowledges, capuchin monkeys are not suitable for use in public facilities.
The Department emphasizes that it has decided only that capuchin monkeys will not be included in the definition of service animals for purposes of its regulation implementing the ADA. This decision does not have any effect on the extent to which public entities are required to allow the use of such monkeys under other Federal statutes. For example, under the FHAct, an individual with a disability may have the right to have an animal other than a dog in his or her home if the animal qualifies as a “reasonable accommodation” that is necessary to afford the individual equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, assuming that the use of the animal does not pose a direct threat. In some cases, the right of an individual to have an animal under the FHAct may conflict with State or local laws that prohibit all individuals, with or without disabilities, from owning a particular species. However, in this circumstance, an individual who wishes to request a reasonable modification of the State or local law must do so under the FHAct, not the ADA.
Having considered all of the comments about which species should qualify as service animals under the ADA, the Department has determined the most reasonable approach is to limit acceptable species to dogs.
Size or weight limitations. The vast majority of commenters did not support a size or weight limitation. Commenters were typically opposed to a size or weight limit because many tasks performed by service animals require large, strong dogs. For instance, service animals may perform tasks such as providing balance and support or pulling a wheelchair. Small animals may not be suitable for large adults. The weight of the service animal user is often correlated with the size and weight of the service animal. Others were concerned that adding a size and weight limit would further complicate the difficult process of finding an appropriate service animal. One commenter noted that there is no need for a limit because “if, as a practical matter, the size or weight of an individual's service animal creates a direct threat or fundamental alteration to a particular public entity or accommodation, there are provisions that allow for the animal's exclusion or removal.” Some common concerns among commenters in support of a size and weight limit were that a larger animal may be less able to fit in various areas with its handler, such as toilet rooms and public seating areas, and that larger animals are more difficult to control.
Balancing concerns expressed in favor of and against size and weight limitations, the Department has determined that such limitations would not be appropriate. Many individuals of larger stature require larger dogs. The Department believes it would be inappropriate to deprive these individuals of the option of using a service dog of the size required to provide the physical support and stability these individuals may need to function independently. Since large dogs have always served as service animals, continuing their use should not constitute fundamental alterations or impose undue burdens on title II entities.
Breed limitations. A few commenters suggested that certain breeds of dogs should not be allowed to be used as service animals. Some suggested that the Department should defer to local laws restricting the breeds of dogs that individuals who reside in a community may own. Other commenters opposed breed restrictions, stating that the breed of a dog does not determine its propensity for aggression and that aggressive and non-aggressive dogs exist in all breeds.
The Department does not believe that it is either appropriate or consistent with the ADA to defer to local laws that prohibit certain breeds of dogs based on local concerns that these breeds may have a history of unprovoked aggression or attacks. Such deference would have the effect of limiting the rights of persons with disabilities under the ADA who use certain service animals based on where they live rather than on whether the use of a particular animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions. Others have restrictions that, while well-meaning, have the unintended effect of screening out the very breeds of dogs that have successfully served as service animals for decades without a history of the type of unprovoked aggression or attacks that would pose a direct threat, e.g., German Shepherds. Other jurisdictions prohibit animals over a certain weight, thereby restricting breeds without invoking an express breed ban. In addition, deference to breed restrictions contained in local laws would have the unacceptable consequence of restricting travel by an individual with a disability who uses a breed that is acceptable and poses no safety hazards in the individual's home jurisdiction but is nonetheless banned by other jurisdictions. State and local government entities have the ability to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal's actual behavior or history - not based on fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave. This ability to exclude an animal whose behavior or history evidences a direct threat is sufficient to protect health and safety.
Recognition of psychiatric service animals but not “emotional support animals.” The definition of “service animal” in the NPRM stated the Department's longstanding position that emotional support animals are not included in the definition of “service animal.” The proposed text in § 35.104 provided that “[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
Many advocacy organizations expressed concern and disagreed with the exclusion of comfort and emotional support animals. Others have been more specific, stating that individuals with disabilities may need their emotional support animals in order to have equal access. Some commenters noted that individuals with disabilities use animals that have not been trained to perform tasks directly related to their disability. These animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. These are emotional support or comfort animals.
Commenters asserted that excluding categories such as “comfort” and “emotional support” animals recognized by laws such as the FHAct or the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is confusing and burdensome. Other commenters noted that emotional support and comfort animals perform an important function, asserting that animal companionship helps individuals who experience depression resulting from multiple sclerosis.
Some commenters explained the benefits emotional support animals provide, including emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, and the promotion of emotional well-being. They contended that without the presence of an emotional support animal in their lives they would be disadvantaged and unable to participate in society. These commenters were concerned that excluding this category of animals will lead to discrimination against, and the excessive questioning of, individuals with non-visible or non-apparent disabilities. Other commenters expressing opposition to the exclusion of individually trained “comfort” or “emotional support” animals asserted that the ability to soothe or de-escalate and control emotion is “work” that benefits the individual with the disability.
Many commenters requested that the Department carve out an exception that permits current or former members of the military to use emotional support animals. They asserted that a significant number of service members returning from active combat duty have adjustment difficulties due to combat, sexual assault, or other traumatic experiences while on active duty. Commenters noted that some current or former members of the military service have been prescribed animals for conditions such as PTSD. One commenter stated that service women who were sexually assaulted while in the military use emotional support animals to help them feel safe enough to step outside their homes. The Department recognizes that many current and former members of the military have disabilities as a result of service-related injuries that may require emotional support and that such individuals can benefit from the use of an emotional support animal and could use such animal in their home under the FHAct. However, having carefully weighed the issues, the Department believes that its final rule appropriately addresses the balance of issues and concerns of both the individual with a disability and the public entity. The Department also notes that nothing in this part prohibits a public entity from allowing current or former military members or anyone else with disabilities to utilize emotional support animals if it wants to do so.
Commenters asserted the view that if an animal's “mere presence” legitimately provides such benefits to an individual with a disability and if those benefits are necessary to provide equal opportunity given the facts of the particular disability, then such an animal should qualify as a “service animal.” Commenters noted that the focus should be on the nature of a person's disability, the difficulties the disability may impose and whether the requested accommodation would legitimately address those difficulties, not on evaluating the animal involved. The Department understands this approach has benefitted many individuals under the FHAct and analogous State law provisions, where the presence of animals poses fewer health and safety issues, and where emotional support animals provide assistance that is unique to residential settings. The Department believes, however, that the presence of such animals is not required in the context of title II entities such as courthouses, State and local government administrative buildings, and similar title II facilities.
Under the Department's previous regulatory framework, some individuals and entities assumed that the requirement that service animals must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks excluded all individuals with mental disabilities from having service animals. Others assumed that any person with a psychiatric condition whose pet provided comfort to them was covered by the 1991 title II regulation. The Department reiterates that psychiatric service animals that are trained to do work or perform a task for individuals whose disability is covered by the ADA are protected by the Department's present regulatory approach. Psychiatric service animals can be trained to perform a variety of tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and ameliorate their effects. Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding individuals to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches for individuals with PTSD, interrupting self-mutilation, and removing disoriented individuals from dangerous situations.
The difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service animal is the work or tasks that the animal performs. Traditionally, service dogs worked as guides for individuals who were blind or had low vision. Since the original regulation was promulgated, service animals have been trained to assist individuals with many different types of disabilities.
In the final rule, the Department has retained its position on the exclusion of emotional support animals from the definition of “service animal.” The definition states that “[t]he provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship, * * * do[es] not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” The Department notes, however, that the exclusion of emotional support animals from coverage in the final rule does not mean that individuals with psychiatric or mental disabilities cannot use service animals that meet the regulatory definition. The final rule defines service animal as follows: “[s]ervice animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” This language simply clarifies the Department's longstanding position.
The Department's position is based on the fact that the title II and title III regulations govern a wider range of public settings than the housing and transportation settings for which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and DOT regulations allow emotional support animals or comfort animals. The Department recognizes that there are situations not governed by the title II and title III regulations, particularly in the context of residential settings and transportation, where there may be a legal obligation to permit the use of animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, but whose presence nonetheless provides necessary emotional support to persons with disabilities. Accordingly, other Federal agency regulations, case law, and possibly State or local laws governing those situations may provide appropriately for increased access for animals other than service animals as defined under the ADA. Public officials, housing providers, and others who make decisions relating to animals in residential and transportation settings should consult the Federal, State, and local laws that apply in those areas (e.g., the FHAct regulations of HUD and the ACAA) and not rely on the ADA as a basis for reducing those obligations.
Retain term “service animal.” Some commenters asserted that the term “assistance animal” is a term of art and should replace the term “service animal.” However, the majority of commenters preferred the term “service animal” because it is more specific. The Department has decided to retain the term “service animal” in the final rule. While some agencies, like HUD, use the term “assistance animal,” “assistive animal,” or “support animal,” these terms are used to denote a broader category of animals than is covered by the ADA. The Department has decided that changing the term used in the final rule would create confusion, particularly in view of the broader parameters for coverage under the FHAct, cf., preamble to HUD's Final Rule for Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities, 73 FR 63834-38 (Oct. 27, 2008); HUD Handbook No. 4350.3 Rev-1, Chapter 2, Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs (June 2007), available at http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/handbooks/hsgh/4350.3 (last visited June 24, 2010). Moreover, as discussed above, the Department's definition of “service animal” in the title II final rule does not affect the rights of individuals with disabilities who use assistance animals in their homes under the FHAct or who use “emotional support animals” that are covered under the ACAA and its implementing regulations. See 14 CFR 382.7 et seq.; see also Department of Transportation, Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation, 68 FR 24874, 24877 (May 9, 2003) (discussing accommodation of service animals and emotional support animals on aircraft).
In the NPRM, the Department proposed adding Video Interpreting Services (VIS) to the list of auxiliary aids available to provide effective communication described in § 35.104. In the preamble to the NPRM, VIS was defined as “a technology composed of a video phone, video monitors, cameras, a high-speed Internet connection, and an interpreter. The video phone provides video transmission to a video monitor that permits the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing to view and sign to a video interpreter (i.e., a live interpreter in another location), who can see and sign to the individual through a camera located on or near the monitor, while others can communicate by speaking. The video monitor can display a split screen of two live images, with the interpreter in one image and the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing in the other image.” 73 FR 34446, 34479 (June 17, 2008). Comments from advocacy organizations and individuals unanimously requested that the Department use the term “video remote interpreting (VRI),” instead of VIS, for consistency with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. See FCC Public Notice, DA-0502417 (Sept. 7, 2005), and with common usage by consumers. The Department has made that change throughout the regulation to avoid confusion and to make the regulation more consistent with existing regulations.
Many commenters also requested that the Department distinguish between VRI and “video relay service (VRS).” Both VRI and VRS use a remote interpreter who is able to see and communicate with a deaf person and a hearing person, and all three individuals may be connected by a video link. VRI is a fee-based interpreting service conveyed via videoconferencing where at least one person, typically the interpreter, is at a separate location. VRI can be provided as an on-demand service or by appointment. VRI normally involves a contract in advance for the interpreter who is usually paid by the covered entity.
VRS is a telephone service that enables persons with disabilities to use the telephone to communicate using video connections and is a more advanced form of relay service than the traditional voice to text telephones (TTY) relay systems that were recognized in the 1991 title II regulation. More specifically, VRS is a video relay service using interpreters connected to callers by video hook-up and is designed to provide telephone services to persons who are deaf and use American Sign Language that are functionally equivalent to those provided to users who are hearing. VRS is funded through the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Services Fund and overseen by the FCC. See 47 CFR 64.601(a)(26). There are no fees for callers to use the VRS interpreters and the video connection, although there may be relatively inexpensive initial costs to the title II entities to purchase the videophone or camera for on-line video connection, or other equipment to connect to the VRS service. The FCC has made clear that VRS functions as a telephone service and is not intended to be used for interpreting services where both parties are in the same room; the latter is reserved for VRI. The Department agrees that VRS cannot be used as a substitute for in-person interpreters or for VRI in situations that would not, absent one party's disability, entail use of the telephone.
Many commenters strongly recommended limiting the use of VRI to circumstances where it will provide effective communication. Commenters from advocacy groups and persons with disabilities expressed concern that VRI may not always be appropriate to provide effective communication, especially in hospitals and emergency rooms. Examples were provided of patients who are unable to see the video monitor because they are semi-conscious or unable to focus on the video screen; other examples were given of cases where the video monitor is out of the sightline of the patient or the image is out of focus; still other examples were given of patients who could not see the image because the signal was interrupted, causing unnatural pauses in the communication, or the image was grainy or otherwise unclear. Many commenters requested more explicit guidelines on the use of VRI, and some recommended requirements for equipment maintenance, high-speed, wide-bandwidth video links using dedicated lines or wireless systems, and training of staff using VRI, especially in hospital and health care situations. Several major organizations requested a requirement to include the interpreter's face, head, arms, hands, and eyes in all transmissions. Finally, one State agency asked for additional guidance, outreach, and mandated advertising about the availability of VRI in title II situations so that local government entities would budget for and facilitate the use of VRI in libraries, schools, and other places.
After consideration of the comments and the Department's own research and experience, the Department has determined that VRI can be an effective method of providing interpreting services in certain circumstances, but not in others. For example, VRI should be effective in many situations involving routine medical care, as well as in the emergency room where urgent care is important, but no in-person interpreter is available; however, VRI may not be effective in situations involving surgery or other medical procedures where the patient is limited in his or her ability to see the video screen. Similarly, VRI may not be effective in situations where there are multiple people in a room and the information exchanged is highly complex and fast-paced. The Department recognizes that in these and other situations, such as where communication is needed for persons who are deaf-blind, it may be necessary to summon an in-person interpreter to assist certain individuals. To ensure that VRI is effective in situations where it is appropriate, the Department has established performance standards in § 35.160(d).
Section 36.301(b) of the 1991 title III regulation provides that a public accommodation “may impose legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation. Safety requirements must be based on actual risks, and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.” 28 CFR 36.301(b). Although the 1991 title II regulation did not include similar language, the Department's 1993 ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual at II-3.5200 makes clear the Department's view that public entities also have the right to impose legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of services, programs, or activities. To ensure consistency between the title II and title III regulations, the Department has added a new § 35.130(h) in the final rule incorporating this longstanding position relating to imposition of legitimate safety requirements.
Section 35.133 in the 1991 title II regulation provides that a public entity must maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by qualified individuals with disabilities. See 28 CFR 35.133(a). In the NPRM, the Department clarified the application of this provision and proposed one change to the section to address the discrete situation in which the scoping requirements provided in the 2010 Standards reduce the number of required elements below the requirements of the 1991 Standards. In that discrete event, a public entity may reduce such accessible features in accordance with the requirements in the 2010 Standards.
The Department received only four comments on this proposed amendment. None of the commenters opposed the change. In the final rule, the Department has revised the section to make it clear that if the 2010 Standards reduce either the technical requirements or the number of required accessible elements below that required by the 1991 Standards, then the public entity may reduce the technical requirements or the number of accessible elements in a covered facility in accordance with the requirements of the 2010 Standards.
One commenter urged the Department to amend § 35.133(b) to expand the language of the section to restocking of shelves as a permissible activity for isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access. It is the Department's position that a temporary interruption that blocks an accessible route, such as restocking of shelves, is already permitted by § 35.133(b), which clarifies that “isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs” are permitted. Therefore, the Department will not make any additional changes in the final rule to the language of § 35.133(b) other than those discussed in the preceding paragraph.
The 1991 title II regulation states that “[a] public entity shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program or activity.” 28 CFR 130(b)(7). Unlike the title III regulation, the 1991 title II regulation did not contain a specific provision addressing service animals.
In the NPRM, the Department stated the intention of providing the broadest feasible access to individuals with disabilities and their service animals, unless a public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications to policies excluding animals would fundamentally alter the nature of the public entity's service, program, or activity. The Department proposed creating a new § 35.136 addressing service animals that was intended to retain the scope of the 1991 title III regulation at § 36.302(c), while clarifying the Department's longstanding policies and interpretations, as outlined in published technical assistance, Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business (1996), available at http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.ftm and ADA Guide for Small Businesses (1999), available at http://www.ada.gov/smbustxt.htm, and to add that a public entity may exclude a service animal in certain circumstances where the service animal fails to meet certain behavioral standards. The Department received extensive comments in response to proposed § 35.136 from individuals, disability advocacy groups, organizations involved in training service animals, and public entities. Those comments and the Department's response are discussed below.
Exclusion of service animals. In the NPRM, the Department proposed incorporating the title III regulatory language of § 36.302(c) into new § 35.136(a), which states that “[g]enerally, a public entity shall modify its policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that the use of a service animal would fundamentally alter the public entity's service, program, or activity.” The final rule retains this language with some modifications.
In addition, in the NPRM, the Department proposed clarifying those circumstances where otherwise eligible service animals may be excluded by public entities from their programs or facilities. The Department proposed in § 35.136(b)(1) of the NPRM that a public entity may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from a title II service, program, or activity if: “[t]he animal is out of control and the animal's handler does not take effective action to control it.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
The Department has long held that a service animal must be under the control of the handler at all times. Commenters overwhelmingly were in favor of this language, but noted that there are occasions when service animals are provoked to disruptive or aggressive behavior by agitators or troublemakers, as in the case of a blind individual whose service dog is taunted or pinched. While all service animals are trained to ignore and overcome these types of incidents, misbehavior in response to provocation is not always unreasonable. In circumstances where a service animal misbehaves or responds reasonably to a provocation or injury, the public entity must give the handler a reasonable opportunity to gain control of the animal. Further, if the individual with a disability asserts that the animal was provoked or injured, or if the public entity otherwise has reason to suspect that provocation or injury has occurred, the public entity should seek to determine the facts and, if provocation or injury occurred, the public entity should take effective steps to prevent further provocation or injury, which may include asking the provocateur to leave the public entity. This language is unchanged in the final rule.
The NPRM also proposed language at § 35.136(b)(2) to permit a public entity to exclude a service animal if the animal is not housebroken (i.e., trained so that, absent illness or accident, the animal controls its waste elimination) or the animal's presence or behavior fundamentally alters the nature of the service the public entity provides (e.g., repeated barking during a live performance). Several commenters were supportive of this NPRM language, but cautioned against overreaction by the public entity in these instances. One commenter noted that animals get sick, too, and that accidents occasionally happen. In these circumstances, simple clean up typically addresses the incident. Commenters noted that the public entity must be careful when it excludes a service animal on the basis of “fundamental alteration,” asserting for example that a public entity should not exclude a service animal for barking in an environment where other types of noise, such as loud cheering or a child crying, is tolerated. The Department maintains that the appropriateness of an exclusion can be assessed by reviewing how a public entity addresses comparable situations that do not involve a service animal. The Department has retained in § 35.136(b) of the final rule the exception requiring animals to be housebroken. The Department has not retained the specific NPRM language stating that animals can be excluded if their presence or behavior fundamentally alters the nature of the service provided by the public entity, because the Department believes that this exception is covered by the general reasonable modification requirement contained in § 35.130(b)(7).
The NPRM also proposed at § 35.136(b)(3) that a service animal can be excluded where “[t]he animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable modifications.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). Commenters were universally supportive of this provision as it makes express the discretion of a public entity to exclude a service animal that poses a direct threat. Several commenters cautioned against the overuse of this provision and suggested that the Department provide an example of the rule's application. The Department has decided not to include regulatory language specifically stating that a service animal can be excluded if it poses a direct threat. The Department believes that the addition of new § 35.139, which incorporates the language of the title III provisions at § 36.302 relating to the general defense of direct threat, is sufficient to establish the availability of this defense to public entities.
Access to a public entity following the proper exclusion of a service animal. The NPRM proposed that in the event a public entity properly excludes a service animal, the public entity must give the individual with a disability the opportunity to access the programs, services, and facilities of the public entity without the service animal. Most commenters welcomed this provision as a common sense approach. These commenters noted that they do not wish to preclude individuals with disabilities from the full and equal enjoyment of the State or local government's programs, services, or facilities, simply because of an isolated problem with a service animal. The Department has elected to retain this provision in § 35.136(a).
Other requirements. The NPRM also proposed that the regulation include the following requirements: that the work or tasks performed by the service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability; that a service animal must be individually trained to do work or perform a task, be housebroken, and be under the control of the handler; and that a service animal must have a harness, leash, or other tether. Most commenters addressed at least one of these issues in their responses. Most agreed that these provisions are important to clarify further the 1991 service animal regulation. The Department has moved the requirement that the work or tasks performed by the service animal must be related directly to the individual's disability to the definition of ‘service animal’ in § 35.104. In addition, the Department has modified the proposed language in § 35.136(d) relating to the handler's control of the animal with a harness, leash, or other tether to state that “[a] service animal shall have a harness, leash, or other tether, unless either the handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness, leash, or other tether, or the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the service animal's safe, effective performance of work or tasks, in which case the service animal must be otherwise under the handler's control (e.g., voice control, signals, or other effective means).” The Department has retained the requirement that the service animal must be individually trained (see Appendix A discussion of § 35.104, definition of “service animal”), as well as the requirement that the service animal be housebroken.
Responsibility for supervision and care of a service animal. The NPRM proposed language at § 35.136(e) stating that “[a] public entity is not responsible for caring for or supervising a service animal.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). Most commenters did not address this particular provision. The Department recognizes that there are occasions when a person with a disability is confined to bed in a hospital for a period of time. In such an instance, the individual may not be able to walk or feed the service animal. In such cases, if the individual has a family member, friend, or other person willing to take on these responsibilities in the place of the individual with disabilities, the individual's obligation to be responsible for the care and supervision of the service animal would be satisfied. The language of this section is retained, with minor modifications, in § 35.136(e) of the final rule.
Inquiries about service animals. The NPRM proposed language at § 35.136(f) setting forth parameters about how a public entity may determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. The proposed section stated that a public entity may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what task or work the animal has been trained to do but may not require proof of service animal certification or licensing. Such inquiries are limited to eliciting the information necessary to make a decision without requiring disclosure of confidential disability-related information that a State or local government entity does not need. This language is consistent with the policy guidance outlined in two Department publications, Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business (1996), available at http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm, and ADA Guide for Small Businesses, (1999), available at http://www.ada.gov/smbustxt.htm.
Although some commenters contended that the NPRM service animal provisions leave unaddressed the issue of how a public entity can distinguish between a psychiatric service animal, which is covered under the final rule, and a comfort animal, which is not, other commenters noted that the Department's published guidance has helped public entities to distinguish between service animals and pets on the basis of an individual's response to these questions. Accordingly, the Department has retained the NPRM language incorporating its guidance concerning the permissible questions into the final rule.
Some commenters suggested that a title II entity be allowed to require current documentation, no more than one year old, on letterhead from a mental health professional stating the following: (1) That the individual seeking to use the animal has a mental health-related disability; (2) that having the animal accompany the individual is necessary to the individual's mental health or treatment or to assist the person otherwise; and (3) that the person providing the assessment of the individual is a licensed mental health professional and the individual seeking to use the animal is under that individual's professional care. These commenters asserted that this will prevent abuse and ensure that individuals with legitimate needs for psychiatric service animals may use them. The Department believes that this proposal would treat persons with psychiatric, intellectual, and other mental disabilities less favorably than persons with physical or sensory disabilities. The proposal would also require persons with disabilities to obtain medical documentation and carry it with them any time they seek to engage in ordinary activities of daily life in their communities - something individuals without disabilities have not been required to do. Accordingly, the Department has concluded that a documentation requirement of this kind would be unnecessary, burdensome, and contrary to the spirit, intent, and mandates of the ADA.
Areas of a public entity open to the public, participants in services, programs, or activities, or invitees. The NPRM proposed at § 35.136(g) that an individual with a disability who uses a service animal has the same right of access to areas of a title II entity as members of the public, participants in services, programs, or activities, or invitees. Commenters indicated that allowing individuals with disabilities to go with their service animals into the same areas as members of the public, participants in programs, services, or activities, or invitees is accepted practice by most State and local government entities. The Department has included a slightly modified version of this provision in § 35.136(g) of the final rule.
The Department notes that under the final rule, a healthcare facility must also permit a person with a disability to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas of the facility in which that person would otherwise be allowed. There are some exceptions, however. The Department follows the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the use of service animals in a hospital setting. Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted to humans through bites, scratches, direct contact, arthropod vectors, or aerosols.
Consistent with CDC guidance, it is generally appropriate to exclude a service animal from limited-access areas that employ general infection-control measures, such as operating rooms and burn units. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities: Recommendations of CDC and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (June 2003), available at http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/pdf/guidelines/eic_in_HCF_03.pdf (last visited June 24, 2010). A service animal may accompany its handler to such areas as admissions and discharge offices, the emergency room, inpatient and outpatient rooms, examining and diagnostic rooms, clinics, rehabilitation therapy areas, the cafeteria and vending areas, the pharmacy, restrooms, and all other areas of the facility where healthcare personnel, patients, and visitors are permitted without added precaution.
Prohibition against surcharges for use of a service animal. In the NPRM, the Department proposed to incorporate the previously mentioned policy guidance, which prohibits the assessment of a surcharge for the use of a service animal, into proposed § 35.136(h). Several commenters agreed that this provision makes clear the obligation of a public entity to admit an individual with a service animal without surcharges, and that any additional costs imposed should be factored into the overall cost of administering a program, service, or activity, and passed on as a charge to all participants, rather than an individualized surcharge to the service animal user. Commenters also noted that service animal users cannot be required to comply with other requirements that are not generally applicable to other persons. If a public entity normally charges individuals for the damage they cause, an individual with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal. The Department has retained this language, with minor modifications, in the final rule at § 35.136(h).
Training requirement. Certain commenters recommended the adoption of formal training requirements for service animals. The Department has rejected this approach and will not impose any type of formal training requirements or certification process, but will continue to require that service animals be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. While some groups have urged the Department to modify this position, the Department has determined that such a modification would not serve the full array of individuals with disabilities who use service animals, since individuals with disabilities may be capable of training, and some have trained, their service animal to perform tasks or do work to accommodate their disability. A training and certification requirement would increase the expense of acquiring a service animal and might limit access to service animals for individuals with limited financial resources.
Some commenters proposed specific behavior or training standards for service animals, arguing that without such standards, the public has no way to differentiate between untrained pets and service animals. Many of the suggested behavior or training standards were lengthy and detailed. The Department believes that this rule addresses service animal behavior sufficiently by including provisions that address the obligations of the service animal user and the circumstances under which a service animal may be excluded, such as the requirements that an animal be housebroken and under the control of its handler.
Miniature horses. The Department has been persuaded by commenters and the available research to include a provision that would require public entities to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by a person with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability. The traditional service animal is a dog, which has a long history of guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, and over time dogs have been trained to perform an even wider variety of services for individuals with all types of disabilities. However, an organization that developed a program to train miniature horses, modeled on the program used for guide dogs, began training miniature horses in 1991.
Although commenters generally supported the species limitations proposed in the NPRM, some were opposed to the exclusion of miniature horses from the definition of a service animal. These commenters noted that these animals have been providing assistance to persons with disabilities for many years. Miniature horses were suggested by some commenters as viable alternatives to dogs for individuals with allergies, or for those whose religious beliefs preclude the use of dogs. Another consideration mentioned in favor of the use of miniature horses is the longer life span and strength of miniature horses in comparison to dogs. Specifically, miniature horses can provide service for more than 25 years while dogs can provide service for approximately 7 years, and, because of their strength, miniature horses can provide services that dogs cannot provide. Accordingly, use of miniature horses reduces the cost involved to retire, replace, and train replacement service animals.
The miniature horse is not one specific breed, but may be one of several breeds, with distinct characteristics that produce animals suited to service animal work. The animals generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the withers, or shoulders, and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds. These characteristics are similar to those of large breed dogs such as Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, and Mastiffs. Similar to dogs, miniature horses can be trained through behavioral reinforcement to be “housebroken.” Most miniature service horse handlers and organizations recommend that when the animals are not doing work or performing tasks, the miniature horses should be kept outside in a designated area, instead of indoors in a house.
According to information provided by an organization that trains service horses, these miniature horses are trained to provide a wide array of services to their handlers, primarily guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, pulling wheelchairs, providing stability and balance for individuals with disabilities that impair the ability to walk, and supplying leverage that enables a person with a mobility disability to get up after a fall. According to the commenter, miniature horses are particularly effective for large stature individuals. The animals can be trained to stand (and in some cases, lie down) at the handler's feet in venues where space is at a premium, such as assembly areas or inside some vehicles that provide public transportation. Some individuals with disabilities have traveled by train and have flown commercially with their miniature horses.
The miniature horse is not included in the definition of service animal, which is limited to dogs. However, the Department has added a specific provision at § 35.136(i) of the final rule covering miniature horses. Under this provision, a public entity must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability. The public entity may take into account a series of assessment factors in determining whether to allow a miniature horse into a specific facility. These include the type, size, and weight of the miniature horse; whether the handler has sufficient control of the miniature horse; whether the miniature horse is housebroken; and whether the miniature horse's presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation. In addition, paragraphs (c)-(h) of this section, which are applicable to dogs, also apply to miniature horses.
Ponies and full-size horses are not covered by § 35.136(i). Also, because miniature horses can vary in size and can be larger and less flexible than dogs, covered entities may exclude this type of service animal if the presence of the miniature horse, because of its larger size and lower level of flexibility, results in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the programs activities, or services provided.
Section 35.137 of the NPRM clarified the scope and circumstances under which covered entities are legally obligated to accommodate various “mobility devices.” Section 35.137 set forth specific requirements for the accommodation of “mobility devices,” including wheelchairs, manually-powered mobility aids, and other power-driven mobility devices.
In both the NPRM and the final rule, § 35.137(a) states the general rule that in any areas open to pedestrians, public entities shall permit individuals with mobility disabilities to use wheelchairs and manually-powered mobility aids, including walkers, crutches, canes, braces, or similar devices. Because mobility scooters satisfy the definition of “wheelchair” (i.e., “manually-operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor, or of both indoor and outdoor locomotion”), the reference to them in § 35.137(a) of the final rule has been omitted to avoid redundancy.
Some commenters expressed concern that permitting the use of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with mobility disabilities would make such devices akin to wheelchairs and would require them to make physical changes to their facilities to accommodate their use. This concern is misplaced. If a facility complies with the applicable design requirements in the 1991 Standards or the 2010 Standards, the public entity will not be required to exceed those standards to accommodate the use of wheelchairs or other power-driven mobility devices that exceed those requirements.
Legal standard for other power-driven mobility devices. The NPRM version of § 35.137(b) provided that “[a] public entity shall make reasonable modifications in its policies, practices, and procedures to permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with disabilities, unless the public entity can demonstrate that the use of the device is not reasonable or that its use will result in a fundamental alteration in the public entity's service, program, or activity.” 73 FR 34466, 34505 (June 17, 2008). In other words, public entities are by default required to permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices; the burden is on them to prove the existence of a valid exception.
Most commenters supported the notion of assessing whether the use of a particular device is reasonable in the context of a particular venue. Commenters, however, disagreed about the meaning of the word “reasonable” as it is used in § 35.137(b) of the NPRM. Advocacy and nonprofit groups almost universally objected to the use of a general reasonableness standard with regard to the assessment of whether a particular device should be allowed at a particular venue. They argued that the assessment should be based on whether reasonable modifications could be made to allow a particular device at a particular venue, and that the only factors that should be part of the calculus that results in the exclusion of a particular device are undue burden, direct threat, and fundamental alteration.
A few commenters opposed the proposed provision requiring public entities to assess whether reasonable modifications can be made to allow other power-driven mobility devices, preferring instead that the Department issue guidance materials so that public entities would not have to incur the cost of such analyses. Another commenter noted a “fox guarding the hen house”-type of concern with regard to public entities developing and enforcing their own modification policy.
In response to comments received, the Department has revised § 35.137(b) to provide greater clarity regarding the development of legitimate safety requirements regarding other power-driven mobility devices and has added a new § 35.130(h) (Safety) to the title II regulation which specifically permits public entities to impose legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of their services, programs, and activities. (See discussion below.) The Department has not retained the proposed NPRM language stating that an other power-driven mobility device can be excluded if a public entity can demonstrate that its use is unreasonable or will result in a fundamental alteration of the entity's service, program, or activity, because the Department believes that this exception is covered by the general reasonable modification requirement contained in § 35.130(b)(7).
Assessment factors. Section 35.137(c) of the NPRM required public entities to “establish policies to permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices” and articulated four factors upon which public entities must base decisions as to whether a modification is reasonable to allow the use of a class of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with disabilities in specific venues (e.g., parks, courthouses, office buildings, etc.). 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
The Department has relocated and modified the NPRM text that appeared in § 35.137(c) to new paragraph § 35.137(b)(2) to clarify what factors the public entity shall use in determining whether a particular other power-driven mobility device can be allowed in a specific facility as a reasonable modification. Section 35.137(b)(2) now states that “[i]n determining whether a particular other power-driven mobility device can be allowed in a specific facility as a reasonable modification under (b)(1), a public entity shall consider” certain enumerated factors. The assessment factors are designed to assist public entities in determining whether allowing the use of a particular other power-driven mobility device in a specific facility is reasonable. Thus, the focus of the analysis must be on the appropriateness of the use of the device at a specific facility, rather than whether it is necessary for an individual to use a particular device.
The NPRM proposed the following specific assessment factors: (1) The dimensions, weight, and operating speed of the mobility device in relation to a wheelchair; (2) the potential risk of harm to others by the operation of the mobility device; (3) the risk of harm to the environment or natural or cultural resources or conflict with Federal land management laws and regulations; and (4) the ability of the public entity to stow the mobility device when not in use, if requested by the user.
Factor 1 was designed to help public entities assess whether a particular device was appropriate, given its particular physical features, for a particular location. Virtually all commenters said the physical features of the device affected their view of whether a particular device was appropriate for a particular location. For example, while many commenters supported the use of another power-driven mobility device if the device were a Segway® PT, because of environmental and health concerns they did not offer the same level of support if the device were an off-highway vehicle, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), golf car, or other device with a fuel-powered or combustion engine. Most commenters noted that indicators such as speed, weight, and dimension really were an assessment of the appropriateness of a particular device in specific venues and suggested that factor 1 say this more specifically.
The term “in relation to a wheelchair” in the NPRM's factor 1 apparently created some concern that the same legal standards that apply to wheelchairs would be applied to other power-driven mobility devices. The Department has omitted the term “in relation to a wheelchair” from § 35.137(b)(2)(i) to clarify that if a facility that is in compliance with the applicable provisions of the 1991 Standards or the 2010 Standards grants permission for an other power-driven mobility device to go on-site, it is not required to exceed those standards to accommodate the use of other power-driven mobility devices.
In response to requests that NPRM factor 1 state more specifically that it requires an assessment of an other power-driven mobility device's appropriateness under particular circumstances or in particular venues, the Department has added several factors and more specific language. In addition, although the NPRM made reference to the operation of other power-driven mobility devices in “specific venues,” the Department's intent is captured more clearly by referencing “specific facility” in paragraph (b)(2). The Department also notes that while speed is included in factor 1, public entities should not rely solely on a device's top speed when assessing whether the device can be accommodated; instead, public entities should also consider the minimum speeds at which a device can be operated and whether the development of speed limit policies can be established to address concerns regarding the speed of the device. Finally, since the ability of the public entity to stow the mobility device when not in use is an aspect of its design and operational characteristics, the text proposed as factor 4 in the NPRM has been incorporated in paragraph (b)(2)(iii).
The NPRM's version of factor 2 provided that the “risk of potential harm to others by the operation of the mobility device” is one of the determinants in the assessment of whether other power-driven mobility devices should be excluded from a site. The Department intended this requirement to be consistent with the Department's longstanding interpretation, expressed in § II-3.5200 (Safety) of the 1993 Title II Technical Assistance Manual, which provides that public entities may “impose legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation.” (This language parallels the provision in the title III regulation at § 36.301(b).) However, several commenters indicated that they read this language, particularly the phrase “risk of potential harm,” to mean that the Department had adopted a concept of risk analysis different from that which is in the existing standards. The Department did not intend to create a new standard and has changed the language in paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2) to clarify the applicable standards, thereby avoiding the introduction of new assessments of risk beyond those necessary for the safe operation of the public entity. In addition, the Department has added a new section, 35.130(h), which incorporates the existing safety standard into the title II regulation.
While all applicable affirmative defenses are available to public entities in the establishment and execution of their policies regarding other power-driven mobility devices, the Department did not explicitly incorporate the direct threat defense into the assessment factors because § 35.130(h) provides public entities the appropriate framework with which to assess whether legitimate safety requirements that may preclude the use of certain other power-driven mobility devices are necessary for the safe operation of the public entities. In order to be legitimate, the safety requirement must be based on actual risks and not mere speculation regarding the device or how it will be operated. Of course, public entities may enforce legitimate safety rules established by the public entity for the operation of other power-driven mobility devices (e.g., reasonable speed restrictions). Finally, NPRM factor 3 concerning environmental resources and conflicts of law has been relocated to § 35.137(b)(2)(v).
As a result of these comments and requests, NPRM factors 1, 2, 3, and 4 have been revised and renumbered within paragraph (b)(2) in the final rule.
Several commenters requested that the Department provide guidance materials or more explicit concepts of which considerations might be appropriate for inclusion in a policy that allows the use of other power-driven mobility devices. A public entity that has determined that reasonable modifications can be made in its policies, practices, or procedures to allow the use of other power-driven mobility devices should develop a policy that clearly states the circumstances under which the use of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with a mobility disability will be permitted. It also should include clear, concise statements of specific rules governing the operation of such devices. Finally, the public entity should endeavor to provide individuals with disabilities who use other power-driven mobility devices with advanced notice of its policy regarding the use of such devices and what rules apply to the operation of these devices.
For example, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has developed a policy allowing the use of the Segway® PT and other EPAMDs in all Federal buildings under GSA's jurisdiction. See General Services Administration, Interim Segway® Personal Transporter Policy (Dec. 3, 2007), available at http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/pbs/Interim_Segway_Policy_121007.pdf (last visited June 24, 2010). The GSA policy defines the policy's scope of coverage by setting out what devices are and are not covered by the policy. The policy also sets out requirements for safe operation, such as a speed limit, prohibits the use of EPAMDs on escalators, and provides guidance regarding security screening of these devices and their operators.
A public entity that determines that it can make reasonable modifications to permit the use of an other power-driven mobility device by an individual with a mobility disability might include in its policy the procedure by which claims that the other power-driven mobility device is being used for a mobility disability will be assessed for legitimacy (i.e., a credible assurance that the device is being used for a mobility disability, including a verbal representation by the person with a disability that is not contradicted by observable fact, or the presentation of a disability parking space placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability); the type or classes of other power-driven mobility devices are permitted to be used by individuals with mobility disabilities; the size, weight, and dimensions of the other power-driven mobility devices that are permitted to be used by individuals with mobility disabilities; the speed limit for the other power-driven mobility devices that are permitted to be used by individuals with mobility disabilities; the places, times, or circumstances under which the use of the other power-driven mobility device is or will be restricted or prohibited; safety, pedestrian, and other rules concerning the use of the other power-driven mobility device; whether, and under which circumstances, storage for the other power-driven mobility device will be made available; and how and where individuals with a mobility disability can obtain a copy of the other power-driven mobility device policy.
Public entities also might consider grouping other power-driven mobility devices by type (e.g., EPAMDs, golf cars, gasoline-powered vehicles, and other devices). For example, an amusement park may determine that it is reasonable to allow individuals with disabilities to use EPAMDs in a variety of outdoor programs and activities, but that it would not be reasonable to allow the use of golf cars as mobility devices in similar circumstances. At the same time, the entity may address its concerns about factors such as space limitations by disallowing use of EPAMDs by members of the general public who do not have mobility disabilities.
The Department anticipates that, in many circumstances, public entities will be able to develop policies that will allow the use of other power-driven mobility devices by individuals with mobility disabilities. Consider the following example:
A county courthouse has developed a policy whereby EPAMDs may be operated in the pedestrian areas of the courthouse if the operator of the device agrees not to operate the device faster than pedestrians are walking; to yield to pedestrians; to provide a rack or stand so that the device can stand upright; and to use the device only in courtrooms that are large enough to accommodate such devices. If the individual is selected for jury duty in one of the smaller courtrooms, the county's policy indicates that if it is not possible for the individual with the disability to park the device and walk into the courtroom, the location of the trial will be moved to a larger courtroom.
Inquiry into the use of other power-driven mobility device. The NPRM version of § 35.137(d) provided that “[a] public entity may ask a person using a power-driven mobility device if the mobility device is needed due to the person's disability. A public entity shall not ask a person using a mobility device questions about the nature and extent of the person's disability.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
Many environmental, transit system, and government commenters expressed concern about people feigning mobility disabilities to be able to use other power-driven mobility devices in public entities in which their use is otherwise restricted. These commenters felt that a mere inquiry into whether the device is being used for a mobility disability was an insufficient mechanism by which to detect fraud by other power-driven mobility device users who do not have mobility disabilities. These commenters believed they should be given more latitude to make inquiries of other power-driven mobility device users claiming a mobility disability than they would be given for wheelchair users. They sought the ability to establish a policy or method by which public entities may assess the legitimacy of the mobility disability. They suggested some form of certification, sticker, or other designation. One commenter suggested a requirement that a sticker bearing the international symbol for accessibility be placed on the device or that some other identification be required to signal that the use of the device is for a mobility disability. Other suggestions included displaying a disability parking placard on the device or issuing EPAMDs, like the Segway® PT, a permit that would be similar to permits associated with parking spaces reserved for those with disabilities.
Advocacy, nonprofit, and several individual commenters balked at the notion of allowing any inquiry beyond whether the device is necessary for a mobility disability and encouraged the Department to retain the NPRM's language on this topic. Other commenters, however, were empathetic with commenters who had concerns about fraud. At least one Segway® PT advocate suggested it would be permissible to seek documentation of the mobility disability in the form of a simple sign or permit.
The Department has sought to find common ground by balancing the needs of public entities and individuals with mobility disabilities wishing to use other power-driven mobility devices with the Department's longstanding, well-established policy of not allowing public entities or establishments to require proof of a mobility disability. There is no question that public entities have a legitimate interest in ferreting out fraudulent representations of mobility disabilities, especially given the recreational use of other power-driven mobility devices and the potential safety concerns created by having too many such devices in a specific facility at one time. However, the privacy of individuals with mobility disabilities and respect for those individuals, is also vitally important.
Neither § 35.137(d) of the NPRM nor § 35.137(c) of the final rule permits inquiries into the nature of a person's mobility disability. However, the Department does not believe it is unreasonable or overly intrusive for an individual with a mobility disability seeking to use an other power-driven mobility device to provide a credible assurance to verify that the use of the other power-driven mobility device is for a mobility disability. The Department sought to minimize the amount of discretion and subjectivity exercised by public entities in assessing whether an individual has a mobility disability and to allow public entities to verify the existence of a mobility disability. The solution was derived from comments made by several individuals who said they have been admitted with their Segway® PTs into public entities and public accommodations that ordinarily do not allow these devices on-site when they have presented or displayed State-issued disability parking placards. In the examples provided by commenters, the parking placards were accepted as verification that the Segway® PTs were being used as mobility devices.
Because many individuals with mobility disabilities avail themselves of State programs that issue disability parking placards or cards and because these programs have penalties for fraudulent representations of identity and disability, utilizing the parking placard system as a means to establish the existence of a mobility disability strikes a balance between the need for privacy of the individual and fraud protection for the public entity. Consequently, the Department has decided to include regulatory text in § 35.137(c)(2) of the final rule that requires public entities to accept the presentation of a valid, State-issued disability parking placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, as verification that an individual uses the other power-driven mobility device for his or her mobility disability. A “valid” disability placard or card is one that is presented by the individual to whom it was issued and is otherwise in compliance with the State of issuance's requirements for disability placards or cards. Public entities are required to accept a valid, State-issued disability parking placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability as a credible assurance, but they cannot demand or require the presentation of a valid disability placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, as a prerequisite for use of an other power-driven mobility device, because not all persons with mobility disabilities have such means of proof. If an individual with a mobility disability does not have such a placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, he or she may present other information that would serve as a credible assurance of the existence of a mobility disability.
In lieu of a valid, State-issued disability parking placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, a verbal representation, not contradicted by observable fact, shall be accepted as a credible assurance that the other power-driven mobility device is being used because of a mobility disability. This does not mean, however, that a mobility disability must be observable as a condition for allowing the use of an other power-driven mobility device by an individual with a mobility disability, but rather that if an individual represents that a device is being used for a mobility disability and that individual is observed thereafter engaging in a physical activity that is contrary to the nature of the represented disability, the assurance given is no longer credible and the individual may be prevented from using the device.
Possession of a valid, State-issued disability parking placard or card or a verbal assurance does not trump a public entity's valid restrictions on the use of other power-driven mobility devices. Accordingly, a credible assurance that the other power-driven mobility device is being used because of a mobility disability is not a guarantee of entry to a public entity because, notwithstanding such credible assurance, use of the device in a particular venue may be at odds with the legal standard in § 35.137(b)(1) or with one or more of the § 35.137(b)(2) factors. Only after an individual with a disability has satisfied all of the public entity's policies regarding the use of other power-driven mobility devices does a credible assurance become a factor in allowing the use of the device. For example, if an individual seeking to use an other power-driven mobility device fails to satisfy any of the public entity's stated policies regarding the use of other power-driven mobility devices, the fact that the individual legitimately possesses and presents a valid, State-issued disability parking placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, does not trump the policy and require the public entity to allow the use of the device. In fact, in some instances, the presentation of a legitimately held placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, will have no relevance or bearing at all on whether the other power-driven mobility device may be used, because the public entity's policy does not permit the device in question on-site under any circumstances (e.g., because its use would create a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources). Thus, an individual with a mobility disability who presents a valid disability placard or card, or State-issued proof of disability, will not be able to use an ATV as an other power-driven mobility device in a State park if the State park has adopted a policy banning their use for any or all of the above-mentioned reasons. However, if a public entity permits the use of a particular other power-driven mobility device, it cannot refuse to admit an individual with a disability who uses that device if the individual has provided a credible assurance that the use of the device is for a mobility disability.
The 1991 title II regulation did not contain specific regulatory language on ticketing. The ticketing policies and practices of public entities, however, are subject to title II's nondiscrimination provisions. Through the investigation of complaints, enforcement actions, and public comments related to ticketing, the Department became aware that some venue operators, ticket sellers, and distributors were violating title II's nondiscrimination mandate by not providing individuals with disabilities the same opportunities to purchase tickets for accessible seating as they provided to spectators purchasing conventional seats. In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.138 to provide explicit direction and guidance on discriminatory practices for entities involved in the sale or distribution of tickets.
The Department received comments from advocacy groups, assembly area trade associations, public entities, and individuals. Many commenters supported the addition of regulatory language pertaining to ticketing and urged the Department to retain it in the final rule. Several commenters, however, questioned why there were inconsistencies between the title II and title III provisions and suggested that the same language be used for both titles. The Department has decided to retain ticketing regulatory language and to ensure consistency between the ticketing provisions in title II and title III.
Because many in the ticketing industry view season tickets and other multi-event packages differently from individual tickets, the Department bifurcated some season ticket provisions from those concerning single-event tickets in the NPRM. This structure, however, resulted in some provisions being repeated for both types of tickets but not for others even though they were intended to apply to both types of tickets. The result was that it was not entirely clear that some of the provisions that were not repeated also were intended to apply to season tickets. The Department is addressing the issues raised by these commenters using a different approach. For the purposes of this section, a single event refers to an individual performance for which tickets may be purchased. In contrast, a series of events includes, but is not limited to, subscription events, event packages, season tickets, or any other tickets that may be purchased for multiple events of the same type over the course of a specified period of time whose ownership right reverts to the public entity at the end of each season or time period. Series-of-events tickets that give their holders an enhanced ability to purchase such tickets from the public entity in seasons or periods of time that follow, such as a right of first refusal or higher ranking on waiting lists for more desirable seats, are subject to the provisions in this section. In addition, the final rule merges together some NPRM paragraphs that dealt with related topics and has reordered and renamed some of the paragraphs that were in the NPRM.
Ticket sales. In the NPRM, the Department proposed, in § 35.138(a), a general rule that a public entity shall modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can purchase tickets for accessible seating for an event or series of events in the same way as others (i.e., during the same hours and through the same distribution methods as other seating is sold). 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). “Accessible seating” is defined in § 35.138(a)(1) of the final rule to mean “wheelchair spaces and companion seats that comply with sections 221 and 802 of the 2010 Standards along with any other seats required to be offered for sale to the individual with a disability pursuant to paragraph (d) of this section.” The defined term does not include designated aisle seats. A “wheelchair space” refers to a space for a single wheelchair and its occupant.
The NPRM proposed requiring that accessible seats be sold through the “same methods of distribution” as non-accessible seats. Comments from venue managers and others in the business community, in general, noted that multiple parties are involved in ticketing, and because accessible seats may not be allotted to all parties involved at each stage, such parties should be protected from liability. For example, one commenter noted that a third-party ticket vendor, like Ticketmaster, can only sell the tickets it receives from its client. Because § 35.138(a)(2)(iii) of the final rule requires venue operators to make available accessible seating through the same methods of distribution they use for their regular tickets, venue operators that provide tickets to third-party ticket vendors are required to provide accessible seating to the third-party ticket vendor. This provision will enhance third-party ticket vendors' ability to acquire and sell accessible seating for sale in the future. The Department notes that once third-party ticket vendors acquire accessible tickets, they are obligated to sell them in accordance with these rules.
The Department also has received frequent complaints that individuals with disabilities have not been able to purchase accessible seating over the Internet, and instead have had to engage in a laborious process of calling a customer service line, or sending an e-mail to a customer service representative and waiting for a response. Not only is such a process burdensome, but it puts individuals with disabilities at a disadvantage in purchasing tickets for events that are popular and may sell out in minutes. Because § 35.138(e) of the final rule authorizes venues to release accessible seating in case of a sell-out, individuals with disabilities effectively could be cut off from buying tickets unless they also have the ability to purchase tickets in real time over the Internet. The Department's new regulatory language is designed to address this problem.
Several commenters representing assembly areas raised concerns about offering accessible seating for sale over the Internet. They contended that this approach would increase the incidence of fraud since anyone easily could purchase accessible seating over the Internet. They also asserted that it would be difficult technologically to provide accessible seating for sale in real time over the Internet, or that to do so would require simplifying the rules concerning the purchase of multiple additional accompanying seats. Moreover, these commenters argued that requiring an individual purchasing accessible seating to speak with a customer service representative would allow the venue to meet the patron's needs most appropriately and ensure that wheelchair spaces are reserved for individuals with disabilities who require wheelchair spaces. Finally, these commenters argued that individuals who can transfer effectively and conveniently from a wheelchair to a seat with a movable armrest seat could instead purchase designated aisle seats.
The Department considered these concerns carefully and has decided to continue with the general approach proposed in the NPRM. Although fraud is an important concern, the Department believes that it is best combated by other means that would not have the effect of limiting the ability of individuals with disabilities to purchase tickets, particularly since restricting the purchase of accessible seating over the Internet will, of itself, not curb fraud. In addition, the Department has identified permissible means for covered entities to reduce the incidence of fraudulent accessible seating ticket purchases in § 35.138(h) of the final rule.
Several commenters questioned whether ticket websites themselves must be accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision, and if so, what that requires. The Department has consistently interpreted the ADA to cover websites that are operated by public entities and stated that such sites must provide their services in an accessible manner or provide an accessible alternative to the website that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The final rule, therefore, does not impose any new obligation in this area. The accessibility of websites is discussed in more detail in the section of Appendix A entitled “Other Issues.”
In § 35.138(b) of the NPRM, the Department also proposed requiring public entities to make accessible seating available during all stages of tickets sales including, but not limited to, presales, promotions, lotteries, waitlists, and general sales. For example, if tickets will be presold for an event that is open only to members of a fan club, or to holders of a particular credit card, then tickets for accessible seating must be made available for purchase through those means. This requirement does not mean that any individual with a disability would be able to purchase those seats. Rather, it means that an individual with a disability who meets the requirement for such a sale (e.g., who is a member of the fan club or holds that credit card) will be able to participate in the special promotion and purchase accessible seating. The Department has maintained the substantive provisions of the NPRM's § 35.138(a) and (b) but has combined them in a single paragraph at § 35.138(a)(2) of the final rule so that all of the provisions having to do with the manner in which tickets are sold are located in a single paragraph.
Identification of available accessible seating. In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.138(c), which, as modified and renumbered as paragraph (b)(3) in the final rule, requires a facility to identify available accessible seating through seating maps, brochures, or other methods if that information is made available about other seats sold to the general public. This rule requires public entities to provide information about accessible seating to the same degree of specificity that it provides information about general seating. For example, if a seating map displays color-coded blocks pegged to prices for general seating, then accessible seating must be similarly color-coded. Likewise, if covered entities provide detailed maps that show exact seating and pricing for general seating, they must provide the same for accessible seating.
The NPRM did not specify a requirement to identify prices for accessible seating. The final rule requires that if such information is provided for general seating, it must be provided for accessible seating as well.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed in § 35.138(d) that a public entity, upon being asked, must inform persons with disabilities and their companions of the locations of all unsold or otherwise available seating. This provision is intended to prevent the practice of “steering” individuals with disabilities to certain accessible seating so that the facility can maximize potential ticket sales by releasing unsold accessible seating, especially in preferred or desirable locations, for sale to the general public. The Department received no significant comment on this proposal. The Department has retained this provision in the final rule but has added it, with minor modifications, to § 35.138(b) as paragraph (1).
Ticket prices. In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.138(e) requiring that ticket prices for accessible seating be set no higher than the prices for other seats in that seating section for that event. The NPRM's provision also required that accessible seating be made available at every price range, and if an existing facility has barriers to accessible seating within a particular price range, a proportionate amount of seating (determined by the ratio of the total number of seats at that price level to the total number of seats in the assembly area) must be offered in an accessible location at that same price. Under this rule, for example, if a public entity has a 20,000-seat facility built in 1980 with inaccessible seating in the $20-price category, which is on the upper deck, and it chooses not to put accessible seating in that section, then it must place a proportionate number of seats in an accessible location for $20. If the upper deck has 2,000 seats, then the facility must place 10 percent of its accessible seating in an accessible location for $20 provided that it is part of a seating section where ticket prices are equal to or more than $20 - a facility may not place the $20-accessible seating in a $10-seating section. The Department received no significant comment on this rule, and it has been retained, as amended, in the final rule in § 35.138(c).
Purchase of multiple tickets. In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.138(i) to address one of the most common ticketing complaints raised with the Department: That individuals with disabilities are not able to purchase more than two tickets. The Department proposed this provision to facilitate the ability of individuals with disabilities to attend events with friends, companions, or associates who may or may not have a disability by enabling individuals with disabilities to purchase the maximum number of tickets allowed per transaction to other spectators; by requiring venues to place accompanying individuals in general seating as close as possible to accessible seating (in the event that a group must be divided because of the large size of the group); and by allowing an individual with a disability to purchase up to three additional contiguous seats per wheelchair space if they are available at the time of sale. Section 35.138(i)(2) of the NPRM required that a group containing one or more wheelchair users must be placed together, if possible, and that in the event that the group could not be placed together, the individuals with disabilities may not be isolated from the rest of the group.
The Department asked in the NPRM whether this rule was sufficient to effectuate the integration of individuals with disabilities. Many advocates and individuals praised it as a welcome and much-needed change, stating that the trade-off of being able to sit with their family or friends was worth reducing the number of seats available for individuals with disabilities. Some commenters went one step further and suggested that the number of additional accompanying seats should not be restricted to three.
Although most of the substance of the proposed provision on the purchase of multiple tickets has been maintained in the final rule, it has been renumbered as § 35.138(d), reorganized, and supplemented. To preserve the availability of accessible seating for other individuals with disabilities, the Department has not expanded the rule beyond three additional contiguous seats. Section 35.138(d)(1) of the final rule requires public entities to make available for purchase three additional tickets for seats in the same row that are contiguous with the wheelchair space provided that at the time of the purchase there are three such seats available. The requirement that the additional seats be “contiguous with the wheelchair space” does not mean that each of the additional seats must be in actual contact or have a border in common with the wheelchair space; however, at least one of the additional seats should be immediately adjacent to the wheelchair space. The Department recognizes that it will often be necessary to use vacant wheelchair spaces to provide for contiguous seating.
The Department has added paragraphs (d)(2) and (d)(3) to clarify that in situations where there are insufficient unsold seats to provide three additional contiguous seats per wheelchair space or a ticket office restricts sales of tickets to a particular event to less than four tickets per customer, the obligation to make available three additional contiguous seats per wheelchair space would be affected. For example, if at the time of purchase, there are only two additional contiguous seats available for purchase because the third has been sold already, then the ticket purchaser would be entitled to two such seats. In this situation, the public entity would be required to make up the difference by offering one additional ticket for sale that is as close as possible to the accessible seats. Likewise, if ticket purchases for an event are limited to two per customer, a person who uses a wheelchair who seeks to purchase tickets would be entitled to purchase only one additional contiguous seat for the event.
The Department also has added paragraph (d)(4) to clarify that the requirement for three additional contiguous seats is not intended to serve as a cap if the maximum number of tickets that may be purchased by members of the general public exceeds the four tickets an individual with a disability ordinarily would be allowed to purchase (i.e., a wheelchair space and three additional contiguous seats). If the maximum number of tickets that may be purchased by members of the general public exceeds four, an individual with a disability is to be allowed to purchase the maximum number of tickets; however, additional tickets purchased by an individual with a disability beyond the wheelchair space and the three additional contiguous seats provided in § 35.138(d)(1) do not have to be contiguous with the wheelchair space.
The NPRM proposed at § 35.138(i)(2) that for group sales, if a group includes one or more individuals who use a wheelchair, then the group shall be placed in a seating area with accessible seating so that, if possible, the group can sit together. If it is necessary to divide the group, it should be divided so that the individuals in the group who use wheelchairs are not isolated from the rest of the members of their group. The final rule retains the NPRM language in paragraph (d)(5).
Hold-and-release of unsold accessible seating. The Department recognizes that not all accessible seating will be sold in all assembly areas for every event to individuals with disabilities who need such seating and that public entities may have opportunities to sell such seating to the general public. The Department proposed in the NPRM a provision aimed at striking a balance between affording individuals with disabilities adequate time to purchase accessible seating and the entity's desire to maximize ticket sales. In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.138(f), which allowed for the release of accessible seating under the following circumstances: (i) When all seating in the facility has been sold, excluding luxury boxes, club boxes, or suites; (ii) when all seating in a designated area has been sold and the accessible seating being released is in the same area; or (iii) when all seating in a designated price range has been sold and the accessible seating being released is within the same price range.
The Department's NPRM asked “whether additional regulatory guidance is required or appropriate in terms of a more detailed or set schedule for the release of tickets in conjunction with the three approaches described above. For example, does the proposed regulation address the variable needs of assembly areas covered by the ADA? Is additional regulatory guidance required to eliminate discriminatory policies, practices and procedures related to the sale, hold, and release of accessible seating? What considerations should appropriately inform the determination of when unsold accessible seating can be released to the general public?” 73 FR 34466, 34484 (June 17, 2008).
The Department received comments both supporting and opposing the inclusion of a hold-and-release provision. One side proposed loosening the restrictions on the release of unsold accessible seating. One commenter from a trade association suggested that tickets should be released regardless of whether there is a sell-out, and that these tickets should be released according to a set schedule. Conversely, numerous individuals, advocacy groups, and at least one public entity urged the Department to tighten the conditions under which unsold tickets for accessible seating may be released. These commenters suggested that venues should not be permitted to release tickets during the first two weeks of sale, or alternatively, that they should not be permitted to be released earlier than 48 hours before a sold-out event. Many of these commenters criticized the release of accessible seating under the second and third prongs of § 35.138(f) in the NPRM (when there is a sell-out in general seating in a designated seating area or in a price range), arguing that it would create situations where general seating would be available for purchase while accessible seating would not be.
Numerous commenters - both from the industry and from advocacy groups - asked for clarification of the term “sell-out.” Business groups commented that industry practice is to declare a sell-out when there are only “scattered singles” available - isolated seats that cannot be purchased as a set of adjacent pairs. Many of those same commenters also requested that “sell-out” be qualified with the phrase “of all seating available for sale” since it is industry practice to hold back from release tickets to be used for groups connected with that event (e.g., the promoter, home team, or sports league). They argued that those tickets are not available for sale and any return of these tickets to the general inventory happens close to the event date. Noting the practice of holding back tickets, one advocacy group suggested that covered entities be required to hold back accessible seating in proportion to the number of tickets that are held back for later release.
The Department has concluded that it would be inappropriate to interfere with industry practice by defining what constitutes a “sell-out” and that a public entity should continue to use its own approach to defining a “sell-out.” If, however, a public entity declares a sell-out by reference to those seats that are available for sale, but it holds back tickets that it reasonably anticipates will be released later, it must hold back a proportional percentage of accessible seating to be released as well.
Adopting any of the alternatives proposed in the comments summarized above would have upset the balance between protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities and meeting venues' concerns about lost revenue from unsold accessible seating. As a result, the Department has retained § 35.138(f) (renumbered as § 35.138(e)) in the final rule.
The Department has, however, modified the regulation text to specify that accessible seating may be released only when “all non-accessible tickets in a designated seating area have been sold and the tickets for accessible seating are being released in the same designated area.” As stated in the NPRM, the Department intended for this provision to allow, for example, the release of accessible seating at the orchestra level when all other seating at the orchestra level is sold. The Department has added this language to the final rule at § 35.138(e)(1)(ii) to clarify that venues cannot designate or redesignate seating areas for the purpose of maximizing the release of unsold accessible seating. So, for example, a venue may not determine on an ad hoc basis that a group of seats at the orchestra level is a designated seating area in order to release unsold accessible seating in that area.
The Department also has maintained the hold-and-release provisions that appeared in the NPRM but has added a provision to address the release of accessible seating for series-of-events tickets on a series-of-events basis. Many commenters asked the Department whether unsold accessible seating may be converted to general seating and released to the general public on a season-ticket basis or longer when tickets typically are sold as a season-ticket package or other long-term basis. Several disability rights organizations and individual commenters argued that such a practice should not be permitted, and, if it were, that conditions should be imposed to ensure that individuals with disabilities have future access to those seats.
The Department interprets the fundamental principle of the ADA as a requirement to give individuals with disabilities equal, not better, access to those opportunities available to the general public. Thus, for example, a public entity that sells out its facility on a season-ticket only basis is not required to leave unsold its accessible seating if no persons with disabilities purchase those season-ticket seats. Of course, public entities may choose to go beyond what is required by reserving accessible seating for individuals with disabilities (or releasing such seats for sale to the general public) on an individual-game basis.
If a covered entity chooses to release unsold accessible seating for sale on a season-ticket or other long-term basis, it must meet at least two conditions. Under § 35.138(g) of the final rule, public entities must leave flexibility for game-day change-outs to accommodate ticket transfers on the secondary market. And public entities must modify their ticketing policies so that, in future years, individuals with disabilities will have the ability to purchase accessible seating on the same basis as other patrons (e.g., as season tickets). Put differently, releasing accessible seating to the general public on a season-ticket or other long-term basis cannot result in that seating being lost to individuals with disabilities in perpetuity. If, in future years, season tickets become available and persons with disabilities have reached the top of the waiting list or have met any other eligibility criteria for season-ticket purchases, public entities must ensure that accessible seating will be made available to the eligible individuals. In order to accomplish this, the Department has added § 35.138(e)(3)(i) to require public entities that release accessible season tickets to individuals who do not have disabilities that require the features of accessible seating to establish a process to prevent the automatic reassignment of such ticket holders to accessible seating. For example, a public entity could have in place a system whereby accessible seating that was released because it was not purchased by individuals with disabilities is not in the pool of tickets available for purchase for the following season unless and until the conditions for ticket release have been satisfied in the following season. Alternatively, a public entity might release tickets for accessible seating only when a purchaser who does not need its features agrees that he or she has no guarantee of or right to the same seats in the following season, or that if season tickets are guaranteed for the following season, the purchaser agrees that the offer to purchase tickets is limited to non-accessible seats having to the extent practicable, comparable price, view, and amenities to the accessible seats such individuals held in the prior year. The Department is aware that this rule may require some administrative changes but believes that this process will not create undue financial and administrative burdens. The Department believes that this approach is balanced and beneficial. It will allow public entities to sell all of their seats and will leave open the possibility, in future seasons or series of events, that persons who need accessible seating may have access to it.
The Department also has added § 35.138(e)(3)(ii) to address how season tickets or series-of-events tickets that have attached ownership rights should be handled if the ownership right returns to the public entity (e.g., when holders forfeit their ownership right by failing to purchase season tickets or sell their ownership right back to a public entity). If the ownership right is for accessible seating, the public entity is required to adopt a process that allows an eligible individual with a disability who requires the features of such seating to purchase the rights and tickets for such seating.
Nothing in the regulatory text prevents a public entity from establishing a process whereby such ticket holders agree to be voluntarily reassigned from accessible seating to another seating area so that individuals with mobility disabilities or disabilities that require the features of accessible seating and who become newly eligible to purchase season tickets have an opportunity to do so. For example, a public entity might seek volunteers to relocate to another location that is at least as good in terms of its location, price, and amenities, or a public entity might use a seat with forfeited ownership rights as an inducement to get a ticket holder to give up accessible seating he or she does not need.
Ticket transfer. The Department received many comments asking whether accessible seating has the same transfer rights as general seats. The proposed regulation at § 35.138(e) required that individuals with disabilities must be allowed to purchase season tickets for accessible seating on the same terms and conditions as individuals purchasing season tickets for general seating, including the right - if it exists for other ticket-holders - to transfer individual tickets to friends or associates. Some commenters pointed out that the NPRM proposed explicitly allowing individuals with disabilities holding season tickets to transfer tickets but did not address the transfer of tickets purchased for individual events. Several commenters representing assembly areas argued that persons with disabilities holding tickets for an individual event should not be allowed to sell or transfer them to third parties because such ticket transfers would increase the risk of fraud or would make unclear the obligation of the entity to accommodate secondary ticket transfers. They argued that individuals holding accessible seating should either be required to transfer their tickets to another individual with a disability or return them to the facility for a refund.
Although the Department is sympathetic to concerns about administrative burden, curtailing transfer rights for accessible seating when other ticket holders are permitted to transfer tickets would be inconsistent with the ADA's guiding principle that individuals with disabilities must have rights equal to others. Thus, the Department has added language in the final rule in § 35.138(f) that requires that individuals with disabilities holding accessible seating for any event have the same transfer rights accorded other ticket holders for that event. Section 35.138(f) also preserves the rights of individuals with disabilities who hold tickets to accessible seats for a series of events to transfer individual tickets to others, regardless of whether the transferee needs accessible seating. This approach recognizes the common practice of individuals splitting season tickets or other multi-event ticket packages with friends, colleagues, or other spectators to make the purchase of season tickets affordable; individuals with disabilities should not be placed in the burdensome position of having to find another individual with a disability with whom to share the package.
This provision, however, does not require public entities to seat an individual who holds a ticket to an accessible seat in such seating if the individual does not need the accessible features of the seat. A public entity may reserve the right to switch these individuals to different seats if they are available, but a public entity is not required to remove a person without a disability who is using accessible seating from that seating, even if a person who uses a wheelchair shows up with a ticket from the secondary market for a non-accessible seat and wants accessible seating.
Secondary ticket market. Section 35.138(g) is a new provision in the final rule that requires a public entity to modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that an individual with a disability, who acquires a ticket in the secondary ticket market, may use that ticket under the same terms and conditions as other ticket holders who acquire a ticket in the secondary market for an event or series of events. This principle was discussed in the NPRM in connection with § 35.138(e), pertaining to season-ticket sales. There, the Department asked for public comment regarding a public entity's proposed obligation to accommodate the transfer of accessible seating tickets on the secondary ticket market to those who do not need accessible seating and vice versa.
The secondary ticket market, for the purposes of this rule, broadly means any transfer of tickets after the public entity's initial sale of tickets to individuals or entities. It thus encompasses a wide variety of transactions, from ticket transfers between friends to transfers using commercial exchange systems. Many commenters noted that the distinction between the primary and secondary ticket market has become blurred as a result of agreements between teams, leagues, and secondary market sellers. These commenters noted that the secondary market may operate independently of the public entity, and parts of the secondary market, such as ticket transfers between friends, undoubtedly are outside the direct jurisdiction of the public entity.
To the extent that venues seat persons who have purchased tickets on the secondary market, they must similarly seat persons with disabilities who have purchased tickets on the secondary market. In addition, some public entities may acquire ADA obligations directly by formally entering the secondary ticket market.
The Department's enforcement experience with assembly areas also has revealed that venues regularly provide for and make last-minute seat transfers. As long as there are vacant wheelchair spaces, requiring venues to provide wheelchair spaces for patrons who acquired inaccessible seats and need wheelchair spaces is an example of a reasonable modification of a policy under title II of the ADA. Similarly, a person who has a ticket for a wheelchair space but who does not require its accessible features could be offered non-accessible seating if such seating is available.
The Department's longstanding position that title II of the ADA requires venues to make reasonable modifications in their policies to allow individuals with disabilities who acquired non-accessible tickets on the secondary ticket market to be seated in accessible seating, where such seating is vacant, is supported by the only Federal court to address this issue. See Independent Living Resources v. Oregon Arena Corp., 1 F. Supp. 2d 1159, 1171 (D. Or. 1998). The Department has incorporated this position into the final rule at § 35.138(g)(2).
The NPRM contained two questions aimed at gauging concern with the Department's consideration of secondary ticket market sales. The first question asked whether a secondary purchaser who does not have a disability and who buys an accessible seat should be required to move if the space is needed for someone with a disability.
Many disability rights advocates answered that the individual should move provided that there is a seat of comparable or better quality available for him and his companion. Some venues, however, expressed concerns about this provision, and asked how they are to identify who should be moved and what obligations apply if there are no seats available that are equivalent or better in quality.
The Department's second question asked whether there are particular concerns about the obligation to provide accessible seating, including a wheelchair space, to an individual with a disability who purchases an inaccessible seat through the secondary market.
Industry commenters contended that this requirement would create a “logistical nightmare,” with venues scrambling to reseat patrons in the short time between the opening of the venues' doors and the commencement of the event. Furthermore, they argued that they might not be able to reseat all individuals and that even if they were able to do so, patrons might be moved to inferior seats (whether in accessible or non-accessible seating). These commenters also were concerned that they would be sued by patrons moved under such circumstances.
These commenters seem to have misconstrued the rule. Covered entities are not required to seat every person who acquires a ticket for inaccessible seating but needs accessible seating, and are not required to move any individual who acquires a ticket for accessible seating but does not need it. Covered entities that allow patrons to buy and sell tickets on the secondary market must make reasonable modifications to their policies to allow persons with disabilities to participate in secondary ticket transfers. The Department believes that there is no one-size-fits-all rule that will suit all assembly areas. In those circumstances where a venue has accessible seating vacant at the time an individual with a disability who needs accessible seating presents his ticket for inaccessible seating at the box office, the venue must allow the individual to exchange his ticket for an accessible seat in a comparable location if such an accessible seat is vacant. Where, however, a venue has sold all of its accessible seating, the venue has no obligation to provide accessible seating to the person with a disability who purchased an inaccessible seat on the secondary market. Venues may encourage individuals with disabilities who hold tickets for inaccessible seating to contact the box office before the event to notify them of their need for accessible seating, even though they may not require ticketholders to provide such notice.
The Department notes that public entities are permitted, though not required, to adopt policies regarding moving patrons who do not need the features of an accessible seat. If a public entity chooses to do so, it might mitigate administrative concerns by marking tickets for accessible seating as such, and printing on the ticket that individuals who purchase such seats but who do not need accessible seating are subject to being moved to other seats in the facility if the accessible seating is required for an individual with a disability. Such a venue might also develop and publish a ticketing policy to provide transparency to the general public and to put holders of tickets for accessible seating who do not require it on notice that they may be moved.
Prevention of fraud in purchase of accessible seating. Assembly area managers and advocacy groups have informed the Department that the fraudulent purchase of accessible seating is a pressing concern. Curbing fraud is a goal that public entities and individuals with disabilities share. Steps taken to prevent fraud, however, must be balanced carefully against the privacy rights of individuals with disabilities. Such measures also must not impose burdensome requirements upon, nor restrict the rights of, individuals with disabilities.
In the NPRM, the Department struck a balance between these competing concerns by proposing § 35.138(h), which prohibited public entities from asking for proof of disability before the purchase of accessible seating but provided guidance in two paragraphs on appropriate measures for curbing fraud. Paragraph (1) proposed allowing a public entity to ask individuals purchasing single-event tickets for accessible seating whether they are wheelchair users. Paragraph (2) proposed allowing a public entity to require the individuals purchasing accessible seating for season tickets or other multi-event ticket packages to attest in writing that the accessible seating is for a wheelchair user. Additionally, the NPRM proposed to permit venues, when they have good cause to believe that an individual has fraudulently purchased accessible seating, to investigate that individual.
Several commenters objected to this rule on the ground that it would require a wheelchair user to be the purchaser of tickets. The Department has reworded this paragraph to reflect that the individual with a disability does not have to be the ticket purchaser. The final rule allows third parties to purchase accessible tickets at the request of an individual with a disability.
Commenters also argued that other individuals with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs should be permitted to purchase accessible seating. Some individuals with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs urged the Department to change the rule, asserting that they, too, need accessible seating. The Department agrees that such seating, although designed for use by a wheelchair user, may be used by non-wheelchair users, if those persons are persons with a disability who need to use accessible seating because of a mobility disability or because their disability requires the use of the features that accessible seating provides (e.g., individuals who cannot bend their legs because of braces, or individuals who, because of their disability, cannot sit in a straight-back chair).
Some commenters raised concerns that allowing venues to ask questions to determine whether individuals purchasing accessible seating are doing so legitimately would burden individuals with disabilities in the purchase of accessible seating. The Department has retained the substance of this provision in § 35.138(h) of the final rule, but emphasizes that such questions should be asked at the initial time of purchase. For example, if the method of purchase is via the Internet, then the question(s) should be answered by clicking a yes or no box during the transaction. The public entity may warn purchasers that accessible seating is for individuals with disabilities and that individuals purchasing such tickets fraudulently are subject to relocation.
One commenter argued that face-to-face contact between the venue and the ticket holder should be required in order to prevent fraud and suggested that individuals who purchase accessible seating should be required to pick up their tickets at the box office and then enter the venue immediately. The Department has declined to adopt that suggestion. It would be discriminatory to require individuals with disabilities to pick up tickets at the box office when other spectators are not required to do so. If the assembly area wishes to make face-to-face contact with accessible seating ticket holders to curb fraud, it may do so through its ushers and other customer service personnel located within the seating area.
Some commenters asked whether it is permissible for assembly areas to have voluntary clubs where individuals with disabilities self-identify to the public entity in order to become a member of a club that entitles them to purchase accessible seating reserved for club members or otherwise receive priority in purchasing accessible seating. The Department agrees that such clubs are permissible, provided that a reasonable amount of accessible seating remains available at all prices and dispersed at all locations for individuals with disabilities who are non-members.
In Appendix A of the Department's 1991 title II regulation, the Department included a detailed discussion of “direct threat” that, among other things, explained that “the principles established in § 36.208 of the Department's [title III] regulation” were “applicable” as well to title II, insofar as “questions of safety are involved.” 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 565 (2009). In the final rule, the Department has included specific requirements related to “direct threat” that parallel those in the title III rule. These requirements are found in new § 35.139.
The “program accessibility” requirement in regulations implementing title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that each service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. 28 CFR 35.150(a). Because title II evaluates a public entity's programs, services, and activities in their entirety, public entities have flexibility in addressing accessibility issues. Program access does not necessarily require a public entity to make each of its existing facilities accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, and public entities are not required to make structural changes to existing facilities where other methods are effective in achieving program access. See id.3 Public entities do, however, have program access considerations that are independent of, but may coexist with, requirements imposed by new construction or alteration requirements in those same facilities.
3 The term “existing facility” is defined in § 35.104 as amended by this rule.
Where a public entity opts to alter existing facilities to comply with its program access requirements, the entity must meet the accessibility requirements for alterations set out in § 35.151. Under the final rule, these alterations will be subject to the 2010 Standards. The 2010 Standards introduce technical and scoping specifications for many elements not covered by the 1991 Standards. In existing facilities, these supplemental requirements need to be taken into account by a public entity in ensuring program access. Also included in the 2010 Standards are revised technical and scoping requirements for a number of elements that were addressed in the 1991 Standards. These revised requirements reflect incremental changes that were added either because of additional study by the Access Board or in order to harmonize requirements with the model codes.
Although the program accessibility standard offers public entities a level of discretion in determining how to achieve program access, in the NPRM, the Department proposed an addition to § 35.150 at § 35.150(b)(2), denominated “Safe Harbor,” to clarify that “[i]f a public entity has constructed or altered elements * * * in accordance with the specifications in either the 1991 Standards or the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard, such public entity is not, solely because of the Department's adoption of the  Standards, required to retrofit such elements to reflect incremental changes in the proposed standards.” 73 FR 34466, 34505 (June 17, 2008). In these circumstances, the public entity would be entitled to a safe harbor for the already compliant elements until those elements are altered. The safe harbor does not negate a public entity's new construction or alteration obligations. A public entity must comply with the new construction or alteration requirements in effect at the time of the construction or alteration. With respect to existing facilities designed and constructed after January 26, 1992, but before the public entities are required to comply with the 2010 Standards, the rule is that any elements in these facilities that were not constructed in conformance with UFAS or the 1991 Standards are in violation of the ADA and must be brought into compliance. If elements in existing facilities were altered after January 26, 1992, and those alterations were not made in conformance with the alteration requirements in effect at the time, then those alteration violations must be corrected. Section 35.150(b)(2) of the final rule specifies that until the compliance date for the Standards (18 months from the date of publication of the rule), facilities or elements covered by § 35.151(a) or (b) that are noncompliant with either the 1991 Standards or UFAS shall be made accessible in accordance with the 1991 Standards, UFAS, or the 2010 Standards. Once the compliance date is reached, such noncompliant facilities or elements must be made accessible in accordance with the 2010 Standards.
The Department received many comments on the safe harbor during the 60-day public comment period. Advocacy groups were opposed to the safe harbor for compliant elements in existing facilities. These commenters objected to the Department's characterization of revisions between the 1991 and 2010 Standards as incremental changes and assert that these revisions represent important advances in accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Commenters saw no basis for “grandfathering” outdated accessibility standards given the flexibility inherent in the program access standard. Others noted that title II's “undue financial and administrative burdens” and “fundamental alteration” defenses eliminate any need for further exemptions from compliance. Some commenters suggested that entities' past efforts to comply with the program access standard of 28 CFR 35.150(a) might appropriately be a factor in determining what is required in the future.
Many public entities welcomed the Department's proposed safe harbor. These commenters contend that the safe harbor allows public entities needed time to evaluate program access in light of the 2010 Standards, and incorporate structural changes in a careful and thoughtful way toward increasing accessibility entity-wide. Many felt that it would be an ineffective use of public funds to update buildings to retrofit elements that had already been constructed or modified to Department-issued and sanctioned specifications. One entity pointed to the “possibly budget-breaking” nature of forcing compliance with incremental changes.
The Department has reviewed and considered all information received during the 60-day public comment period. Upon review, the Department has decided to retain the title II safe harbor with minor revisions. The Department believes that the safe harbor provides an important measure of clarity and certainty for public entities as to the effect of the final rule with respect to existing facilities. Additionally, by providing a safe harbor for elements already in compliance with the technical and scoping specifications in the 1991 Standards or UFAS, funding that would otherwise be spent on incremental changes and repeated retrofitting is freed up to be used toward increased entity-wide program access. Public entities may thereby make more efficient use of the resources available to them to ensure equal access to their services, programs, or activities for all individuals with disabilities.
The safe harbor adopted with this final rule is a narrow one, as the Department recognizes that this approach may delay, in some cases, the increased accessibility that the revised requirements would provide, and that for some individuals with disabilities the impact may be significant. This safe harbor operates only with respect to elements that are in compliance with the scoping and technical specifications in either the 1991 Standards or UFAS; it does not apply to supplemental requirements, those elements for which scoping and technical specifications are first provided in the 2010 Standards.
Existing play areas. The 1991 Standards do not include specific requirements for the design and construction of play areas. To meet program accessibility requirements where structural changes are necessary, public entities have been required to apply the general new construction and alteration standards to the greatest extent possible, including with respect to accessible parking, routes to the playground, playground equipment, and playground amenities (e.g., picnic tables and restrooms). The Access Board published final guidelines for play areas in October 2000. The guidelines extended beyond general playground access to establish specific scoping and technical requirements for ground-level and elevated play components, accessible routes connecting the components, accessible ground surfaces, and maintenance of those surfaces. These guidelines filled a void left by the 1991 Standards. They have been referenced in Federal playground construction and safety guidelines and have been used voluntarily when many play areas across the country have been altered or constructed.
In adopting the 2004 ADAAG (which includes the 2000 play area guidelines), the Department acknowledges both the importance of integrated, full access to play areas for children and parents with disabilities, as well as the need to avoid placing an untenable fiscal burden on public entities. In the NPRM, the Department stated it was proposing two specific provisions to reduce the impact on existing facilities that undertake structural modifications pursuant to the program accessibility requirement. First, the Department proposed in § 35.150(b)(4) that existing play areas that are not being altered would be permitted to meet a reduced scoping requirement with respect to their elevated play components. Elevated play components, which are found on most playgrounds, are the individual components that are linked together to form large-scale composite playground equipment (e.g., the monkey bars attached to the suspension bridge attached to the tube slide, etc.) The 2010 Standards provide that a play area that includes both ground level and elevated play components must ensure that a specified number of the ground-level play components and at least 50 percent of the elevated play components are accessible.
In the NPRM, the Department asked for specific public comment with regard to whether existing play areas should be permitted to substitute additional ground-level play components for the elevated play components they would otherwise have been required to make accessible. The Department also queried if there were other requirements applicable to play areas in the 2004 ADAAG for which the Department should consider exemptions or reduced scoping. Many commenters opposed permitting existing play areas to make such substitutions. Several commenters stated that the Access Board already completed significant negotiation and cost balancing in its rulemaking, so no additional exemptions should be added in either meeting program access requirements or in alterations. Others noted that elevated components are generally viewed as the more challenging and exciting by children, so making more ground than elevated play components accessible would result in discrimination against children with disabilities in general and older children with disabilities in particular. They argued that the ground components would be seen as equipment for younger children and children with disabilities, while elevated components would serve only older children without disabilities. In addition, commenters advised that including additional ground-level play components would require more accessible route and use zone surfacing, which would result in a higher cost burden than making elevated components accessible.
The Department also asked for public comment on whether it would be appropriate for the Access Board to consider issuing guidelines for alterations to play and recreational facilities that would permit reduced scoping of accessible components or substitution of ground-level play components in lieu of elevated play components. Most commenters opposed any additional reductions in scoping and substitutions. These commenters uniformly stated that the Access Board completed sufficient negotiation during its rulemaking on its play area guidelines published in 2000 and that those guidelines consequently should stand as is. One commenter advocated reduced scoping and substitution of ground play components during alterations only for those play areas built prior to the finalization of the guidelines.
The Department has considered the comments it has received and has determined that it is not necessary to provide a specific exemption to the scoping for components for existing play areas or to recommend reduced scoping or additional exemptions for alteration, and has deleted the reduced scoping proposed in NPRM § 35.150(b)(4)(i) from the final rule. The Department believes that it is preferable for public entities to try to achieve compliance with the design standards established in the 2010 Standards. If this is not possible to achieve in an existing setting, the requirements for program accessibility provide enough flexibility to permit the covered entity to pursue alternative approaches to provide accessibility.
Second, in § 35.150(b)(5)(i) of the NPRM, the Department proposed language stating that existing play areas that are less than 1,000 square feet in size and are not otherwise being altered, need not comply with the scoping and technical requirements for play areas in section 240 of the 2004 ADAAG. The Department stated it selected this size based on the provision in section 1008.2.4.1 of the 2004 ADAAG, Exception 1, which permits play areas less than 1,000 square feet in size to provide accessible routes with a reduced clear width (44 inches instead of 60 inches). In its 2000 regulatory assessment for the play area guidelines, the Access Board assumed that such “small” play areas represented only about 20 percent of the play areas located in public schools, and none of the play areas located in city and State parks (which the Board assumed were typically larger than 1,000 square feet).
In the NPRM, the Department asked if existing play areas less than 1,000 square feet should be exempt from the requirements applicable to play areas. The vast majority of commenters objected to such an exemption. One commenter stated that many localities that have parks this size are already making them accessible; many cited concerns that this would leave all or most public playgrounds in small towns inaccessible; and two commenters stated that, since many of New York City's parks are smaller than 1,000 square feet, only scattered larger parks in the various boroughs would be obliged to become accessible. Residents with disabilities would then have to travel substantial distances outside their own neighborhoods to find accessible playgrounds. Some commenters responded that this exemption should not apply in instances where the play area is the only one in the program, while others said that if a play area is exempt for reasons of size, but is the only one in the area, then it should have at least an accessible route and 50 percent of its ground-level play components accessible. One commenter supported the exemption as presented in the question.
The Department is persuaded by these comments that it is inappropriate to exempt public play areas that are less than 1,000 square feet in size. The Department believes that the factors used to determine program accessibility, including the limits established by the undue financial and administrative burdens defense, provide sufficient flexibility to public entities in determining how to make their existing play areas accessible. In those cases where a title II entity believes that present economic concerns make it an undue financial and administrative burden to immediately make its existing playgrounds accessible in order to comply with program accessibility requirements, then it may be reasonable for the entity to develop a multi-year plan to bring its facilities into compliance.
In addition to requesting public comment about the specific sections in the NPRM, the Department also asked for public comment about the appropriateness of a general safe harbor for existing play areas and a safe harbor for public entities that have complied with State or local standards specific to play areas. In the almost 200 comments received on title II play areas, the vast majority of commenters strongly opposed all safe harbors, exemptions, and reductions in scoping. By contrast, one commenter advocated a safe harbor from compliance with the 2004 ADAAG play area requirements along with reduced scoping and exemptions for both program accessibility and alterations; a second commenter advocated only the general safe harbor from compliance with the supplemental requirements.
In response to the question of whether the Department should exempt public entities from specific compliance with the supplemental requirements for play areas, commenters stated that since no specific standards previously existed, play areas are more than a decade behind in providing full access for individuals with disabilities. When accessible play areas were created, public entities, acting in good faith, built them according to the 2004 ADAAG requirements; many equipment manufacturers also developed equipment to meet those guidelines. If existing playgrounds were exempted from compliance with the supplemental guidelines, commenters said, those entities would be held to a lesser standard and left with confusion, a sense of wasted resources, and federally condoned discrimination and segregation. Commenters also cited Federal agency settlement agreements on play areas that required compliance with the guidelines. Finally, several commenters observed that the provision of a safe harbor in this instance was invalid for two reasons: (1) The rationale for other safe harbors - that entities took action to comply with the 1991 Standards and should not be further required to comply with new standards - does not exist; and (2) concerns about financial and administrative burdens are adequately addressed by program access requirements.
The question of whether accessibility of play areas should continue to be assessed on the basis of case-by-case evaluations elicited conflicting responses. One commenter asserted that there is no evidence that the case-by-case approach is not working and so it should continue until found to be inconsistent with the ADA's goals. Another commenter argued that case-by-case evaluations result in unpredictable outcomes which result in costly and long court actions. A third commenter, advocating against case-by-case evaluations, requested instead increased direction and scoping to define what constitutes an accessible play area program.
The Department has considered all of the comments it received in response to its questions and has concluded that there is insufficient basis to establish a safe harbor from compliance with the supplemental guidelines. Thus, the Department has eliminated the proposed exemption contained in § 35.150(b)(5)(i) of the NPRM for existing play areas that are less than 1,000 square feet. The Department believes that the factors used to determine program accessibility, including the limits established by the undue financial and administrative burdens defense, provide sufficient flexibility to public entities in determining how to make their existing play areas accessible.
In the NPRM, the Department also asked whether there are State and local standards addressing play and recreation area accessibility and, to the extent that there are such standards, whether facilities currently governed by, and in compliance with, such State and local standards or codes should be subject to a safe harbor from compliance with applicable requirements in the 2004 ADAAG. The Department also asked whether it would be appropriate for the Access Board to consider the implementation of guidelines that would permit such a safe harbor with respect to play and recreation areas undertaking alterations. In response, commenters stated that few State or local governments have standards that address issues of accessibility in play areas, and one commenter organization said that it was unaware of any State or local standards written specifically for accessible play areas. One commenter observed from experience that most State and local governments were waiting for the Access Board guidelines to become enforceable standards as they had no standards themselves to follow. Another commenter offered that public entities across the United States already include in their playground construction bid specifications language that requires compliance with the Access Board's guidelines. A number of commenters advocated for the Access Board's guidelines to become comprehensive Federal standards that would complement any abbreviated State and local standards. One commenter, however, supported a safe harbor for play areas undergoing alterations if the areas currently comply with State or local standards.
The Department is persuaded by these comments that there is insufficient basis to establish a safe harbor for program access or alterations for play areas built in compliance with State or local laws.
In the NPRM, the Department asked whether “a reasonable number, but at least one” is a workable standard to determine the appropriate number of existing play areas that a public entity must make accessible. Many commenters objected to this standard, expressing concern that the phrase “at least one” would be interpreted as a maximum rather than a minimum requirement. Such commenters feared that this language would allow local governments to claim compliance by making just one public park accessible, regardless of the locality's size, budget, or other factors, and would support segregation, forcing children with disabilities to leave their neighborhoods to enjoy an accessible play area. While some commenters criticized what they viewed as a new analysis of program accessibility, others asserted that the requirements of program accessibility should be changed to address issues related to play areas that are not the main program in a facility but are essential components of a larger program (e.g., drop-in child care for a courthouse).
The Department believes that those commenters who opposed the Department's “reasonable number, but at least one” standard for program accessibility misunderstood the Department's proposal. The Department did not intend any change in its longstanding interpretation of the program accessibility requirement. Program accessibility requires that each service, program, or activity be operated “so that the service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities,” 28 CFR 35.150(a), subject to the undue financial and administrative burdens and fundamental alterations defenses provided in 28 CFR 35.150. In determining how many facilities of a multi-site program must be made accessible in order to make the overall program accessible, the standard has always been an assessment of what is reasonable under the circumstances to make the program readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, taking into account such factors as the size of the public entity, the particular program features offered at each site, the geographical distance between sites, the travel times to the sites, the number of sites, and availability of public transportation to the sites. In choosing among available methods for meeting this requirement, public entities are required to give priority “to those methods that offer services, programs, and activities * * * in the most integrated setting appropriate.” 28 CFR 35.150(b)(1). As a result, in cases where the sites are widely dispersed with difficult travel access and where the program features offered vary widely between sites, program accessibility will require a larger number of facilities to be accessible in order to ensure program accessibility than where multiple sites are located in a concentrated area with easy travel access and uniformity in program offerings.
Commenters responded positively to the Department's question in the NPRM whether the final rule should provide a list of factors that a public entity should use to determine how many of its existing play areas should be made accessible. Commenters also asserted strongly that the number of existing parks in the locality should not be the main factor. In addition to the Department's initial list - including number of play areas in an area, travel times or geographic distances between play areas, and the size of the public entity - commenters recommended such factors as availability of accessible pedestrian routes to the playgrounds, ready availability of accessible transportation, comparable amenities and services in and surrounding the play areas, size of the playgrounds, and sufficient variety in accessible play components within the playgrounds. The Department agrees that these factors should be considered, where appropriate, in any determination of whether program accessibility has been achieved. However, the Department has decided that it need not address these factors in the final rule itself because the range of factors that might need to be considered would vary depending upon the circumstances of particular public entities. The Department does not believe any list would be sufficiently comprehensive to cover every situation.
The Department also requested public comment about whether there was a “tipping point” at which the costs of compliance with the new requirements for existing play areas would be so burdensome that the entity would simply shut down the playground. Commenters generally questioned the feasibility of determining a “tipping point.” No commenters offered a recommended “tipping point.” Moreover, most commenters stated that a “tipping point” is not a valid consideration for various reasons, including that “tipping points” will vary based upon each entity's budget and other mandates, and costs that are too high will be addressed by the limitations of the undue financial and administrative burdens defense in the program accessibility requirement and that a “tipping point” must be weighed against quality of life issues, which are difficult to quantify. The Department has decided that comments did not establish any clear “tipping point” and therefore provides no regulatory requirement in this area.
Swimming pools. The 1991 Standards do not contain specific scoping or technical requirements for swimming pools. As a result, under the 1991 title II regulation, title II entities that operate programs or activities that include swimming pools have not been required to provide an accessible route into those pools via a ramp or pool lift, although they are required to provide an accessible route to such pools. In addition, these entities continue to be subject to the general title II obligation to make their programs usable and accessible to persons with disabilities.
The 2004 ADAAG includes specific technical and scoping requirements for new and altered swimming pools at sections 242 and 1009. In the NPRM, the Department sought to address the impact of these requirements on existing swimming pools. Section 242.2 of the 2004 ADAAG states that swimming pools must provide two accessible means of entry, except that swimming pools with less than 300 linear feet of swimming pool wall are only required to provide one accessible means of entry, provided that the accessible means of entry is either a swimming pool lift complying with section 1009.2 or a sloped entry complying with section 1009.3.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed, in § 35.150(b)(4)(ii), that for measures taken to comply with title II's program accessibility requirements, existing swimming pools with at least 300 linear feet of swimming pool wall would be required to provide only one accessible means of access that complied with section 1009.2 or section 1009.3 of the 2004 ADAAG.
The Department specifically sought comment from public entities and individuals with disabilities on the question whether the Department should “allow existing public entities to provide only one accessible means of access to swimming pools more than 300 linear feet long?” The Department received significant public comment on this proposal.
Most commenters opposed any reduction in the scoping required in the 2004 ADAAG, citing the fact that swimming is a common therapeutic form of exercise for many individuals with disabilities. Many commenters also stated that the cost of a swimming pool lift, approximately $5,000, or other nonstructural options for pool access such as transfer steps, transfer walls, and transfer platforms, would not be an undue financial and administrative burden for most title II entities. Other commenters pointed out that the undue financial and administrative burdens defense already provided public entities with a means to reduce their scoping requirements. A few commenters cited safety concerns resulting from having just one accessible means of access, and stated that because pools typically have one ladder for every 75 linear feet of pool wall, they should have more than one accessible means of access. One commenter stated that construction costs for a public pool are approximately $4,000-4,500 per linear foot, making the cost of a pool with 300 linear feet of swimming pool wall approximately $1.2 million, compared to $5,000 for a pool lift. Some commenters did not oppose the one accessible means of access for larger pools so long as a lift was used. A few commenters approved of the one accessible means of access for larger pools. The Department also considered the American National Standard for Public Swimming Pools, ANSI/NSPI-1 2003, section 23 of which states that all pools should have at least two means of egress.
In the NPRM, the Department also proposed at § 35.150(b)(5)(ii) that existing swimming pools with less than 300 linear feet of swimming pool wall be exempted from having to comply with the provisions of section 242.2. The Department's NPRM requested public comment about the potential effect of this approach, asking whether existing swimming pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall should be exempt from the requirements applicable to swimming pools.
Most commenters were opposed to this proposal. A number of commenters stated, based on the Access Board estimates that 90 percent of public high school pools, 40 percent of public park and community center pools, and 30 percent of public college and university pools have less than 300 linear feet of pool wall, that a large number of public swimming pools would fall under this exemption. Other commenters pointed to the existing undue financial and administrative burdens defenses as providing public entities with sufficient protection from excessive compliance costs. Few commenters supported this exemption.
The Department also considered the fact that many existing swimming pools owned or operated by public entities are recipients of Federal financial assistance and therefore, are also subject to the program accessibility requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The Department has carefully considered all the information available to it including the comments submitted on these two proposed exemptions for swimming pools owned or operated by title II entities. The Department acknowledges that swimming provides important therapeutic, exercise, and social benefits for many individuals with disabilities and is persuaded that exemption of many publicly owned or operated pools from the 2010 Standards is neither appropriate nor necessary. The Department agrees with the commenters that title II already contains sufficient limitations on public entities' obligations to make their programs accessible. In particular, the Department agrees that those public entities that can demonstrate that making particular existing swimming pools accessible in accordance with the 2010 Standards would be an undue financial and administrative burden are sufficiently protected from excessive compliance costs. Thus, the Department has eliminated proposed §§ 35.150(b)(4)(ii) and (b)(5)(ii) from the final rule.
In addition, although the NPRM contained no specific proposed regulatory language on this issue, the NPRM sought comment on what would be a workable standard for determining the appropriate number of existing swimming pools that a public entity must make accessible for its program to be accessible. The Department asked whether a “reasonable number, but at least one” would be a workable standard and, if not, whether there was a more appropriate specific standard. The Department also asked if, in the alternative, the Department should provide “a list of factors that a public entity could use to determine how many of its existing swimming pools to make accessible, e.g., number of swimming pools, travel times or geographic distances between swimming pools, and the size of the public entity?”
A number of commenters expressed concern over the “reasonable number, but at least one” standard and contended that, in reality, public entities would never provide more than one accessible existing pool, thus segregating individuals with disabilities. Other commenters felt that the existing program accessibility standard was sufficient. Still others suggested that one in every three existing pools should be made accessible. One commenter suggested that all public pools should be accessible. Some commenters proposed a list of factors to determine how many existing pools should be accessible. Those factors include the total number of pools, the location, size, and type of pools provided, transportation availability, and lessons and activities available. A number of commenters suggested that the standard should be based on geographic areas, since pools serve specific neighborhoods. One commenter argued that each pool should be examined individually to determine what can be done to improve its accessibility.
The Department did not include any language in the final rule that specifies the “reasonable number, but at least one” standard for program access. However, the Department believes that its proposal was misunderstood by many commenters. Each service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity, when viewed in its entirety, must still be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. Determining which pool(s) to make accessible and whether more than one accessible pool is necessary to provide program access requires analysis of a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the size of the public entity, geographical distance between pool sites, whether more than one community is served by particular pools, travel times to the pools, the total number of pools, the availability of lessons and other programs and amenities at each pool, and the availability of public transportation to the pools. In many instances, making one existing swimming pool accessible will not be sufficient to ensure program accessibility. There may, however, be some circumstances where a small public entity can demonstrate that modifying one pool is sufficient to provide access to the public entity's program of providing public swimming pools. In all cases, a public entity must still demonstrate that its programs, including the program of providing public swimming pools, when viewed in their entirety, are accessible.
Wading pools. The 1991 Standards do not address wading pools. Section 242.3 of the 2004 ADAAG requires newly constructed or altered wading pools to provide at least one sloped means of entry to the deepest part of the pool. The Department was concerned about the potential impact of this new requirement on existing wading pools. Therefore, in the NPRM, the Department sought comments on whether existing wading pools that are not being altered should be exempt from this requirement, asking, “[w]hat site constraints exist in existing facilities that could make it difficult or infeasible to install a sloped entry in an existing wading pool? Should existing wading pools that are not being altered be exempt from the requirement to provide a sloped entry?” 73 FR 34466, 34487-88 (June 17, 2008). Most commenters agreed that existing wading pools that are not being altered should be exempt from this requirement. Almost all commenters felt that during alterations a sloped entry should be provided unless it was technically infeasible to do so. Several commenters felt that the required clear deck space surrounding a pool provided sufficient space for a sloped entry during alterations.
The Department also solicited comments on the possibility of exempting existing wading pools from the obligation to provide program accessibility. Most commenters argued that installing a sloped entry in an existing wading pool is not very feasible. Because covered entities are not required to undertake modifications that would be technically infeasible, the Department believes that the rule as drafted provides sufficient protection from unwarranted expense to the operators of small existing wading pools. Other existing wading pools, particularly those larger pools associated with facilities such as aquatic centers or water parks, must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, the Department has not included such an exemption for wading pools in its final rule.
Saunas and steam rooms. The 1991 Standards do not address saunas and steam rooms. Section 35.150(b)(5)(iii) of the NPRM exempted existing saunas and steam rooms that seat only two individuals and were not being altered from section 241 of the 2004 ADAAG, which requires an accessible turning space. Two commenters objected to this exemption as unnecessary, and argued that the cost of accessible saunas is not high and public entities still have an undue financial and administrative burdens defense.
The Department considered these comments and has decided to eliminate the exemption for existing saunas and steam rooms that seat only two people. Such an exemption is unnecessary because covered entities will not be subject to program accessibility requirements to make existing saunas and steam rooms accessible if doing so constitutes an undue financial and administrative burden. The Department believes it is likely that because of their pre-fabricated forms, which include built-in seats, it would be either technically infeasible or an undue financial and administrative burden to modify such saunas and steams rooms. Consequently, a separate exemption for saunas and steam rooms would have been superfluous. Finally, employing the program accessibility standard for small saunas and steam rooms is consistent with the Department's decisions regarding the proposed exemptions for play areas and swimming pools.
Several commenters also argued in favor of a specific exemption for existing spas. The Department notes that the technical infeasibility and program accessibility defenses are applicable equally to existing spas and declines to adopt such an exemption.
Other recreational facilities. In the NPRM, the Department asked about a number of issues relating to recreation facilities such as team or player seating areas, areas of sport activity, exercise machines, boating facilities, fishing piers and platforms, and miniature golf courses. The Department's questions addressed the costs and benefits of applying the 2004 ADAAG to these spaces and facilities and the application of the specific technical requirements in the 2004 ADAAG for these spaces and facilities. The discussion of the comments received by the Department on these issues and the Department's response to those comments can be found in either the section of Appendix A to this rule entitled “Other Issues,” or in Appendix B to the final title III rule, which will be published today elsewhere in this volume.
Section 35.151(a), which provided that those facilities that are constructed or altered by, on behalf of, or for the use of a public entity shall be designed, constructed, or altered to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, is unchanged in the final rule, but has been redesignated as § 35.151(a)(1). The Department has added a new section, designated as § 35.151(a)(2), to provide that full compliance with the requirements of this section is not required where an entity can demonstrate that it is structurally impracticable to meet the requirements. Full compliance will be considered structurally impracticable only in those rare circumstances when the unique characteristics of terrain prevent the incorporation of accessibility features. This exception was contained in the title III regulation and in the 1991 Standards (applicable to both public accommodations and facilities used by public entities), so it has applied to any covered facility that was constructed under the 1991 Standards since the effective date of the ADA. The Department added it to the text of § 35.151 to maintain consistency between the design requirements that apply under title II and those that apply under title III. The Department received no significant comments about this section.
The 1991 title II regulation does not contain any specific regulatory language comparable to the 1991 title III regulation relating to alterations and path of travel for covered entities, although the 1991 Standards describe standards for path of travel during alterations to a primary function. See 28 CFR part 36, app A., section 4.1.6(a) (2009).
The path of travel requirements contained in the title III regulation are based on section 303(a)(2) of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12183(a)(2), which provides that when an entity undertakes an alteration to a place of public accommodation or commercial facility that affects or could affect the usability of or access to an area that contains a primary function, the entity shall ensure that, to the maximum extent feasible, the path of travel to the altered area - and the restrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving it - is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs.
The NPRM proposed amending § 35.151 to add both the path of travel requirements and the exemption relating to barrier removal (as modified to apply to the program accessibility standard in title II) that are contained in the title III regulation to the title II regulation. Proposed § 35.151(b)(4) contained the requirements for path of travel. Proposed § 35.151(b)(2) stated that the path of travel requirements of § 35.151(b)(4) shall not apply to measures taken solely to comply with program accessibility requirements.
Where the specific requirements for path of travel apply under title III, they are limited to the extent that the cost and scope of alterations to the path of travel are disproportionate to the cost of the overall alteration, as determined under criteria established by the Attorney General.
The Access Board included the path of travel requirement for alterations to facilities covered by the standards (other than those subject to the residential facilities standards) in section 202.4 of 2004 ADAAG. Section 35.151(b)(4)(iii) of the final rule establishes the criteria for determining when the cost of alterations to the path of travel is “disproportionate” to the cost of the overall alteration.
The NPRM also provided that areas such as supply storage rooms, employee lounges and locker rooms, janitorial closets, entrances, and corridors are not areas containing a primary function. Nor are restroom areas considered to contain a primary function unless the provision of restrooms is a primary purpose of the facility, such as at a highway rest stop. In that situation, a restroom would be considered to be an “area containing a primary function” of the facility.
The Department is not changing the requirements for program accessibility. As provided in § 35.151(b)(2) of the regulation, the path of travel requirements of § 35.151(b)(4) only apply to alterations undertaken solely for purposes other than to meet the program accessibility requirements. The exemption for the specific path of travel requirement was included in the regulation to ensure that the specific requirements and disproportionality exceptions for path of travel are not applied when areas are being altered to meet the title II program accessibility requirements in § 35.150. In contrast, when areas are being altered to meet program accessibility requirements, they must comply with all of the applicable requirements referenced in section 202 of the 2010 Standards. A covered title II entity must provide accessibility to meet the requirements of § 35.150 unless doing so is an undue financial and administrative burden in accordance with § 35.150(a)(3). A covered title II entity may not use the disproportionality exception contained in the path of travel provisions as a defense to providing an accessible route as part of its obligation to provide program accessibility. The undue financial and administrative burden standard does not contain any bright line financial tests.
The Department's proposed § 35.151(b)(4) adopted the language now contained in § 36.403 of the title III regulation, including the disproportionality limitation (i.e., alterations made to provide an accessible path of travel to the altered area would be deemed disproportionate to the overall alteration when the cost exceeds 20 percent of the cost of the alteration to the primary function area). Proposed § 35.151(b)(2) provided that the path of travel requirements do not apply to alterations undertaken solely to comply with program accessibility requirements.
The Department received a substantial number of comments objecting to the Department's adoption of the exemption for the path of travel requirements when alterations are undertaken solely to meet program accessibility requirements. These commenters argued that the Department had no statutory basis for providing this exemption nor does it serve any purpose. In addition, these commenters argued that the path of travel exemption has the effect of placing new limitations on the obligations to provide program access. A number of commenters argued that doing away with the path of travel requirement would render meaningless the concept of program access. They argued that just as the requirement to provide an accessible path of travel to an altered area (regardless of the reason for the alteration), including making the restrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains that serve the altered area accessible, is a necessary requirement in other alterations, it is equally necessary for alterations made to provide program access. Several commenters expressed concern that a readily accessible path of travel be available to ensure that persons with disabilities can get to the physical location in which programs are held. Otherwise, they will not be able to access the public entity's service, program, or activity. Such access is a cornerstone of the protections provided by the ADA. Another commenter argued that it would be a waste of money to create an accessible facility without having a way to get to the primary area. This commenter also stated that the International Building Code (IBC) requires the path of travel to a primary function area, up to 20 percent of the cost of the project. Another commenter opposed the exemption, stating that the trigger of an alteration is frequently the only time that a facility must update its facilities to comply with evolving accessibility standards.
In the Department's view, the commenters objecting to the path of travel exemption contained in § 35.151(b)(2) did not understand the intention behind the exemption. The exemption was not intended to eliminate any existing requirements related to accessibility for alterations undertaken in order to meet program access obligations under § 35.149 and § 35.150. Rather, it was intended to ensure that covered entities did not apply the path of travel requirements in lieu of the overarching requirements in this Subpart that apply when making a facility accessible in order to comply with program accessibility. The exemption was also intended to make it clear that the disproportionality test contained in the path of travel standards is not applicable in determining whether providing program access results in an undue financial and administration burden within the meaning of § 35.150(a)(3). The exemption was also provided to maintain consistency with the title III path of travel exemption for barrier removal, see § 36.304(d), in keeping with the Department's regulatory authority under title II of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. 12134(b); see also H. R Rep. No. 101B485, pt. 2, at 84 (1990) (“The committee intends, however, that the forms of discrimination prohibited by section 202 be identical to those set out in the applicable provisions of titles I and III of this legislation.”).
For title II entities, the path of travel requirements are of significance in those cases where an alteration is being made solely for reasons other than program accessibility. For example, a public entity might have six courtrooms in two existing buildings and might determine that only three of those courtrooms and the public use and common use areas serving those courtrooms in one building are needed to be made accessible in order to satisfy its program access obligations. When the public entity makes those courtrooms and the public use and common use areas serving them accessible in order to meet its program access obligations, it will have to comply with the 2010 Standards unless the public entity can demonstrate that full compliance would result in undue financial and administrative burdens as described in § 35.150(a)(3). If such action would result in an undue financial or administrative burden, the public entity would nevertheless be required to take some other action that would not result in such an alteration or such burdens but would ensure that the benefits and services provided by the public entity are readily accessible to persons with disabilities. When the public entity is making modifications to meet its program access obligation, it may not rely on the path of travel exception under § 35.151(b)(4), which limits the requirement to those alterations where the cost and scope of the alterations are not disproportionate to the cost and scope of the overall alterations. If the public entity later decides to alter courtrooms in the other building, for purposes of updating the facility (and, as previously stated, has met its program access obligations) then in that case, the public entity would have to comply with the path of travel requirements in the 2010 Standards subject to the disproportionality exception set forth in § 35.151(b)(4).
The Department has slightly revised proposed § 35.151(b)(2) to make it clearer that the path of travel requirements only apply when alterations are undertaken solely for purposes other than program accessibility.
In § 35.151(b)(4)(ii)(C) of the NPRM, the Department included a provision that stated that public entities that have brought required elements of path of travel into compliance with the 1991 Standards are not required to retrofit those elements in order to reflect incremental changes in the 2010 Standards solely because of an alteration to a primary function area that is served by that path of travel. In these circumstances, the public entity is entitled to a safe harbor and is only required to modify elements to comply with the 2010 Standards if the public entity is planning an alteration to the element.
A substantial number of commenters objected to the Department's imposition of a safe harbor for alterations to facilities of public entities that comply with the 1991 Standards. These commenters argued that if a public entity is already in the process of altering its facility, there should be a legal requirement that individuals with disabilities be entitled to increased accessibility by using the 2010 Standards for path of travel work. They also stated that they did not believe there was a statutory basis for “grandfathering” facilities that comply with the 1991 Standards.
The ADA is silent on the issue of “grandfathering” or establishing a safe harbor for measuring compliance in situations where the covered entity is not undertaking a planned alteration to specific building elements. The ADA delegates to the Attorney General the responsibility for issuing regulations that define the parameters of covered entities' obligations when the statute does not directly address an issue. This regulation implements that delegation of authority.
One commenter proposed that a previous record of barrier removal be one of the factors in determining, prospectively, what renders a facility, when viewed in its entirety, usable and accessible to persons with disabilities. Another commenter asked the Department to clarify, at a minimum, that to the extent compliance with the 1991 Standards does not provide program access, particularly with regard to areas not specifically addressed in the 1991 Standards, the safe harbor will not operate to relieve an entity of its obligations to provide program access.
One commenter supported the proposal to add a safe harbor for path of travel.
The final rule retains the safe harbor for required elements of a path of travel to altered primary function areas for public entities that have already complied with the 1991 Standards with respect to those required elements. The Department believes that this safe harbor strikes an appropriate balance between ensuring that individuals with disabilities are provided access to buildings and facilities and potential financial burdens on existing public entities that are undertaking alterations subject to the 2010 Standards. This safe harbor is not a blanket exemption for facilities. If a public entity undertakes an alteration to a primary function area, only the required elements of a path of travel to that area that already comply with the 1991 Standards are subject to the safe harbor. If a public entity undertakes an alteration to a primary function area and the required elements of a path of travel to the altered area do not comply with the 1991 Standards, then the public entity must bring those elements into compliance with the 2010 Standards.
The final rule renumbers the requirements for alterations to historic facilities enumerated in current § 35.151(d)(1) and (2) as § 35.151(b)(3)(i) and (ii). Currently, the regulation provides that alterations to historic facilities shall comply to the maximum extent feasible with section 4.1.7 of UFAS or section 4.1.7 of the 1991 Standards. See 28 CFR 35.151(d)(1). Section 35.151(b)(3)(i) of the final rule eliminates the option of using UFAS for alterations that commence on or after March 15, 2012. The substantive requirement in current § 35.151(d)(2) - that alternative methods of access shall be provided pursuant to the requirements of § 35.150 if it is not feasible to provide physical access to an historic property in a manner that will not threaten or destroy the historic significance of the building or facility - is contained in § 35.151(b)(3)(ii).
Section 35.151(c) of the NPRM proposed to adopt ADA Chapter 1, ADA Chapter 2, and Chapters 3 through 10 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Guidelines (2004 ADAAG) into the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards). As the Department has noted, the development of these standards represents the culmination of a lengthy effort by the Access Board to update its guidelines, to make the Federal guidelines consistent to the extent permitted by law, and to harmonize the Federal requirements with the private sector model codes that form the basis of many State and local building code requirements. The full text of the 2010 Standards is available for public review on the ADA Home Page (http://www.ada.gov) and on the Access Board's Web site (http://www.access-board.gov/gs.htm) (last visited June 24, 2010). The Access Board site also includes an extensive discussion of the development of the 2004 ADA/ABA Guidelines, and a detailed comparison of the 1991 Standards, the 2004 ADA/ABA Guidelines, and the 2003 International Building Code.
Section 204 of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12134, directs the Attorney General to issue regulations to implement title II that are consistent with the minimum guidelines published by the Access Board. The Attorney General (or his designee) is a statutory member of the Access Board (see 29 U.S.C. 792(a)(1)(B(vii)) and was involved in the development of the 2004 ADAAG. Nevertheless, during the process of drafting the NPRM, the Department reviewed the 2004 ADAAG to determine if additional regulatory provisions were necessary. As a result of this review, the Department decided to propose new sections, which were contained in § 35.151(e)-(h) of the NPRM, to clarify how the Department will apply the proposed standards to social service center establishments, housing at places of education, assembly areas, and medical care facilities. Each of these provisions is discussed below.
Congress anticipated that there would be a need for close coordination of the ADA building requirements with State and local building code requirements. Therefore, the ADA authorized the Attorney General to establish an ADA code certification process under title III of the ADA. That process is addressed in 28 CFR part 36, subpart F. Revisions to that process are addressed in the regulation amending the title III regulation published elsewhere in the Federal Register today. In addition, the Department operates an extensive technical assistance program. The Department anticipates that once this rule is final, revised technical assistance material will be issued to provide guidance about its implementation.
Section 35.151(c) of the 1991 title II regulation establishes two standards for accessible new construction and alteration. Under paragraph (c), design, construction, or alteration of facilities in conformance with UFAS or with the 1991 Standards (which, at the time of the publication of the rule were also referred to as the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (1991 ADAAG)) is deemed to comply with the requirements of this section with respect to those facilities (except that if the 1991 Standards are chosen, the elevator exemption does not apply). The 1991 Standards were based on the 1991 ADAAG, which was initially developed by the Access Board as guidelines for the accessibility of buildings and facilities that are subject to title III. The Department adopted the 1991 ADAAG as the standards for places of public accommodation and commercial facilities under title III of the ADA and it was published as Appendix A to the Department's regulation implementing title III, 56 FR 35592 (July 26, 1991) as amended, 58 FR 17522 (April 5, 1993), and as further amended, 59 FR 2675 (Jan. 18, 1994), codified at 28 CFR part 36 (2009).
Section 35.151(c) of the final rule adopts the 2010 Standards and establishes the compliance date and triggering events for the application of those standards to both new construction and alterations. Appendix B of the final title III rule (Analysis and Commentary on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design) (which will be published today elsewhere in this volume and codified as Appendix B to 28 CFR part 36) provides a description of the major changes in the 2010 Standards (as compared to the 1991 ADAAG) and a discussion of the public comments that the Department received on specific sections of the 2004 ADAAG. A number of commenters asked the Department to revise certain provisions in the 2004 ADAAG in a manner that would reduce either the required scoping or specific technical accessibility requirements. As previously stated, although the ADA requires the enforceable standards issued by the Department under title II and title III to be consistent with the minimum guidelines published by the Access Board, it is the sole responsibility of the Attorney General to promulgate standards and to interpret and enforce those standards. The guidelines adopted by the Access Board are “minimum guidelines.” 42 U.S.C. 12186(c).
Compliance date. When the ADA was enacted, the effective dates for various provisions were delayed in order to provide time for covered entities to become familiar with their new obligations. Titles II and III of the ADA generally became effective on January 26, 1992, six months after the regulations were published. See 42 U.S.C. 12131 note; 42 U.S.C. 12181 note. New construction under title II and alterations under either title II or title III had to comply with the design standards on that date. See 42 U.S.C. 12183(a)(1). For new construction under title III, the requirements applied to facilities designed and constructed for first occupancy after January 26, 1993 - 18 months after the 1991 Standards were published by the Department. In the NPRM, the Department proposed to amend § 35.151(c)(1) by revising the current language to limit the application of the 1991 standards to facilities on which construction commences within six months of the final rule adopting revised standards. The NPRM also proposed adding paragraph (c)(2) to § 35.151, which states that facilities on which construction commences on or after the date six months following the effective date of the final rule shall comply with the proposed standards adopted by that rule.
As a result, under the NPRM, for the first six months after the effective date, public entities would have the option to use either UFAS or the 1991 Standards and be in compliance with title II. Six months after the effective date of the rule, the new standards would take effect. At that time, construction in accordance with UFAS would no longer satisfy ADA requirements. The Department stated that in order to avoid placing the burden of complying with both standards on public entities, the Department would coordinate a government-wide effort to revise Federal agencies' section 504 regulations to adopt the 2004 ADAAG as the standard for new construction and alterations.
The purpose of the proposed six-month delay in requiring compliance with the 2010 Standards was to allow covered entities a reasonable grace period to transition between the existing and the proposed standards. For that reason, if a title II entity preferred to use the 2010 Standards as the standard for new construction or alterations commenced within the six-month period after the effective date of the final rule, such entity would be considered in compliance with title II of the ADA.
The Department received a number of comments about the proposed six-month effective date for the title II regulation that were similar in content to those received on this issue for the proposed title III regulation. Several commenters supported the six-month effective date. One commenter stated that any revisions to its State building code becomes effective six months after adoption and that this has worked well. In addition, this commenter stated that since 2004 ADAAG is similar to IBC 2006 and ICC/ANSI A117.1-2003, the transition should be easy. By contrast, another commenter advocated for a minimum 12-month effective date, arguing that a shorter effective date could cause substantial economic hardships to many cities and towns because of the lengthy lead time necessary for construction projects. This commenter was concerned that a six-month effective date could lead to projects having to be completely redrawn, rebid, and rescheduled to ensure compliance with the new standards. Other commenters advocated that the effective date be extended to at least 18 months after the publication of the rule. One of these commenters expressed concern that the kinds of bureaucratic organizations subject to the title II regulations lack the internal resources to quickly evaluate the regulatory changes, determine whether they are currently compliant with the 1991 standards, and determine what they have to do to comply with the new standards. The other commenter argued that 18 months is the minimum amount of time necessary to ensure that projects that have already been designed and approved do not have to undergo costly design revisions at taxpayer expense.
The Department is persuaded by the concerns raised by commenters for both the title II and III regulations that the six-month compliance date proposed in the NPRM for application of the 2010 Standards may be too short for certain projects that are already in the midst of the design and permitting process. The Department has determined that for new construction and alterations, compliance with the 2010 Standards will not be required until 18 months from the date the final rule is published. Until the time compliance with the 2010 Standards is required, public entities will have the option of complying with the 2010 Standards, the UFAS, or the 1991 Standards. However, public entities that choose to comply with the 2010 Standards in lieu of the 1991 Standards or UFAS prior to the compliance date described in this rule must choose one of the three standards, and may not rely on some of the requirements contained in one standard and some of the requirements contained in the other standards.
Triggering event. In § 35.151(c)(2) of the NPRM, the Department proposed that the commencement of construction serve as the triggering event for applying the proposed standards to new construction and alterations under title II. This language is consistent with the triggering event set forth in § 35.151(a) of the 1991 title II regulation. The Department received only four comments on this section of the title II rule. Three commenters supported the use of “start of construction” as the triggering event. One commenter argued that the Department should use the “last building permit or start of physical construction, whichever comes first,” stating that “altering a design after a building permit has been issued can be an undue burden.”
After considering these comments, the Department has decided to continue to use the commencement of physical construction as the triggering event for application of the 2010 Standards for entities covered by title II. The Department has also added clarifying language at § 35.151(c)(4) to the regulation to make it clear that the date of ceremonial groundbreaking or the date a structure is razed to make it possible for construction of a facility to take place does not qualify as the commencement of physical construction.
Section 234 of the 2010 Standards provides accessibility guidelines for newly designed and constructed amusement rides. The amusement ride provisions do not provide a “triggering event” for new construction or alteration of an amusement ride. An industry commenter requested that the triggering event of “first use,” as noted in the Advisory note to section 234.1 of the 2004 ADAAG, be included in the final rule. The Advisory note provides that “[a] custom designed and constructed ride is new upon its first use, which is the first time amusement park patrons take the ride.” The Department declines to treat amusement rides differently than other types of new construction and alterations. Under the final rule, they are subject to § 35.151(c). Thus, newly constructed and altered amusement rides shall comply with the 2010 Standards if the start of physical construction or the alteration is on or after 18 months from the publication date of this rule. The Department also notes that section 234.4.2 of the 2010 Standards only applies where the structural or operational characteristics of an amusement ride are altered. It does not apply in cases where the only change to a ride is the theme.
Noncomplying new construction and alterations. The element-by-element safe harbor referenced in § 35.150(b)(2) has no effect on new or altered elements in existing facilities that were subject to the 1991 Standards or UFAS on the date that they were constructed or altered, but do not comply with the technical and scoping specifications for those elements in the 1991 Standards or UFAS. Section 35.151(c)(5) of the final rule sets forth the rules for noncompliant new construction or alterations in facilities that were subject to the requirements of this part. Under those provisions, noncomplying new construction and alterations constructed or altered after the effective date of the applicable ADA requirements and before March 15, 2012 shall, before March 15, 2012, be made accessible in accordance with either the 1991 Standards, UFAS, or the 2010 Standards. Noncomplying new construction and alterations constructed or altered after the effective date of the applicable ADA requirements and before March 15, 2012, shall, on or after March 15, 2012 be made accessible in accordance with the 2010 Standards.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed a new provision, § 35.151(d), to clarify that the requirements established by § 35.151, including those contained in the 2004 ADAAG, prescribe what is necessary to ensure that buildings and facilities, including fixed or built-in elements in new or altered facilities, are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Once the construction or alteration of a facility has been completed, all other aspects of programs, services, and activities conducted in that facility are subject to the operational requirements established in this final rule. Although the Department may use the requirements of the 2010 Standards as a guide to determining when and how to make equipment and furnishings accessible, those determinations fall within the discretionary authority of the Department.
The Department also wishes to clarify that the advisory notes, appendix notes, and figures that accompany the 1991 and 2010 Standards do not establish separately enforceable requirements unless specifically stated otherwise in the text of the standards. This clarification has been made to address concerns expressed by ANPRM commenters who mistakenly believed that the advisory notes in the 2004 ADAAG established requirements beyond those established in the text of the guidelines (e.g., Advisory 504.4 suggests, but does not require, that covered entities provide visual contrast on stair tread nosing to make them more visible to individuals with low vision). The Department received no significant comments on this section and it is unchanged in the final rule.
Definitions of residential facilities and transient lodging. The 2010 Standards add a definition of “residential dwelling unit” and modify the current definition of “transient lodging.” Under section 106.5 of the 2010 Standards, “residential dwelling unit” is defined as “[a] unit intended to be used as a residence, that is primarily long-term in nature” and does not include transient lodging, inpatient medical care, licensed long-term care, and detention or correctional facilities. Additionally, section 106.5 of the 2010 Standards changes the definition of “transient lodging” to a building or facility “containing one or more guest room(s) for sleeping that provides accommodations that are primarily short-term in nature.” “Transient lodging” does not include residential dwelling units intended to be used as a residence. The references to “dwelling units” and “dormitories” that are in the definition of the 1991 Standards are omitted from the 2010 Standards.
The comments about the application of transient lodging or residential standards to social service center establishments, and housing at a place of education are addressed separately below. The Department received one additional comment on this issue from an organization representing emergency response personnel seeking an exemption from the transient lodging accessibility requirements for crew quarters and common use areas serving those crew quarters (e.g., locker rooms, exercise rooms, day room) that are used exclusively by on-duty emergency response personnel and that are not used for any public purpose. The commenter argued that since emergency response personnel must meet certain physical qualifications that have the effect of exempting persons with mobility disabilities, there is no need to build crew quarters and common use areas serving those crew quarters to meet the 2004 ADAAG. In addition, the commenter argued that applying the transient lodging standards would impose significant costs and create living space that is less usable for most emergency response personnel.
The ADA does not exempt spaces because of a belief or policy that excludes persons with disabilities from certain work. However, the Department believes that crew quarters that are used exclusively as a residence by emergency response personnel and the kitchens and bathrooms exclusively serving those quarters are more like residential dwelling units and are therefore covered by the residential dwelling standards in the 2010 Standards, not the transient lodging standards. The residential dwelling standards address most of the concerns of the commenter. For example, the commenter was concerned that sinks in kitchens and lavatories in bathrooms that are accessible under the transient lodging standards would be too low to be comfortably used by emergency response personnel. The residential dwelling standards allow such features to be adaptable so that they would not have to be lowered until accessibility was needed. Similarly, grab bars and shower seats would not have to be installed at the time of construction provided that reinforcement has been installed in walls and located so as to permit their installation at a later date.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed a new § 35.151(e) requiring group homes, halfway houses, shelters, or similar social service center establishments that provide temporary sleeping accommodations or residential dwelling units to comply with the provisions of the 2004 ADAAG that apply to residential facilities, including, but not limited to, the provisions in sections 233 and 809.
The NPRM explained that this proposal was based on two important changes in the 2004 ADAAG. First, for the first time, residential dwelling units are explicitly covered in the 2004 ADAAG in section 233. Second, the 2004 ADAAG eliminates the language contained in the 1991 Standards addressing scoping and technical requirements for homeless shelters, group homes, and similar social service center establishments. Currently, such establishments are covered in section 9.5 of the transient lodging section of the 1991 Standards. The deletion of section 9.5 creates an ambiguity of coverage that must be addressed.
The NPRM explained the Department's belief that transferring coverage of social service center establishments from the transient lodging standards to the residential facilities standards would alleviate conflicting requirements for social service center providers. The Department believes that a substantial percentage of social service center establishments are recipients of Federal financial assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also provides financial assistance for the operation of shelters through the Administration for Children and Families programs. As such, these establishments are covered both by the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. UFAS is currently the design standard for new construction and alterations for entities subject to section 504. The two design standards for accessibility - the 1991 Standards and UFAS - have confronted many social service providers with separate, and sometimes conflicting, requirements for design and construction of facilities. To resolve these conflicts, the residential facilities standards in the 2004 ADAAG have been coordinated with the section 504 requirements. The transient lodging standards, however, are not similarly coordinated. The deletion of section 9.5 of the 1991 Standards from the 2004 ADAAG presented two options: (1) Require coverage under the transient lodging standards, and subject such facilities to separate, conflicting requirements for design and construction; or (2) require coverage under the residential facilities standards, which would harmonize the regulatory requirements under the ADA and section 504. The Department chose the option that harmonizes the regulatory requirements: coverage under the residential facilities standards.
In the NPRM, the Department expressed concern that the residential facilities standards do not include a requirement for clear floor space next to beds similar to the requirement in the transient lodging standards and as a result, the Department proposed adding a provision that would require certain social service center establishments that provide sleeping rooms with more than 25 beds to ensure that a minimum of 5 percent of the beds have clear floor space in accordance with section 806.2.3 or of the 2004 ADAAG.
In the NPRM, the Department requested information from providers who operate homeless shelters, transient group homes, halfway houses, and other social service center establishments, and from the clients of these facilities who would be affected by this proposed change, asking, “[t]o what extent have conflicts between the ADA and section 504 affected these facilities? What would be the effect of applying the residential dwelling unit requirements to these facilities, rather than the requirements for transient lodging guest rooms?” 73 FR 34466, 34491 (June 17, 2008).
Many of the commenters supported applying the residential facilities requirements to social service center establishments, stating that even though the residential facilities requirements are less demanding in some instances, the existence of one clear standard will result in an overall increased level of accessibility by eliminating the confusion and inaction that are sometimes caused by the current existence of multiple requirements. One commenter also stated that “it makes sense to treat social service center establishments like residential facilities because this is how these establishments function in practice.”
Two commenters agreed with applying the residential facilities requirements to social service center establishments but recommended adding a requirement for various bathing options, such as a roll-in shower (which is not required under the residential standards).
One commenter objected to the change and asked the Department to require that social service center establishments continue to comply with the transient lodging standards. One commenter stated that it did not agree that the standards for residential coverage would serve persons with disabilities as well as the 1991 transient lodging standards. This commenter expressed concern that the Department had eliminated guidance for social service agencies and that the rule should be put on hold until those safeguards are restored. Another commenter argued that the rule that would provide the greatest access for persons with disabilities should prevail.
Several commenters argued for the application of the transient lodging standards to all social service center establishments except those that were “intended as a person's place of abode,” referencing the Department's question related to the definition of “place of lodging” in the title III NPRM. One commenter stated that the International Building Code requires accessible units in all transient facilities. The commenter expressed concern that group homes should be built to be accessible, rather than adaptable.
The Department continues to be concerned about alleviating the challenges for social service providers that are also subject to section 504 and would likely be subject to conflicting requirements if the transient lodging standards were applied. Thus, the Department has retained the requirement that social service center establishments comply with the residential dwelling standards. The Department believes, however, that social service center establishments that provide emergency shelter to large transient populations should be able to provide bathing facilities that are accessible to persons with mobility disabilities who need roll-in showers. Because of the transient nature of the population of these large shelters, it will not be feasible to modify bathing facilities in a timely manner when faced with a need to provide a roll-in shower with a seat when requested by an overnight visitor. As a result, the Department has added a requirement that social service center establishments with sleeping accommodations for more than 50 individuals must provide at least one roll-in shower with a seat that complies with the relevant provisions of section 608 of the 2010 Standards. Transfer-type showers are not permitted in lieu of a roll-in shower with a seat and the exceptions in sections 608.3 and 608.4 for residential dwelling units are not permitted. When separate shower facilities are provided for men and for women, at least one roll-in shower shall be provided for each group. This supplemental requirement to the residential facilities standards is in addition to the supplemental requirement that was proposed in the NPRM for clear floor space in sleeping rooms with more than 25 beds.
The Department also notes that while dwelling units at some social service center establishments are also subject to the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) design and construction requirements that require certain features of adaptable and accessible design, FHAct units do not provide the same level of accessibility that is required for residential facilities under the 2010 Standards. The FHAct requirements, where also applicable, should not be considered a substitute for the 2010 Standards. Rather, the 2010 Standards must be followed in addition to the FHAct requirements.
The Department also notes that whereas the NPRM used the term “social service establishment,” the final rule uses the term “social service center establishment.” The Department has made this editorial change so that the final rule is consistent with the terminology used in the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. 12181(7)(k).
The Department of Justice and the Department of Education share responsibility for regulation and enforcement of the ADA in postsecondary educational settings, including its requirements for architectural features. In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has enforcement responsibility for housing subject to title II of the ADA. Housing facilities in educational settings range from traditional residence halls and dormitories to apartment or townhouse-style residences. In addition to title II of the ADA, public universities and schools that receive Federal financial assistance are also subject to section 504, which contains its own accessibility requirements through the application of UFAS. Residential housing in an educational setting is also covered by the FHAct, which requires newly constructed multifamily housing to include certain features of accessible and adaptable design. Covered entities subject to the ADA must always be aware of, and comply with, any other Federal statutes or regulations that govern the operation of residential properties.
Although the 1991 Standards mention dormitories as a form of transient lodging, they do not specifically address how the ADA applies to dormitories or other types of residential housing provided in an educational setting. The 1991 Standards also do not contain any specific provisions for residential facilities, allowing covered entities to elect to follow the residential standards contained in UFAS. Although the 2004 ADAAG contains provisions for both residential facilities and transient lodging, the guidelines do not indicate which requirements apply to housing provided in an educational setting, leaving it to the adopting agencies to make that choice. After evaluating both sets of standards, the Department concluded that the benefits of applying the transient lodging standards outweighed the benefits of applying the residential facilities standards. Consequently, in the NPRM, the Department proposed a new § 35.151(f) that provided that residence halls or dormitories operated by or on behalf of places of education shall comply with the provisions of the proposed standards for transient lodging, including, but not limited to, the provisions in sections 224 and 806 of the 2004 ADAAG.
Both public and private school housing facilities have varied characteristics. College and university housing facilities typically provide housing for up to one academic year, but may be closed during school vacation periods. In the summer, they are often used for short-term stays of one to three days, a week, or several months. Graduate and faculty housing is often provided year-round in the form of apartments, which may serve individuals or families with children. These housing facilities are diverse in their layout. Some are double-occupancy rooms with a shared toilet and bathing room, which may be inside or outside the unit. Others may contain cluster, suite, or group arrangements where several rooms are located inside a defined unit with bathing, kitchen, and similar common facilities. In some cases, these suites are indistinguishable in features from traditional apartments. Universities may build their own housing facilities or enter into agreements with private developers to build, own, or lease housing to the educational institution or to its students. Academic housing may be located on the campus of the university or may be located in nearby neighborhoods.
Throughout the school year and the summer, academic housing can become program areas in which small groups meet, receptions and educational sessions are held, and social activities occur. The ability to move between rooms - both accessible rooms and standard rooms - in order to socialize, to study, and to use all public use and common use areas is an essential part of having access to these educational programs and activities. Academic housing is also used for short-term transient educational programs during the time students are not in regular residence and may be rented out to transient visitors in a manner similar to a hotel for special university functions.
The Department was concerned that applying the new construction requirements for residential facilities to educational housing facilities could hinder access to educational programs for students with disabilities. Elevators are not generally required under the 2004 ADAAG residential facilities standards unless they are needed to provide an accessible route from accessible units to public use and common use areas, while under the 2004 ADAAG as it applies to other types of facilities, multistory public facilities must have elevators unless they meet very specific exceptions. In addition, the residential facilities standards do not require accessible roll-in showers in bathrooms, while the transient lodging requirements require some of the accessible units to be served by bathrooms with roll-in showers. The transient lodging standards also require that a greater number of units have accessible features for persons with communication disabilities. The transient lodging standards provide for installation of the required accessible features so that they are available immediately, but the residential facilities standards allow for certain features of the unit to be adaptable. For example, only reinforcements for grab bars need to be provided in residential dwellings, but the actual grab bars must be installed under the transient lodging standards. By contrast, the residential facilities standards do require certain features that provide greater accessibility within units, such as more usable kitchens, and an accessible route throughout the dwelling. The residential facilities standards also require 5 percent of the units to be accessible to persons with mobility disabilities, which is a continuation of the same scoping that is currently required under UFAS, and is therefore applicable to any educational institution that is covered by section 504. The transient lodging standards require a lower percentage of accessible sleeping rooms for facilities with large numbers of rooms than is required by UFAS. For example, if a dormitory had 150 rooms, the transient lodging standards would require seven accessible rooms while the residential standards would require eight. In a large dormitory with 500 rooms, the transient lodging standards would require 13 accessible rooms and the residential facilities standards would require 25. There are other differences between the two sets of standards as well with respect to requirements for accessible windows, alterations, kitchens, accessible route throughout a unit, and clear floor space in bathrooms allowing for a side transfer.
In the NPRM, the Department requested public comment on how to scope educational housing facilities, asking, “[w]ould the residential facility requirements or the transient lodging requirements in the 2004 ADAAG be more appropriate for housing at places of education? How would the different requirements affect the cost when building new dormitories and other student housing?” 73 FR 34466, 34492 (June 17, 2008).
The vast majority of the comments received by the Department advocated using the residential facilities standards for housing at a place of education instead of the transient lodging standards, arguing that housing at places of public education are in fact homes for the students who live in them. These commenters argued, however, that the Department should impose a requirement for a variety of options for accessible bathing and should ensure that all floors of dormitories be accessible so that students with disabilities have the same opportunities to participate in the life of the dormitory community that are provided to students without disabilities. Commenters representing persons with disabilities and several individuals argued that, although the transient lodging standards may provide a few more accessible features (such as roll-in showers), the residential facilities standards would ensure that students with disabilities have access to all rooms in their assigned unit, not just to the sleeping room, kitchenette, and wet bar. One commenter stated that, in its view, the residential facilities standards were congruent with overlapping requirements from HUD, and that access provided by the residential facilities requirements within alterations would ensure dispersion of accessible features more effectively. This commenter also argued that while the increased number of required accessible units for residential facilities as compared to transient lodging may increase the cost of construction or alteration, this cost would be offset by a reduced need to adapt rooms later if the demand for accessible rooms exceeds the supply. The commenter also encouraged the Department to impose a visitability (accessible doorways and necessary clear floor space for turning radius) requirement for both the residential facilities and transient lodging requirements to allow students with mobility impairments to interact and socialize in a fully integrated fashion.
Two commenters supported the Department's proposed approach. One commenter argued that the transient lodging requirements in the 2004 ADAAG would provide greater accessibility and increase the opportunity of students with disabilities to participate fully in campus life. A second commenter generally supported the provision of accessible dwelling units at places of education, and pointed out that the relevant scoping in the International Building Code requires accessible units “consistent with hotel accommodations.”
The Department has considered the comments recommending the use of the residential facilities standards and acknowledges that they require certain features that are not included in the transient lodging standards and that should be required for housing provided at a place of education. In addition, the Department notes that since educational institutions often use their academic housing facilities as short-term transient lodging in the summers, it is important that accessible features be installed at the outset. It is not realistic to expect that the educational institution will be able to adapt a unit in a timely manner in order to provide accessible accommodations to someone attending a one-week program during the summer.
The Department has determined that the best approach to this type of housing is to continue to require the application of transient lodging standards, but at the same time to add several requirements drawn from the residential facilities standards related to accessible turning spaces and work surfaces in kitchens, and the accessible route throughout the unit. This will ensure the maintenance of the transient lodging standard requirements related to access to all floors of the facility, roll-in showers in facilities with more than 50 sleeping rooms, and other important accessibility features not found in the residential facilities standards, but will also ensure usable kitchens and access to all the rooms in a suite or apartment.
The Department has added a new definition to § 35.104, “Housing at a Place of Education,” and has revised § 35.151(f) to reflect the accessible features that now will be required in addition to the requirements set forth under the transient lodging standards. The Department also recognizes that some educational institutions provide some residential housing on a year-round basis to graduate students and staff which is comparable to private rental housing, and which contains no facilities for educational programming. Section 35.151(f)(3) exempts from the transient lodging standards apartments or townhouse facilities provided by or on behalf of a place of education that are leased on a year-round basis exclusively to graduate students or faculty, and do not contain any public use or common use areas available for educational programming; instead, such housing shall comply with the requirements for residential facilities in sections 233 and 809 of the 2010 Standards.
Section 35.151(f) uses the term “sleeping room” in lieu of the term “guest room,” which is the term used in the transient lodging standards. The Department is using this term because it believes that, for the most part, it provides a better description of the sleeping facilities used in a place of education than “guest room.” The final rule states that the Department intends the terms to be used interchangeably in the application of the transient lodging standards to housing at a place of education.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.151(g) to supplement the assembly area requirements of the 2004 ADAAG, which the Department is adopting as part of the 2010 Standards. The NPRM proposed at § 35.151(g)(1) to require wheelchair spaces and companion seating locations to be dispersed to all levels of the facility and are served by an accessible route. The Department received no significant comments on this paragraph and has decided to adopt the proposed language with minor modifications. The Department has retained the substance of this section in the final rule but has clarified that the requirement applies to stadiums, arenas, and grandstands. In addition, the Department has revised the phrase “wheelchair and companion seating locations” to “wheelchair spaces and companion seats.”
Section 35.151(g)(1) ensures that there is greater dispersion of wheelchair spaces and companion seats throughout stadiums, arenas, and grandstands than would otherwise be required by sections 221 and 802 of the 2004 ADAAG. In some cases, the accessible route may not be the same route that other individuals use to reach their seats. For example, if other patrons reach their seats on the field by an inaccessible route (e.g., by stairs), but there is an accessible route that complies with section 206.3 of the 2010 Standards that could be connected to seats on the field, wheelchair spaces and companion seats must be placed on the field even if that route is not generally available to the public.
Regulatory language that was included in the 2004 ADAAG advisory, but that did not appear in the NPRM, has been added by the Department in § 35.151(g)(2). Section 35.151(g)(2) now requires an assembly area that has seating encircling, in whole or in part, a field of play or performance area such as an arena or stadium, to place wheelchair spaces and companion seats around the entire facility. This rule, which is designed to prevent a public entity from placing wheelchair spaces and companion seats on one side of the facility only, is consistent with the Department's enforcement practices and reflects its interpretation of section 4.33.3 of the 1991 Standards.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 35.151(g)(2) which prohibits wheelchair spaces and companion seating locations from being “located on, (or obstructed by) temporary platforms or other moveable structures.” Through its enforcement actions, the Department discovered that some venues place wheelchair spaces and companion seats on temporary platforms that, when removed, reveal conventional seating underneath, or cover the wheelchair spaces and companion seats with temporary platforms on top of which they place risers of conventional seating. These platforms cover groups of conventional seats and are used to provide groups of wheelchair seats and companion seats.
Several commenters requested an exception to the prohibition of the use of temporary platforms for public entities that sell most of their tickets on a season-ticket or other multi-event basis. Such commenters argued that they should be able to use temporary platforms because they know, in advance, that the patrons sitting in certain areas for the whole season do not need wheelchair spaces and companion seats. The Department declines to adopt such an exception. As it explained in detail in the NPRM, the Department believes that permitting the use of movable platforms that seat four or more wheelchair users and their companions have the potential to reduce the number of available wheelchair seating spaces below the level required, thus reducing the opportunities for persons who need accessible seating to have the same choice of ticket prices and amenities that are available to other patrons in the facility. In addition, use of removable platforms may result in instances where last minute requests for wheelchair and companion seating cannot be met because entire sections of accessible seating will be lost when a platform is removed. See 73 FR 34466, 34493 (June 17, 2008). Further, use of temporary platforms allows facilities to limit persons who need accessible seating to certain seating areas, and to relegate accessible seating to less desirable locations. The use of temporary platforms has the effect of neutralizing dispersion and other seating requirements (e.g., line of sight) for wheelchair spaces and companion seats. Cf. Independent Living Resources v. Oregon Arena Corp., 1 F. Supp. 2d 1159, 1171 (D. Or. 1998) (holding that while a public accommodation may “infill” wheelchair spaces with removable seats when the wheelchair spaces are not needed to accommodate individuals with disabilities, under certain circumstances “[s]uch a practice might well violate the rule that wheelchair spaces must be dispersed throughout the arena in a manner that is roughly proportionate to the overall distribution of seating”). In addition, using temporary platforms to convert unsold wheelchair spaces to conventional seating undermines the flexibility facilities need to accommodate secondary ticket markets exchanges as required by § 35.138(g) of the final rule.
As the Department explained in the NPRM, however, this provision was not designed to prohibit temporary seating that increases seating for events (e.g., placing temporary seating on the floor of a basketball court for a concert). Consequently, the final rule, at § 35.151(g)(3), has been amended to clarify that if an entire seating section is on a temporary platform for a particular event, then wheelchair spaces and companion seats may be in that seating section. However, adding a temporary platform to create wheelchair spaces and companion seats that are otherwise dissimilar from nearby fixed seating and then simply adding a small number of additional seats to the platform would not qualify as an “entire seating section” on the platform. In addition, § 35.151(g)(3) clarifies that facilities may fill in wheelchair spaces with removable seats when the wheelchair spaces are not needed by persons who use wheelchairs.
The Department has been responsive to assembly areas' concerns about reduced revenues due to unused accessible seating. Accordingly, the Department has reduced scoping requirements significantly - by almost half in large assembly areas - and determined that allowing assembly areas to infill unsold wheelchair spaces with readily removable temporary individual seats appropriately balances their economic concerns with the rights of individuals with disabilities. See section 221.2 of the 2010 Standards.
For stadium-style movie theaters, in § 35.151(g)(4) of the NPRM the Department proposed requiring placement of wheelchair seating spaces and companion seats on a riser or cross-aisle in the stadium section of the theater and placement of such seating so that it satisfies at least one of the following criteria: (1) It is located within the rear 60 percent of the seats provided in the auditorium; or (2) it is located within the area of the auditorium where the vertical viewing angles are between the 40th to 100th percentile of vertical viewing angles for all seats in that theater as ranked from the first row (1st percentile) to the back row (100th percentile). The vertical viewing angle is the angle between a horizontal line perpendicular to the seated viewer's eye to the screen and a line from the seated viewer's eye to the top of the screen.
The Department proposed this bright-line rule for two reasons: (1) The movie theater industry petitioned for such a rule; and (2) the Department has acquired expertise on the design of stadium style theaters from litigation against several major movie theater chains. See U.S. v. AMC Entertainment, 232 F. Supp. 2d 1092 (C.D. Ca. 2002), rev'd in part, 549 F. 3d 760 (9th Cir. 2008); U.S. v. Cinemark USA, Inc., 348 F. 3d 569 (6th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 542 U.S. 937 (2004). Two industry commenters - at least one of whom otherwise supported this rule - requested that the Department explicitly state that this rule does not apply retroactively to existing theaters. Although this rule on its face applies to new construction and alterations, these commenters were concerned that the rule could be interpreted to apply retroactively because of the Department's statement in the ANPRM that this bright-line rule, although newly-articulated, does not represent a “substantive change from the existing line-of-sight requirements” of section 4.33.3 of the 1991 Standards. See 69 FR 58768, 58776 (Sept. 30, 2004).
Although the Department intends for § 35.151(g)(4) of this rule to apply prospectively to new construction and alterations, this rule is not a departure from, and is consistent with, the line-of-sight requirements in the 1991 Standards. The Department has always interpreted the line-of-sight requirements in the 1991 Standards to require viewing angles provided to patrons who use wheelchairs to be comparable to those afforded to other spectators. Section 35.151(g)(4) merely represents the application of these requirements to stadium-style movie theaters.
One commenter from a trade association sought clarification whether § 35.151(g)(4) applies to stadium-style theaters with more than 300 seats, and argued that it should not since dispersion requirements apply in those theaters. The Department declines to limit this rule to stadium-style theaters with 300 or fewer seats; stadium-style theaters of all sizes must comply with this rule. So, for example, stadium-style theaters that must vertically disperse wheelchair and companion seats must do so within the parameters of this rule.
The NPRM included a provision that required assembly areas with more than 5,000 seats to provide at least five wheelchair spaces with at least three companion seats for each of those five wheelchair spaces. The Department agrees with commenters who asserted that group seating is better addressed through ticketing policies rather than design and has deleted that provision from this section of the final rule.
In the 1991 title II regulation, there was no provision addressing the dispersion of accessible sleeping rooms in medical care facilities. The Department is aware, however, of problems that individuals with disabilities face in receiving full and equal medical care when accessible sleeping rooms are not adequately dispersed. When accessible rooms are not fully dispersed, a person with a disability is often placed in an accessible room in an area that is not medically appropriate for his or her condition, and is thus denied quick access to staff with expertise in that medical specialty and specialized equipment. While the Access Board did not establish specific design requirements for dispersion in the 2004 ADAAG, in response to extensive comments in support of dispersion it added an advisory note, Advisory 223.1 General, encouraging dispersion of accessible rooms within the facility so that accessible rooms are more likely to be proximate to appropriate qualified staff and resources.
In the NPRM, the Department sought additional comment on the issue, asking whether it should require medical care facilities, such as hospitals, to disperse their accessible sleeping rooms, and if so, by what method (by specialty area, floor, or other criteria). All of the comments the Department received on this issue supported dispersing accessible sleeping rooms proportionally by specialty area. These comments, from individuals, organizations, and a building code association, argued that it would not be difficult for hospitals to disperse rooms by specialty area, given the high level of regulation to which hospitals are subject and the planning that hospitals do based on utilization trends. Further, commenters suggested that without a requirement, it is unlikely that hospitals would disperse the rooms. In addition, concentrating accessible rooms in one area perpetuates segregation of individuals with disabilities, which is counter to the purpose of the ADA.
The Department has decided to require medical care facilities to disperse their accessible sleeping rooms in a manner that is proportionate by type of medical specialty. This does not require exact mathematical proportionality, which at times would be impossible. However, it does require that medical care facilities disperse their accessible rooms by medical specialty so that persons with disabilities can, to the extent practical, stay in an accessible room within the wing or ward that is appropriate for their medical needs. The language used in this rule (“in a manner that is proportionate by type of medical specialty”) is more specific than that used in the NPRM (“in a manner that enables patients with disabilities to have access to appropriate specialty services”) and adopts the concept of proportionality proposed by the commenters. Accessible rooms should be dispersed throughout all medical specialties, such as obstetrics, orthopedics, pediatrics, and cardiac care.
Section 35.151(e) on curb ramps in the 1991 rule has been redesignated as § 35.151(i). In the NPRM, the Department proposed making a minor editorial change to this section, deleting the phrase “other sloped areas” from the two places in which it appears in the 1991 title II regulation. In the NPRM, the Department stated that the phrase “other sloped areas” lacks technical precision. The Department received no significant public comments on this proposal. Upon further consideration, however, the Department has concluded that the regulation should acknowledge that there are times when there are transitions from sidewalk to road surface that do not technically qualify as “curb ramps” (sloped surfaces that have a running slope that exceed 5 percent). Therefore, the Department has decided not to delete the phrase “other sloped areas.”
Although public entities that operate residential housing programs are subject to title II of the ADA, and therefore must provide accessible residential housing, the 1991 Standards did not contain scoping or technical standards that specifically applied to residential housing units. As a result, under the Department's title II regulation, these agencies had the choice of complying with UFAS, which contains specific scoping and technical standards for residential housing units, or applying the ADAAG transient lodging standards to their housing. Neither UFAS nor the 1991 Standards distinguish between residential housing provided for rent and those provided for sale to individual owners. Thus, under the 1991 title II regulation, public entities that construct residential housing units to be sold to individual owners must ensure that some of those units are accessible. This requirement is in addition to any accessibility requirements imposed on housing programs operated by public entities that receive Federal financial assistance from Federal agencies such as HUD.
The 2010 Standards contain scoping and technical standards for residential dwelling units. However, section 233.3.2 of the 2010 Standards specifically defers to the Department and to HUD, the standard-setting agency under the ABA, to decide the appropriate scoping for those residential dwelling units built by or on behalf of public entities with the intent that the finished units will be sold to individual owners. These programs include, for example, HUD's public housing and HOME programs as well as State-funded programs to construct units for sale to individuals. In the NPRM, the Department did not make a specific proposal for this scoping. Instead, the Department stated that after consultation and coordination with HUD, the Department would make a determination in the final rule. The Department also sought public comment on this issue stating that “[t]he Department would welcome recommendations from individuals with disabilities, public housing authorities, and other interested parties that have experience with these programs. Please comment on the appropriate scoping for residential dwelling units built by or on behalf of public entities with the intent that the finished units will be sold to individual owners.” 73 FR 34466, 34492 (June 17, 2008).
All of the public comments received by the Department in response to this question were supportive of the Department's ensuring that the residential standards apply to housing built on behalf of public entities with the intent that the finished units would be sold to individual owners. The vast majority of commenters recommended that the Department require that projects consisting of five or more units, whether or not the units are located on one or multiple locations, comply with the 2004 ADAAG requirements for scoping of residential units, which require that 5 percent, and no fewer than one, of the dwelling units provide mobility features, and that 2 percent, and no fewer than one, of the dwelling units provide communication features. See 2004 ADAAG Section 233.3. These commenters argued that the Department should not defer to HUD because HUD has not yet adopted the 2004 ADAAG and there is ambiguity on the scope of coverage of pre-built for sale units under HUD's current section 504 regulations. In addition, these commenters expressed concern that HUD's current regulation, 24 CFR 8.29, presumes that a prospective buyer is identified before design and construction begins so that disability features can be incorporated prior to construction. These commenters stated that State and Federally funded homeownership programs typically do not identify prospective buyers before construction has commenced. One commenter stated that, in its experience, when public entities build accessible for-sale units, they often sell these units through a lottery system that does not make any effort to match persons who need the accessible features with the units that have those features. Thus, accessible units are often sold to persons without disabilities. This commenter encouraged the Department to make sure that accessible for-sale units built or funded by public entities are placed in a separate lottery restricted to income-eligible persons with disabilities.
Two commenters recommended that the Department develop rules for four types of for-sale projects: single family pre-built (where buyer selects the unit after construction), single family post-built (where the buyer chooses the model prior to its construction), multi-family pre-built, and multi-family post-built. These commenters recommended that the Department require pre-built units to comply with the 2004 ADAAG 233.1 scoping requirements. For post-built units, the commenters recommended that the Department require all models to have an alternate design with mobility features and an alternate design with communications features in compliance with 2004 ADAAG. Accessible models should be available at no extra cost to the buyer. One commenter recommended that, in addition to required fully accessible units, all ground floor units should be readily convertible for accessibility or for sensory impairments technology enhancements.
The Department believes that consistent with existing requirements under title II, housing programs operated by public entities that design and construct or alter residential units for sale to individual owners should comply with the 2010 Standards, including the requirements for residential facilities in sections 233 and 809. These requirements will ensure that a minimum of 5 percent of the units, but no fewer than one unit, of the total number of residential dwelling units will be designed and constructed to be accessible for persons with mobility disabilities. At least 2 percent, but no fewer than one unit, of the total number of residential dwelling units shall provide communication features.
The Department recognizes that there are some programs (such as the one identified by the commenter), in which units are not designed and constructed until an individual buyer is identified. In such cases, the public entity is still obligated to comply with the 2010 Standards. In addition, the public entity must ensure that pre-identified buyers with mobility disabilities and visual and hearing disabilities are afforded the opportunity to buy the accessible units. Once the program has identified buyers who need the number of accessible units mandated by the 2010 Standards, it may have to make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures in order to provide accessible units to other buyers with disabilities who request such units.
The Department notes that the residential facilities standards allow for construction of units with certain features of adaptability. Public entities that are concerned that fully accessible units are less marketable may choose to build these units to include the allowable adaptable features, and then adapt them at their own expense for buyers with mobility disabilities who need accessible units. For example, features such as grab bars are not required but may be added by the public entity if needed by the buyer at the time of purchase and cabinets under sinks may be designed to be removable to allow access to the required knee space for a forward approach.
The Department agrees with the commenters that covered entities may have to make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, and procedures in order to ensure that when they offer pre-built accessible residential units for sale, the units are offered in a manner that gives access to those units to persons with disabilities who need the features of the units and who are otherwise eligible for the housing program. This may be accomplished, for example, by adopting preferences for accessible units for persons who need the features of the units, holding separate lotteries for accessible units, or other suitable methods that result in the sale of accessible units to persons who need the features of such units. In addition, the Department believes that units designed and constructed or altered that comply with the requirements for residential facilities and are offered for sale to individuals must be provided at the same price as units without such features.
The 1991 Standards did not contain specific accessibility standards applicable to cells in correctional facilities. However, correctional and detention facilities operated by or on behalf of public entities have always been subject to the nondiscrimination and program accessibility requirements of title II of the ADA. The 2004 ADAAG established specific requirements for the design and construction and alterations of cells in correctional facilities for the first time.
Based on complaints received by the Department, investigations, and compliance reviews of jails, prisons, and other detention and correctional facilities, the Department has determined that many detention and correctional facilities do not have enough accessible cells, toilets, and shower facilities to meet the needs of their inmates with mobility disabilities and some do not have any at all. Inmates are sometimes housed in medical units or infirmaries separate from the general population simply because there are no accessible cells. In addition, some inmates have alleged that they are housed at a more restrictive classification level simply because no accessible housing exists at the appropriate classification level. The Department's compliance reviews and investigations have substantiated certain of these allegations.
The Department believes that the insufficient number of accessible cells is, in part, due to the fact that most jails and prisons were built long before the ADA became law and, since then, have undergone few alterations that would trigger the obligation to provide accessible features in accordance with UFAS or the 1991 Standards. In addition, the Department has found that even some new correctional facilities lack accessible features. The Department believes that the unmet demand for accessible cells is also due to the changing demographics of the inmate population. With thousands of prisoners serving life sentences without eligibility for parole, prisoners are aging, and the prison population of individuals with disabilities and elderly individuals is growing. A Bureau of Justice Statistics study of State and Federal sentenced inmates (those sentenced to more than one year) shows the total estimated count of State and Federal prisoners aged 55 and older grew by 36,000 inmates from 2000 (44,200) to 2006 (80,200). William J. Sabol et al., Prisoners in 2006, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, Dec. 2007, at 23 (app. table 7), available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=908 (last visited July 16, 2008); Allen J. Beck et al., Prisoners in 2000, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, Aug. 2001, at 10 (Aug. 2001) (Table 14), available at bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=927 (last visited July 16, 2008). This jump constitutes an increase of 81 percent in prisoners aged 55 and older during this period.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed a new section, § 35.152, which combined a range of provisions relating to both program accessibility and application of the proposed standards to detention and correctional facilities. In the final rule, the Department is placing those provisions that refer to design, construction, and alteration of detention and correction facilities in a new paragraph (k) of § 35.151, the section of the rule that addresses new construction and alterations for covered entities. Those portions of the final rule that address other issues, such as placement policies and program accessibility, are placed in the new § 35.152.
In the NPRM, the Department also sought input on how best to meet the needs of inmates with mobility disabilities in the design, construction, and alteration of detention and correctional facilities. The Department received a number of comments in response to this question.
New Construction. The NPRM did not expressly propose that new construction of correctional and detention facilities shall comply with the proposed standards because the Department assumed it would be clear that the requirements of § 35.151 would apply to new construction of correctional and detention facilities in the same manner that they apply to other facilities constructed by covered entities. The Department has decided to create a new section, § 35.151(k)(1), which clarifies that new construction of jails, prisons, and other detention facilities shall comply with the requirements of 2010 Standards. Section 35.151(k)(1) also increases the scoping for accessible cells from the 2 percent specified in the 2004 ADAAG to 3 percent.
Alterations. Although the 2010 Standards contain specifications for alterations in existing detention and correctional facilities, section 232.2 defers to the Attorney General the decision as to the extent these requirements will apply to alterations of cells. The NPRM proposed at § 35.152(c) that “[a]lterations to jails, prisons, and other detention and correctional facilities will comply with the requirements of § 35.151(b).” 73 FR 34466, 34507 (June 17, 2008). The final rule retains that requirement at § 35.151(k)(2), but increases the scoping for accessible cells from the 2 percent specified in the 2004 ADAAG to 3 percent.
Substitute cells. In the ANPRM, the Department sought public comment about the most effective means to ensure that existing correctional facilities are made accessible to prisoners with disabilities and presented three options: (1) Require all altered elements to be accessible, which would maintain the current policy that applies to other ADA alteration requirements; (2) permit substitute cells to be made accessible within the same facility, which would permit correctional authorities to meet their obligation by providing the required accessible features in cells within the same facility, other than those specific cells in which alterations are planned; or (3) permit substitute cells to be made accessible within a prison system, which would focus on ensuring that prisoners with disabilities are housed in facilities that best meet their needs, as alterations within a prison environment often result in piecemeal accessibility.
In § 35.152(c) of the NPRM, the Department proposed language based on Option 2, providing that when cells are altered, a covered entity may satisfy its obligation to provide the required number of cells with mobility features by providing the required mobility features in substitute cells (i.e., cells other than those where alterations are originally planned), provided that each substitute cell is located within the same facility, is integrated with other cells to the maximum extent feasible, and has, at a minimum, physical access equal to that of the original cells to areas used by inmates or detainees for visitation, dining, recreation, educational programs, medical services, work programs, religious services, and participation in other programs that the facility offers to inmates or detainees.
The Department received few comments on this proposal. The majority who chose to comment supported an approach that allowed substitute cells to be made accessible within the same facility. In their view, such an approach balanced administrators' needs, cost considerations, and the needs of inmates with disabilities. One commenter noted, however, that with older facilities, required modifications may be inordinately costly and technically infeasible. A large county jail system supported the proposed approach as the most viable option allowing modification or alteration of existing cells based on need and providing a flexible approach to provide program and mobility accessibility. It noted, as an alternative, that permitting substitute cells to be made accessible within a prison system would also be a viable option since such an approach could create a centralized location for accessibility needs and, because that jail system's facilities were in close proximity, it would have little impact on families for visitation or on accessible programming.
A large State department of corrections objected to the Department's proposal. The commenter stated that some very old prison buildings have thick walls of concrete and reinforced steel that are difficult, if not impossible to retrofit, and to do so would be very expensive. This State system approaches accessibility by looking at its system as a whole and providing access to programs for inmates with disabilities at selected prisons. This commenter explained that not all of its facilities offer the same programs or the same levels of medical or mental health services. An inmate, for example, who needs education, substance abuse treatment, and sex offender counseling may be transferred between facilities in order to meet his needs. The inmate population is always in flux and there are not always beds or program availability for every inmate at his security level. This commenter stated that the Department's proposed language would put the State in the position of choosing between adding accessible cells and modifying paths of travel to programs and services at great expense or not altering old facilities, causing them to become in states of disrepair and obsolescent, which would be fiscally irresponsible.
The Department is persuaded by these comments and has modified the alterations requirement in § 35.151(k)(2)(iv) in the final rule to allow that if it is technically infeasible to provide substitute cells in the same facility, cells can be provided elsewhere within the corrections system.
Number of accessible cells. Section 232.2.1 of the 2004 ADAAG requires at least 2 percent, but no fewer than one, of the cells in newly constructed detention and correctional facilities to have accessibility features for individuals with mobility disabilities. Section 232.3 provides that, where special holding cells or special housing cells are provided, at least one cell serving each purpose shall have mobility features. The Department sought input on whether these 2004 ADAAG requirements are sufficient to meet the needs of inmates with mobility disabilities. A major association representing county jails throughout the country stated that the 2004 ADAAG 2 percent requirement for accessible cells is sufficient to meet the needs of county jails. Similarly, a large county sheriff's department advised that the 2 percent requirement far exceeds the need at its detention facility, where the average age of the population is 32. This commenter stressed that the regulations need to address the differences between a local detention facility with low average lengths of stay as opposed to a State prison housing inmates for lengthy periods. This commenter asserted that more stringent requirements will raise construction costs by requiring modifications that are not needed. If more stringent requirements are adopted, the commenter suggested that they apply only to State and Federal prisons that house prisoners sentenced to long terms. The Department notes that a prisoner with a mobility disability needs a cell with mobility features regardless of the length of incarceration. However, the length of incarceration is most relevant in addressing the needs of an aging population.
The overwhelming majority of commenters responded that the 2 percent ADAAG requirement is inadequate to meet the needs of the incarcerated. Many commenters suggested that the requirement be expanded to apply to each area, type, use, and class of cells in a facility. They asserted that if a facility has separate areas for specific programs, such as a dog training program or a substance abuse unit, each of these areas should also have 2 percent accessible cells but not less than one. These same commenters suggested that 5-7 percent of cells should be accessible to meet the needs of both an aging population and the larger number of inmates with mobility disabilities. One organization recommended that the requirement be increased to 5 percent overall, and that at least 2 percent of each type and use of cell be accessible. Another commenter recommended that 10 percent of cells be accessible. An organization with extensive corrections experience noted that the integration mandate requires a sufficient number and distribution of accessible cells so as to provide distribution of locations relevant to programs to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to the programs.
Through its investigations and compliance reviews, the Department has found that in most detention and correctional facilities, a 2 percent accessible cell requirement is inadequate to meet the needs of the inmate population with disabilities. That finding is supported by the majority of the commenters that recommended a 5-7 percent requirement. Indeed, the Department itself requires more than 2 percent of the cells to be accessible at its own corrections facilities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is subject to the requirements of the 2004 ADAAG through the General Services Administration's adoption of the 2004 ADAAG as the enforceable accessibility standard for Federal facilities under the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. 70 FR 67786, 67846-47 (Nov. 8, 2005). However, in order to meet the needs of inmates with mobility disabilities, the Bureau of Prisons has elected to increase that percentage and require that 3 percent of inmate housing at its facilities be accessible. Bureau of Prisons, Design Construction Branch, Design Guidelines, Attachment A: Accessibility Guidelines for Design, Construction, and Alteration of Federal Bureau of Prisons (Oct. 31, 2006).
The Department believes that a 3 percent accessible requirement is reasonable. Moreover, it does not believe it should impose a higher percentage on detention and corrections facilities than it utilizes for its own facilities. Thus, the Department has adopted a 3 percent requirement in § 35.151(k) for both new construction and alterations. The Department notes that the 3 percent requirement is a minimum. As corrections systems plan for new facilities or alterations, the Department urges planners to include numbers of inmates with disabilities in their population projections in order to take the necessary steps to provide a sufficient number of accessible cells to meet inmate needs.
Dispersion of Cells. The NPRM did not contain express language addressing dispersion of cells in a facility. However, Advisory 232.2 of the 2004 ADAAG recommends that “[a]ccessible cells or rooms should be dispersed among different levels of security, housing categories, and holding classifications (e.g., male/female and adult/juvenile) to facilitate access.” In explaining the basis for recommending, but not requiring, this type of dispersal, the Access Board stated that “[m]any detention and correctional facilities are designed so that certain areas (e.g., ‘shift’ areas) can be adapted to serve as different types of housing according to need” and that “[p]lacement of accessible cells or rooms in shift areas may allow additional flexibility in meeting requirements for dispersion of accessible cells or rooms.”
The Department notes that inmates are typically housed in separate areas of detention and correctional facilities based on a number of factors, including their classification level. In many instances, detention and correctional facilities have housed inmates in inaccessible cells, even though accessible cells were available elsewhere in the facility, because there were no cells in the areas where they needed to be housed, such as in administrative or disciplinary segregation, the women's section of the facility, or in a particular security classification area.
The Department received a number of comments stating that dispersal of accessible cells together with an adequate number of accessible cells is necessary to prevent inmates with disabilities from placement in improper security classification and to ensure integration. Commenters recommended modification of the scoping requirements to require a percentage of accessible cells in each program, classification, use or service area. The Department is persuaded by these comments. Accordingly, § 35.151(k)(1) and (k)(2) of the final rule require accessible cells in each classification area.
Medical facilities. The NPRM also did not propose language addressing the application of the 2004 ADAAG to medical and long-term care facilities in correctional and detention facilities. The provisions of the 2004 ADAAG contain requirements for licensed medical and long-term care facilities, but not those that are unlicensed. A disability advocacy group and a number of other commenters recommended that the Department expand the application of section 232.4 to apply to all such facilities in detention and correctional facilities, regardless of licensure. They recommended that whenever a correctional facility has a program that is addressed specifically in the 2004 ADAAG, such as a long-term care facility, the 2004 ADAAG scoping and design features should apply for those elements. Similarly, a building code organization noted that its percentage requirements for accessible units is based on what occurs in the space, not on the building type.
The Department is persuaded by these comments and has added § 35.151(k)(3), which states that “[w]ith respect to medical and long-term care facilities in jails, prisons, and other detention and correctional facilities, public entities shall apply the 2010 Standards technical and scoping requirements for those facilities irrespective of whether those facilities are licensed.”
As noted in the discussion of § 35.151(k), the Department has determined that inmates with mobility and other disabilities in detention and correctional facilities do not have equal access to prison services. The Department's concerns are based not only on complaints it has received, but the Department's substantial experience in investigations and compliance reviews of jails, prisons, and other detention and correctional facilities. Based on that review, the Department has found that many detention and correctional facilities have too few or no accessible cells, toilets, and shower facilities to meet the needs of their inmates with mobility disabilities. These findings, coupled with statistics regarding the current percentage of inmates with mobility disabilities and the changing demographics of the inmate population reflecting thousands of prisoners serving life sentences and increasingly large numbers of aging inmates who are not eligible for parole, led the Department to conclude that a new regulation was necessary to address these concerns.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed a new section, § 35.152, which combined a range of provisions relating to both program accessibility and application of the proposed standards to detention and correctional facilities. As mentioned above, in the final rule, the Department is placing those provisions that refer to design, construction, and alteration of detention and correction facilities in new paragraph (k) in § 35.151 dealing with new construction and alterations for covered entities. Those portions of the final rule that address other program requirements remain in § 35.152.
The Department received many comments in response to the program accessibility requirements in proposed § 35.152. These comments are addressed below.
Facilities operated through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements with other public entities or private entities. The Department is aware that some public entities are confused about the applicability of the title II requirements to correctional facilities built or run by other public entities or private entities. It has consistently been the Department's position that title II requirements apply to correctional facilities used by State or local government entities, irrespective of whether the public entity contracts with another public or private entity to build or run the correctional facility. The power to incarcerate citizens rests with the State or local government, not a private entity. As the Department stated in the preamble to the original title II regulation, “[a]ll governmental activities of public entities are covered, even if they are carried out by contractors.” 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 558 (2009). If a prison is occupied by State prisoners and is inaccessible, the State is responsible under title II of the ADA. The same is true for a county or city jail. In essence, the private builder or contractor that operates the correctional facility does so at the direction of the government entity. Moreover, even if the State enters into a contractual, licensing, or other arrangement for correctional services with a public entity that has its own title II obligations, the State is still responsible for ensuring that the other public entity complies with title II in providing these services.
Also, through its experience in investigations and compliance reviews, the Department has noted that public entities contract for a number of services to be run by private or other public entities, for example, medical and mental health services, food services, laundry, prison industries, vocational programs, and drug treatment and substance abuse programs, all of which must be operated in accordance with title II requirements.
Proposed § 35.152(a) in the NPRM was designed to make it clear that title II applies to all State and local detention and correctional facilities, regardless of whether the detention or correctional facility is directly operated by the public entity or operated by a private entity through a contractual, licensing, or other arrangement. Commenters specifically supported the language of this section. One commenter cited Department of Justice statistics stating that of the approximately 1.6 million inmates in State and Federal facilities in December 2006, approximately 114,000 of these inmates were held in private prison facilities. See William J. Sabol et al., Prisoners in 2006, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, Dec. 2007, at 1, 4, available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=908. Some commenters wanted the text “through contracts or other arrangements” changed to read “through contracts or any other arrangements” to make the intent clear. However, a large number of commenters recommended that the text of the rule make explicit that it applies to correctional facilities operated by private contractors. Many commenters also suggested that the text make clear that the rule applies to adult facilities, juvenile justice facilities, and community correctional facilities. In the final rule, the Department is adopting these latter two suggestions in order to make the section's intent explicit.
Section 35.152(a) of the final rule states specifically that the requirements of the section apply to public entities responsible for the operation or management of correctional facilities, “either directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements with public or private entities, in whole or in part, including private correctional facilities.” Additionally, the section explicitly provides that it applies to adult and juvenile justice detention and correctional facilities and community correctional facilities.
Discrimination prohibited. In the NPRM, § 35.152(b)(1) proposed language stating that public entities are prohibited from excluding qualified detainees and inmates from participation in, or denying, benefits, services, programs, or activities because a facility is inaccessible to persons with disabilities “unless the public entity can demonstrate that the required actions would result in a fundamental alteration or undue burden.” 73 FR 34446, 34507 (June 17, 2008). One large State department of corrections objected to the entire section applicable to detention and correctional facilities, stating that it sets a higher standard for correctional and detention facilities because it does not provide a defense for undue administrative burden. The Department has not retained the proposed NPRM language referring to the defenses of fundamental alteration or undue burden because the Department believes that these exceptions are covered by the general language of 35.150(a)(3), which states that a public entity is not required to take “any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program, or activity, or in undue financial and administrative burdens.” The Department has revised the language of § 35.152(b)(1) accordingly.
Integration of inmates and detainees with disabilities. In the NPRM, the Department proposed language in § 35.152(b)(2) specifically applying the ADA's general integration mandate to detention and correctional facilities. The proposed language would have required public entities to ensure that individuals with disabilities are housed in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual. It further stated that unless the public entity can demonstrate that it is appropriate to make an exception for a specific individual, a public entity:
(1) Should not place inmates or detainees with disabilities in locations that exceed their security classification because there are no accessible cells or beds in the appropriate classification;
(2) should not place inmates or detainees with disabilities in designated medical areas unless they are actually receiving medical care or treatment;
(3) should not place inmates or detainees with disabilities in facilities that do not offer the same programs as the facilities where they would ordinarily be housed; and
(4) should not place inmates or detainees with disabilities in facilities farther away from their families in order to provide accessible cells or beds, thus diminishing their opportunity for visitation based on their disability. 73 FR 34466, 34507 (June 17, 2008).
In the NPRM, the Department recognized that there are a wide range of considerations that affect decisions to house inmates or detainees and that in specific cases there may be compelling reasons why a placement that does not meet the general requirements of § 35.152(b)(2) may, nevertheless, comply with the ADA. However, the Department noted that it is essential that the planning process initially assume that inmates or detainees with disabilities will be assigned within the system under the same criteria that would be applied to inmates who do not have disabilities. Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis if the specific situation warrants different treatment. For example, if an inmate is deaf and communicates only using sign language, a prison may consider whether it is more appropriate to give priority to housing the prisoner in a facility close to his family that houses no other deaf inmates, or if it would be preferable to house the prisoner in a setting where there are sign language interpreters and other sign language users with whom he can communicate.
In general, commenters strongly supported the NPRM's clarification that the title II integration mandate applies to State and local corrections agencies and the facilities in which they house inmates. Commenters pointed out that inmates with disabilities continue to be segregated based on their disabilities and also excluded from participation in programs. An organization actively involved in addressing the needs of prisoners cited a number of recent lawsuits in which prisoners allege such discrimination.
The majority of commenters objected to the language in proposed § 35.152(b)(2) that creates an exception to the integration mandate when the “public entity can demonstrate that it is appropriate to make an exception for a specific individual.” 73 FR 34466, 34507 (June 17, 2008). The vast majority of commenters asserted that, given the practice of many public entities to segregate and cluster inmates with disabilities, the exception will be used to justify the status quo. The commenters acknowledged that the intent of the section is to ensure that an individual with a disability who can be better served in a less integrated setting can legally be placed in that setting. They were concerned, however, that the proposed language would allow certain objectionable practices to continue, e.g., automatically placing persons with disabilities in administrative segregation. An advocacy organization with extensive experience working with inmates recommended that the inmate have “input” in the placement decision.
Others commented that the exception does not provide sufficient guidance on when a government entity may make an exception, citing the need for objective standards. Some commenters posited that a prison administration may want to house a deaf inmate at a facility designated and equipped for deaf inmates that is several hundred miles from the inmate's home. Although under the exception language, such a placement may be appropriate, these commenters argued that this outcome appears to contradict the regulation's intent to eliminate or reduce the segregation of inmates with disabilities and prevent them from being placed far from their families. The Department notes that in some jurisdictions, the likelihood of such outcomes is diminished because corrections facilities with different programs and levels of accessibility are clustered in close proximity to one another, so that being far from family is not an issue. The Department also takes note of advancements in technology that will ease the visitation dilemma, such as family visitation through the use of videoconferencing.
Only one commenter, a large State department of corrections, objected to the integration requirement. This commenter stated it houses all maximum security inmates in maximum security facilities. Inmates with lower security levels may or may not be housed in lower security facilities depending on a number of factors, such as availability of a bed, staffing, program availability, medical and mental health needs, and enemy separation. The commenter also objected to the proposal to prohibit housing inmates with disabilities in medical areas unless they are receiving medical care. This commenter stated that such housing may be necessary for several days, for example, at a stopover facility for an inmate with a disability who is being transferred from one facility to another. Also, this commenter stated that inmates with disabilities in disciplinary status may be housed in the infirmary because not every facility has accessible cells in disciplinary housing. Similarly the commenter objected to the prohibition on placing inmates in facilities without the same programs as facilities where they normally would be housed. Finally, the commenter objected to the prohibition on placing an inmate at a facility distant from where the inmate would normally be housed. The commenter stressed that in its system, there are few facilities near most inmates' homes. The commenter noted that most inmates are housed at facilities far from their homes, a fact shared by all inmates, not just inmates with disabilities. Another commenter noted that in some jurisdictions, inmates who need assistance in activities of daily living cannot obtain that assistance in the general population, but only in medical facilities where they must be housed.
The Department has considered the concerns raised by the commenters with respect to this section and recognizes that corrections systems may move inmates routinely and for a variety of reasons, such as crowding, safety, security, classification change, need for specialized programs, or to provide medical care. Sometimes these moves are within the same facility or prison system. On other occasions, inmates may be transferred to facilities in other cities, counties, and States. Given the nature of the prison environment, inmates have little say in their placement and administrators must have flexibility to meet the needs of the inmates and the system. The Department has revised the language of the exception contained in renumbered § 35.152(b)(2) to better accommodate corrections administrators' need for flexibility in making placement decisions based on legitimate, specific reasons. Moreover, the Department believes that temporary, short-term moves that are necessary for security or administrative purposes (e.g., placing an inmate with a disability in a medical area at a stopover facility during a transfer from one facility to another) do not violate the requirements of § 35.152(b)(2).
The Department notes that § 35.150(a)(3) states that a public entity is not required to take “any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program, or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens.” Thus, corrections systems would not have to comply with the requirements of § 35.152(b)(1) in any specific circumstance where these defenses are met.
Several commenters recommended that the word “should” be changed to “shall” in the subparts to § 35.152(b)(2). The Department agrees that because the rule contains a specific exception and because the integration requirement is subject to the defenses provided in paragraph (a) of that section, it is more appropriate to use the word “shall” and the Department accordingly is making that change in the final rule.
Program requirements. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court, in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998), stated explicitly that the ADA covers the operations of State prisons; accordingly, title II's program accessibility requirements apply to State and local correctional and detention facilities. In the NPRM, in addressing the accessibility of existing correctional and detention facilities, the Department considered the challenges of applying the title II program access requirement for existing facilities under § 31.150(a) in light of the realities of many inaccessible correctional facilities and strained budgets.
Correctional and detention facilities commonly provide a variety of different programs for education, training, counseling, or other purposes related to rehabilitation. Some examples of programs generally available to inmates include programs to obtain GEDs, computer training, job skill training and on-the-job training, religious instruction and guidance, alcohol and substance abuse groups, anger management, work assignments, work release, halfway houses, and other programs. Historically, individuals with disabilities have been excluded from such programs because they are not located in accessible locations, or inmates with disabilities have been segregated in units without equivalent programs. In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Yeskey and the requirements of title II, however, it is critical that public entities provide these opportunities to inmates with disabilities. In proposed § 35.152, the Department sought to clarify that title II required equal access for inmates with disabilities to participate in programs offered to inmates without disabilities.
The Department wishes to emphasize that detention and correctional facilities are unique facilities under title II. Inmates cannot leave the facilities and must have their needs met by the corrections system, including needs relating to a disability. If the detention and correctional facilities fail to accommodate prisoners with disabilities, these individuals have little recourse, particularly when the need is great (e.g., an accessible toilet; adequate catheters; or a shower chair). It is essential that corrections systems fulfill their nondiscrimination and program access obligations by adequately addressing the needs of prisoners with disabilities, which include, but are not limited to, proper medication and medical treatment, accessible toilet and shower facilities, devices such as a bed transfer or a shower chair, and assistance with hygiene methods for prisoners with physical disabilities.
In the NPRM, the Department also sought input on whether it should establish a program accessibility requirement that public entities modify additional cells at a detention or correctional facility to incorporate the accessibility features needed by specific inmates with mobility disabilities when the number of cells required by sections 232.2 and 232.3 of the 2004 ADAAG are inadequate to meet the needs of their inmate population.
Commenters supported a program accessibility requirement, viewing it as a flexible and practical means of allowing facilities to meet the needs of inmates in a cost effective and expedient manner. One organization supported a requirement to modify additional cells when the existing number of accessible cells is inadequate. It cited the example of a detainee who was held in a hospital because the local jail had no accessible cells. Similarly, a State agency recommended that the number of accessible cells should be sufficient to accommodate the population in need. One group of commenters voiced concern about accessibility being provided in a timely manner and recommended that the rule specify that the program accessibility requirement applies while waiting for the accessibility modifications. A group with experience addressing inmate needs recommended the inmate's input should be required to prevent inappropriate segregation or placement in an inaccessible or inappropriate area.
The Department is persuaded by these comments. Accordingly, § 35.152(b)(3) requires public entities to “implement reasonable policies, including physical modifications to additional cells in accordance with the 2010 Standards, so as to ensure that each inmate with a disability is housed in a cell with the accessible elements necessary to afford the inmate access to safe, appropriate housing.”
Communication. Several large disability advocacy organizations commented on the 2004 ADAAG section 232.2.2 requirement that at least 2 percent of the general holding cells and housing cells must be equipped with audible emergency alarm systems. Permanently installed telephones within these cells must have volume control. Commenters said that the communication features in the 2004 ADAAG do not address the most common barriers that deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates face. They asserted that few cells have telephones and the requirements to make them accessible is limited to volume control, and that emergency alarm systems are only a small part of the amplified information that inmates need. One large association commented that it receives many inmate complaints that announcements are made over loudspeakers or public address systems, and that inmates who do not hear announcements for inmate count or other instructions face disciplinary action for failure to comply. They asserted that inmates who miss announcements miss meals, exercise, showers, and recreation. They argued that systems that deliver audible announcements, signals, and emergency alarms must be made accessible and that TTYs must be made available. Commenters also recommended that correctional facilities should provide access to advanced forms of telecommunications. Additional commenters noted that few persons now use TTYs, preferring instead to communicate by email, texting, and videophones.
The Department agrees with the commenters that correctional facilities and jails must ensure that inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing actually receive the same information provided to other inmates. The Department believes, however, that the reasonable modifications, program access, and effective communications requirements of title II are sufficient to address the needs of individual deaf and hard of hearing inmates, and as a result, declines to add specific requirements for communications features in cells for deaf and hard of hearing inmates at this time. The Department notes that as part of its ongoing enforcement of the reasonable modifications, program access, and effective communications requirements of title II, the Department has required correctional facilities and jails to provide communication features in cells serving deaf and hard of hearing inmates.
Section 35.160 of the 1991 title II regulation requires a public entity to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. 28 CFR 35.160(a). In addition, a public entity must “furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity.” 28 CFR 35.160(b)(1). Moreover, the public entity must give “primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities” in determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary. 28 CFR 35.160(b)(2).
Since promulgation of the 1991 title II regulation, the Department has investigated hundreds of complaints alleging failures by public entities to provide effective communication, and many of these investigations resulted in settlement agreements and consent decrees. From these investigations, the Department has concluded that public entities sometimes misunderstand the scope of their obligations under the statute and the regulation. Section 35.160 in the final rule codifies the Department's longstanding policies in this area and includes provisions that reflect technological advances in the area of auxiliary aids and services.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed adding “companion” to the scope of coverage under § 35.160 to codify the Department's longstanding position that a public entity's obligation to ensure effective communication extends not just to applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities, but to companions as well, if any of them are individuals with disabilities. The NPRM defined companion as a person who is a family member, friend, or associate of a program participant, who, along with the program participant, is “an appropriate person with whom the public entity should communicate.” 73 FR 34466, 34507 (June 17, 2008).
Many commenters supported inclusion of “companions” in the rule, and urged even more specific language about public entities' obligations. Some commenters asked the Department to clarify that a companion with a disability may be entitled to effective communication from a public entity even though the applicants, participants, or members of the general public seeking access to, or participating in, the public entity's services, programs, or activities are not individuals with disabilities. Others requested that the Department explain the circumstances under which auxiliary aids and services should be provided to companions. Still others requested explicit clarification that where the individual seeking access to or participating in the public entity's program, services, or activities requires auxiliary aids and services, but the companion does not, the public entity may not seek out, or limit its communications to, the companion instead of communicating directly with the individual with a disability when it would be appropriate to do so.
Some in the medical community objected to the inclusion of any regulatory language regarding companions, asserting that such language is overbroad, seeks services for individuals whose presence is not required by the public entity, is not necessary for the delivery of the services or participation in the program, and places additional burdens on the medical community. These commenters asked that the Department limit the public entity's obligation to communicate effectively with a companion to situations where such communications are necessary to serve the interests of the person who is receiving the public entity's services.
After consideration of the many comments on this issue, the Department believes that explicit inclusion of “companions” in the final rule is appropriate to ensure that public entities understand the scope of their effective communication obligations. There are many situations in which the interests of program participants without disabilities require that their companions with disabilities be provided effective communication. In addition, the program participant need not be physically present to trigger the public entity's obligations to a companion. The controlling principle is that auxiliary aids and services must be provided if the companion is an appropriate person with whom the public entity should or would communicate.
Examples of such situations include back-to-school nights or parent-teacher conferences at a public school. If the faculty writes on the board or otherwise displays information in a visual context during a back-to-school night, this information must be communicated effectively to parents or guardians who are blind or have low vision. At a parent-teacher conference, deaf parents or guardians must be provided with appropriate auxiliary aids and services to communicate effectively with the teacher and administrators. It makes no difference that the child who attends the school does not have a disability. Likewise, when a deaf spouse attempts to communicate with public social service agencies about the services necessary for the hearing spouse, appropriate auxiliary aids and services to the deaf spouse must be provided by the public entity to ensure effective communication. Parents or guardians, including foster parents, who are individuals with disabilities, may need to interact with child services agencies on behalf of their children; in such a circumstance, the child services agencies would need to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to those parents or guardians.
Effective communication with companions is particularly critical in health care settings where miscommunication may lead to misdiagnosis and improper or delayed medical treatment. The Department has encountered confusion and reluctance by medical care providers regarding the scope of their obligation with respect to such companions. Effective communication with a companion is necessary in a variety of circumstances. For example, a companion may be legally authorized to make health care decisions on behalf of the patient or may need to help the patient with information or instructions given by hospital personnel. A companion may be the patient's next-of-kin or health care surrogate with whom hospital personnel must communicate about the patient's medical condition. A companion could be designated by the patient to communicate with hospital personnel about the patient's symptoms, needs, condition, or medical history. Or the companion could be a family member with whom hospital personnel normally would communicate.
Accordingly, § 35.160(a)(1) in the final rule now reads, “[a] public entity shall take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.” Section 35.160(a)(2) further defines “companion” as “a family member, friend, or associate of an individual seeking access to a service, program, or activity of a public entity, who, along with the individual, is an appropriate person with whom the public entity should communicate.” Section 35.160(b)(1) clarifies that the obligation to furnish auxiliary aids and services extends to companions who are individuals with disabilities, whether or not the individual accompanied also is an individual with a disability. The provision now states that “[a] public entity shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford individuals with disabilities, including applicants, participants, companions, and members of the public, an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of a public entity.”
These provisions make clear that if the companion is someone with whom the public entity normally would or should communicate, then the public entity must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to that companion to ensure effective communication with the companion. This common-sense rule provides the guidance necessary to enable public entities to properly implement the nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA.
As set out in the final rule, § 35.160(b)(2) states, in pertinent part, that “[t]he type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the method of communication used by the individual, the nature, length, and complexity of the communication involved, and the context in which the communication is taking place. In determining what types of auxiliary aids and services are necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of individuals with disabilities.”
The second sentence of § 35.160(b)(2) of the final rule restores the “primary consideration” obligation set out at § 35.160(b)(2) in the 1991 title II regulation. This provision was inadvertently omitted from the NPRM, and the Department agrees with the many commenters on this issue that this provision should be retained. As noted in the preamble to the 1991 title II regulation, and reaffirmed here: “The public entity shall honor the choice [of the individual with a disability] unless it can demonstrate that another effective means of communication exists or that use of the means chosen would not be required under § 35.164. Deference to the request of the individual with a disability is desirable because of the range of disabilities, the variety of auxiliary aids and services, and different circumstances requiring effective communication.” 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 580 (2009).
The first sentence in § 35.160(b)(2) codifies the axiom that the type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary with the situation, and provides factors for consideration in making the determination, including the method of communication used by the individual; the nature, length, and complexity of the communication involved; and the context in which the communication is taking place. Inclusion of this language under title II is consistent with longstanding policy in this area. See, e.g., The Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Technical Assistance Manual Covering State and Local Government Programs and Services, section II-7.1000, available at www.ada.gov/taman2.html (“The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved. * * * Sign language or oral interpreters, for example, may be required when the information being communicated in a transaction with a deaf individual is complex, or is exchanged for a lengthy period of time. Factors to be considered in determining whether an interpreter is required include the context in which the communication is taking place, the number of people involved, and the importance of the communication.”); see also 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 580 (2009). As explained in the NPRM, an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing may need a qualified interpreter to communicate with municipal hospital personnel about diagnoses, procedures, tests, treatment options, surgery, or prescribed medication (e.g., dosage, side effects, drug interactions, etc.), or to explain follow-up treatments, therapies, test results, or recovery. In comparison, in a simpler, shorter interaction, the method to achieve effective communication can be more basic. An individual who is seeking local tax forms may only need an exchange of written notes to achieve effective communication.
Section 35.160(c)(1) has been added to the final rule to make clear that a public entity shall not require an individual with a disability to bring another individual to interpret for him or her. The Department receives many complaints from individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing alleging that public entities expect them to provide their own sign language interpreters. Proposed § 35.160(c)(1) was intended to clarify that when a public entity is interacting with a person with a disability, it is the public entity's responsibility to provide an interpreter to ensure effective communication. It is not appropriate to require the person with a disability to bring another individual to provide such services.
Section 35.160(c)(2) of the NPRM proposed codifying the Department's position that there are certain limited instances when a public entity may rely on an accompanying individual to interpret or facilitate communication: (1) In an emergency involving a threat to the public safety or welfare; or (2) if the individual with a disability specifically requests it, the accompanying individual agrees to provide the assistance, and reliance on that individual for this assistance is appropriate under the circumstances.
Many commenters supported this provision, but sought more specific language to address what they see as a particularly entrenched problem. Some commenters requested that the Department explicitly require the public entity first to notify the individual with a disability that the individual has a right to request and receive appropriate auxiliary aids and services without charge from the public entity before using that person's accompanying individual as a communication facilitator. Advocates stated that an individual who is unaware of his or her rights may decide to use a third party simply because he or she believes that is the only way to communicate with the public entity.
The Department has determined that inclusion of specific language requiring notification is unnecessary. Section 35.160(b)(1) already states that is the responsibility of the public entity to provide auxiliary aids and services. Moreover, § 35.130(f) already prohibits the public entity from imposing a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or on any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of auxiliary aids. However, the Department strongly advises public entities that they should first inform the individual with a disability that the public entity can and will provide auxiliary aids and services, and that there would be no cost for such aids or services.
Many commenters requested that the Department make clear that the public entity cannot request, rely upon, or coerce an adult accompanying an individual with a disability to provide effective communication for that individual with a disability - that only a voluntary offer is acceptable. The Department states unequivocally that consent of, and for, the adult accompanying the individual with a disability to facilitate communication must be provided freely and voluntarily both by the individual with a disability and the accompanying third party - absent an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available. The public entity may not coerce or attempt to persuade another adult to provide effective communication for the individual with a disability. Some commenters expressed concern that the regulation could be read by public entities, including medical providers, to prevent parents, guardians, or caregivers from providing effective communication for children or that a child, regardless of age, would have to specifically request that his or her caregiver act as interpreter. The Department does not intend § 35.160(c)(2) to prohibit parents, guardians, or caregivers from providing effective communication for children where so doing would be appropriate. Rather, the rule prohibits public entities, including medical providers, from requiring, relying on, or forcing adults accompanying individuals with disabilities, including parents, guardians, or caregivers, to facilitate communication.
Several commenters asked that the Department make absolutely clear that children are not to be used to provide effective communication for family members and friends, and that it is the public entity's responsibility to provide effective communication, stating that often interpreters are needed in settings where it would not be appropriate for children to be interpreting, such as those involving medical issues, domestic violence, or other situations involving the exchange of confidential or adult-related material. Commenters observed that children are often hesitant to turn down requests to provide communication services, and that such requests put them in a very difficult position vis-a-vis family members and friends. The Department agrees. It is the Department's position that a public entity shall not rely on a minor child to facilitate communication with a family member, friend, or other individual, except in an emergency involving imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available. Accordingly, the Department has revised the rule to state: “A public entity shall not rely on a minor child to interpret or facilitate communication, except in an emergency involving imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available.” § 35.160(c)(3). Sections 35.160(c)(2) and (3) have no application in circumstances where an interpreter would not otherwise be required in order to provide effective communication (e.g., in simple transactions such as purchasing movie tickets at a theater). The Department stresses that privacy and confidentiality must be maintained but notes that covered entities, such as hospitals, that are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191, Privacy Rules are permitted to disclose to a patient's relative, close friend, or any other person identified by the patient (such as an interpreter) relevant patient information if the patient agrees to such disclosures. See 45 CFR parts 160 and 164. The agreement need not be in writing. Covered entities should consult the HIPAA Privacy Rules regarding other ways disclosures might be able to be made to such persons.
With regard to emergency situations, the NPRM proposed permitting reliance on an individual accompanying an individual with a disability to interpret or facilitate communication in an emergency involving a threat to the public safety or welfare. Commenters requested that the Department make clear that often a public entity can obtain appropriate auxiliary aids and services in advance of an emergency by making necessary advance arrangements, particularly in anticipated emergencies such as predicted dangerous weather or certain medical situations such as childbirth. These commenters did not want public entities to be relieved of their responsibilities to provide effective communication in emergency situations, noting that the obligation to provide effective communication may be more critical in such situations. Several commenters requested a separate rule that requires public entities to provide timely and effective communication in the event of an emergency, noting that the need for effective communication escalates in an emergency.
Commenters also expressed concern that public entities, particularly law enforcement authorities and medical personnel, would apply the “emergency situation” provision in inappropriate circumstances and would rely on accompanying individuals without making any effort to seek appropriate auxiliary aids and services. Other commenters asked that the Department narrow this provision so that it would not be available to entities that are responsible for emergency preparedness and response. Some commenters noted that certain exigent circumstances, such as those that exist during and perhaps immediately after, a major hurricane, temporarily may excuse public entities of their responsibilities to provide effective communication. However, they asked that the Department clarify that these obligations are ongoing and that, as soon as such situations begin to abate or stabilize, the public entity must provide effective communication.
The Department recognizes that the need for effective communication is critical in emergency situations. After due consideration of all of these concerns raised by commenters, the Department has revised § 35.160(c) to narrow the exception permitting reliance on individuals accompanying the individual with a disability during an emergency to make it clear that it only applies to emergencies involving an “imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public.” See § 35.160(c)(2)-(3). Arguably, all visits to an emergency room or situations to which emergency workers respond are by definition emergencies. Likewise, an argument can be made that most situations that law enforcement personnel respond to involve, in one way or another, a threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public. The imminent threat exception in § 35.160(c)(2)-(3) is not intended to apply to the typical and foreseeable emergency situations that are part of the normal operations of these institutions. As such, a public entity may rely on an accompanying individual to interpret or facilitate communication under the § 35.160(c)(2)-(3) imminent threat exception only where in truly exigent circumstances, i.e., where any delay in providing immediate services to the individual could have life-altering or life-ending consequences.
Many commenters urged the Department to stress the obligation of State and local courts to provide effective communication. The Department has received many complaints that State and local courts often do not provide needed qualified sign language interpreters to witnesses, litigants, jurors, potential jurors, and companions and associates of persons participating in the legal process. The Department cautions public entities that without appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such individuals are denied an opportunity to participate fully in the judicial process, and denied benefits of the judicial system that are available to others.
Another common complaint about access to State and local court systems is the failure to provide effective communication in deferral programs that are intended as an alternative to incarceration, or for other court-ordered treatment programs. These programs must provide effective communication, and courts referring individuals with disabilities to such programs should only refer individuals with disabilities to programs or treatment centers that provide effective communication. No person with a disability should be denied access to the benefits conferred through participation in a court-ordered referral program on the ground that the program purports to be unable to provide effective communication.
The general nondiscrimination provision in § 35.130(a) provides that no individual with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity. The Department consistently interprets this provision and § 35.160 to require effective communication in courts, jails, prisons, and with law enforcement officers. Persons with disabilities who are participating in the judicial process as witnesses, jurors, prospective jurors, parties before the court, or companions of persons with business in the court, should be provided auxiliary aids and services as needed for effective communication. The Department has developed a variety of technical assistance and guidance documents on the requirements for title II entities to provide effective communication; those materials are available on the Department Web site at: http://www.ada.gov.
Many advocacy groups urged the Department to add language in the final rule that would require public entities to provide accessible material in a manner that is timely, accurate, and private. The Department has included language in § 35.160(b)(2) stating that “[i]n order to be effective, auxiliary aids and services must be provided in accessible formats, in a timely manner, and in such a way so as to protect the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability.”
Because the appropriateness of particular auxiliary aids and services may vary as a situation changes, the Department strongly encourages public entities to do a communication assessment of the individual with a disability when the need for auxiliary aids and services is first identified, and to re-assess communication effectiveness regularly throughout the communication. For example, a deaf individual may go to an emergency department of a public community health center with what is at first believed to be a minor medical emergency, such as a sore knee, and the individual with a disability and the public community health center both believe that exchanging written notes will be effective. However, during that individual's visit, it is determined that the individual is, in fact, suffering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear and must have surgery to repair the torn ligament. As the situation develops and the diagnosis and recommended course of action evolve into surgery, an interpreter most likely will be necessary. A public entity has a continuing obligation to assess the auxiliary aids and services it is providing, and should consult with individuals with disabilities on a continuing basis to assess what measures are required to ensure effective communication. Public entities are further advised to keep individuals with disabilities apprised of the status of the expected arrival of an interpreter or the delivery of other requested or anticipated auxiliary aids and services.
Video remote interpreting (VRI) services. In § 35.160(d) of the NPRM, the Department proposed the inclusion of four performance standards for VRI (which the NPRM termed video interpreting services (VIS)), for effective communication: (1) High-quality, clear, real-time, full-motion video and audio over a dedicated high-speed Internet connection; (2) a clear, sufficiently large, and sharply delineated picture of the participating individual's head, arms, hands, and fingers, regardless of his body position; (3) clear transmission of voices; and (4) persons who are trained to set up and operate the VRI quickly. Commenters generally approved of those performance standards, but recommended that some additional standards be included in the final rule. Some State agencies and advocates for persons with disabilities requested that the Department add more detail in the description of the first standard, including modifying the term “dedicated high-speed Internet connection” to read “dedicated high-speed, wide-bandwidth video connection.” These commenters argued that this change was necessary to ensure a high-quality video image that will not produce lags, choppy images, or irregular pauses in communication. The Department agrees with those comments and has amended the provision in the final rule accordingly.
For persons who are deaf with limited vision, commenters requested that the Department include an explicit requirement that interpreters wear high-contrast clothing with no patterns that might distract from their hands as they are interpreting, so that a person with limited vision can see the signs made by the interpreter. While the Department reiterates the importance of such practices in the delivery of effective VRI, as well as in-person interpreting, the Department declines to adopt such performance standards as part of this rule. In general, professional interpreters already follow such practices - the Code of Professional Conduct for interpreters developed by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. and the National Association of the Deaf incorporates attire considerations into their standards of professionalism and conduct. (This code is available at http://www.vid.org/userfiles/file/pdfs/codeofethics.pdf (Last visited July 18, 2010). Moreover, as a result of this code, many VRI agencies have adopted detailed dress standards that interpreters hired by the agency must follow. In addition, commenters urged that a clear image of the face and eyes of the interpreter and others be explicitly required. Because the face includes the eyes, the Department has amended § 35.160(d)(2) of the final rule to include a requirement that the interpreter's face be displayed.
In response to comments seeking more training for users and non-technicians responsible for VRI in title II facilities, the Department is extending the requirement in § 35.160(d)(4) to require training for “users of the technology” so that staff who would have reason to use the equipment in an emergency room, State or local court, or elsewhere are properly trained. Providing for such training will enhance the success of VRI as means of providing effective communication.
Captioning at sporting venues. In the NPRM at § 35.160(e), the Department proposed that sports stadiums that have a capacity of 25,000 or more shall provide captioning for safety and emergency information on scoreboards and video monitors. In addition, the Department posed four questions about captioning of information, especially safety and emergency information announcements, provided over public address (PA) systems. The Department received many extremely detailed and divergent responses to each of the four questions and the proposed regulatory text. Because comments submitted on the Department's title II and title III proposals were intertwined, because of the similarity of issues involved for title II entities and title III entities, and in recognition of the fact that many large sports stadiums are covered by both title II and title III as joint operations of State or local governments and one or more public accommodations, the Department presents here a single consolidated review and summary of the issues raised in comments.
The Department asked whether requiring captioning of safety and emergency information made over the public address system in stadiums seating fewer than 25,000 would create an undue burden for smaller entities, whether it would be feasible for small stadiums, or whether a larger threshold, such as sports stadiums with a capacity of 50,000 or more, would be appropriate.
There was a consensus among the commenters, including disability advocates as well as venue owners and stadium designers and operators, that using the stadium size or seating capacity as the exclusive deciding factor for any obligation to provide captioning for safety and emergency information broadcast over the PA system is not preferred. Most disability advocacy organizations and individuals with disabilities complained that using size or seating capacity as a threshold for captioning safety and emergency information would undermine the “undue burden” defense found in both titles II and III. Many commenters provided examples of facilities like professional hockey arenas that seat less than 25,000 fans but which, commenters argued, should be able to provide real-time captioning. Other commenters suggested that some high school or college stadiums, for example, may hold 25,000 fans or more and yet lack the resources to provide real-time captioning. Many commenters noted that real-time captioning would require trained stenographers and that most high school and college sports facilities rely upon volunteers to operate scoreboards and PA systems, and they would not be qualified stenographers, especially in case of an emergency. One national association noted that the typical stenographer expense for a professional football game in Washington, DC is about $550 per game. Similarly, one trade association representing venues estimated that the cost for a professional stenographer at a sporting event runs between $500 and $1,000 per game or event, the cost of which, they argued, would be unduly burdensome in many cases. Some commenters posited that schools that do not sell tickets to athletic events would find it difficult to meet such expenses, in contrast to major college athletic programs and professional sports teams, which would be less likely to prevail using an “undue burden” defense.
Some venue owners and operators and other covered entities argued that stadium size should not be the key consideration when requiring scoreboard captioning. Instead, these entities suggested that equipment already installed in the stadium, including necessary electrical equipment and backup power supply, should be the determining factor for whether captioning is mandated. Many commenters argued that the requirement to provide captioning should only apply to stadiums with scoreboards that meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72). Commenters reported that NFPA 72 requires at least two independent and reliable power supplies for emergency information systems, including one source that is a generator or battery sufficient to run the system in the event the primary power fails. Alternatively, some stadium designers and title II entities commented that the requirement should apply when the facility has at least one elevator providing firefighter emergency operation, along with approval of authorities with responsibility for fire safety. Other commenters argued for flexibility in the requirements for providing captioning and that any requirement should only apply to stadiums constructed after the effective date of the regulation.
In the NPRM, the Department also asked whether the rule should address the specific means of captioning equipment, whether it should be provided through any effective means (scoreboards, line boards, handheld devices, or other means), or whether some means, such as handheld devices, should be eliminated as options. This question elicited many comments from advocates for persons with disabilities as well as from covered entities. Advocacy organizations and individuals with experience using handheld devices argue that such devices do not provide effective communication. These commenters noted that information is often delayed in the transmission to such devices, making them hard to use when following action on the playing field or in the event of an emergency when the crowd is already reacting to aural information provided over the PA system well before it is received on the handheld device.
Several venue owners and operators and others commented that handheld technology offers advantages of flexibility and portability so that it may be used successfully regardless of where in the facility the user is located, even when not in the line of sight of a scoreboard or other captioning system. Still other commenters urged the Department not to regulate in such a way as to limit innovation and use of such technology now and in the future. Cost considerations were included in some comments from some stadium designers and venue owners and operators, who reported that the cost of providing handheld systems is far less than the cost of real-time captioning on scoreboards, especially in facilities that do not currently have the capacity to provide real-time captions on existing equipment. Others noted that handheld technology is not covered by fire and safety model codes, including the NFPA, and thus would be more easily adapted into existing facilities if captioning were required by the Department.
The Department also asked about providing open captioning of all public address announcements, and not limiting captioning to safety and emergency information. A variety of advocates and persons with disabilities argued that all information broadcast over a PA system should be captioned in real time at all facilities in order to provide effective communication and that a requirement only to provide emergency and safety information would not be sufficient. A few organizations for persons with disabilities commented that installation of new systems should not be required, but that all systems within existing facilities that are capable of providing captioning must be utilized to the maximum extent possible to provide captioning of as much information as possible. Several organizations representing persons with disabilities commented that all facilities must include in safety planning the requirement to caption all aurally-provided information for patrons with communication disabilities. Some advocates suggested that demand for captions will only increase as the number of deaf and hard of hearing persons grows with the aging of the general population and with increasing numbers of veterans returning from war with disabilities. Multiple comments noted that the captioning would benefit others as well as those with communication disabilities.
By contrast, venue owners and operators and others commented that the action on the sports field is self-explanatory and does not require captioning and they objected to an explicit requirement to provide real-time captioning for all information broadcast on the PA system at a sporting event. Other commenters objected to requiring captioning even for emergency and safety information over the scoreboard rather than through some other means. By contrast, venue operators, State government agencies, and some model code groups, including NFPA, commented that emergency and safety information must be provided in an accessible format and that public safety is a paramount concern. Other commenters argued that the best method to deliver safety and emergency information would be television monitors showing local TV broadcasts with captions already mandated by the FCC. Some commenters posited that the most reliable information about a major emergency would be provided on the television news broadcasts. Several commenters argued that television monitors may be located throughout the facility, improving line of sight for patrons, some of whom might not be able to see the scoreboard from their seats or elsewhere in the facility. Some stadium designers, venue operators, and model code groups pointed out that video monitors are not regulated by the NFPA or other agencies, so that such monitors could be more easily provided. Video monitors may receive transmissions from within the facility and could provide real-time captions if there is the necessary software and equipment to feed the captioning signal to a closed video network within the facility. Several comments suggested that using monitors would be preferable to requiring captions on the scoreboard if the regulation mandates real-time captioning. Some venue owners and operators argued that retrofitting existing stadiums with new systems could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per scoreboard or system. Some stadium designers and others argued that captioning should only be required in stadiums built after the effective date of the regulation. For stadiums with existing systems that allow for real-time captioning, one commenter posited that dedicating the system exclusively to real-time captioning would lead to an annual loss of between $2 and $3 million per stadium in revenue from advertising currently running in that space.
After carefully considering the wide range of public comments on this issue, the Department has concluded that the final rule will not provide additional requirements for effective communication or emergency information provided at sports stadiums at this time. The 1991 title II and title III regulations and statutory requirements are not in any way affected by this decision. The decision to postpone rulemaking on this complex issue is based on a number of factors, including the multiple layers of existing regulation by various agencies and levels of government, and the wide array of information, requests, and recommendations related to developing technology offered by the public. In addition, there is a huge variety of covered entities, information and communication systems, and differing characteristics among sports stadiums. The Department has concluded that further consideration and review would be prudent before it issues specific regulatory requirements.
The Department proposed to retitle this section “Telecommunications” to reflect situations in which the public entity must provide an effective means to communicate by telephone for individuals with disabilities. First, the NPRM proposed redesignating § 35.161 as § 35.161(a) and replacing the term “Telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD)” with “Text telephones (TTY).” Public comment was universally supportive of this change in nomenclature to TTY.
In the NPRM, at § 35.161(b), the Department addressed automated-attendant systems that handle telephone calls electronically. Often individuals with disabilities, including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, are unable to use such automated systems. Some systems are not compatible with TTYs or the telecommunications relay service. Automated systems can and often do disconnect calls from TTYs or relay calls, making it impossible for persons using a TTY or relay system to do business with title II entities in the same manner as others. The Department proposed language that would require a telecommunications service to permit persons using relay or TTYs or other assistive technology to use the automated-attendant system provided by the public entity. The FCC raised this concern with the Department after the 1991 title II regulation went into effect, and the Department acted upon that request in the NPRM. Comments from disability advocates and persons with disabilities consistently requested the provision be amended to cover “voice mail, messaging, auto-attendant, and interactive voice response systems.” The Department recognizes that those are important features of widely used telecommunications technology that should be as accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing as they are to others, and has amended the section in the final rule to include the additional features.
Many commenters, including advocates and persons with disabilities, as well as State agencies and national organizations, asked that all automated systems have an option for the caller to bypass the automated system and speak to a live person who could communicate using relay services. The Department understands that automated telecommunications systems typically do not offer the opportunity to avoid or bypass the automated system and speak to a live person. The Department believes that at this time it is inappropriate to add a requirement that all such systems provide an override capacity that permits a TTY or relay caller to speak with a live clerk on a telecommunications relay system. However, if a system already provides an option to speak to a person, that system must accept TTY and relay calls and must not disconnect or refuse to accept such calls.
Other comments from advocacy organizations and individuals urged the Department to require specifications for the operation of such systems that would involve issuing technical requirements for encoding and storage of automated text, as well as controls for speed, pause, rewind, and repeat, and prompts without any background noise. The same comments urged that these requirements should be consistent with a pending advisory committee report to the Access Board, submitted in April 2008. See Telecommunications and Electronic Information Technology Advisory Committee, Report to the Access Board Refreshed Accessibility Standards and Guidelines in Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology (Apr. 2008) available at http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/refresh/report/. The Department is declining at this time to preempt ongoing consideration of these issues by the Board. Instead, the Department will monitor activity by the Board. The Department is convinced that the general requirement to make such automated systems usable by persons with disabilities is appropriate at this time and title II entities should evaluate their automated systems in light of concerns about providing systems that offer effective communication to persons with disabilities.
Finally, the Department has adopted in § 35.161(c) of the final rule the requirement that all such systems must not disconnect or refuse to take calls from all forms of FCC-approved telecommunications relay systems, including Internet-based relay systems. (Internet-based relay systems refer to the mechanism by which the message is relayed). They do not require a public entity to have specialized computer equipment. Commenters from some State agencies, many advocacy organizations, and individuals strongly urged the Department to mandate such action because of the high proportion of TTY calls and relay service calls that are not completed because the title II entity's phone system or employees do not take the calls. This presents a serious obstacle for persons doing business with State and local government and denies persons with disabilities access to use the telephone for business that is typically handled over the phone for others.
In addition, commenters requested that the Department include “real-time” before any mention of “computer-aided” technology to highlight the value of simultaneous translation of any communication. The Department has added “real-time” before “computer-aided transcription services” in the definition of “auxiliary aids in § 35.104 and before “communication” in § 35.161(b).
In the NPRM, the Department proposed changing the current language in § 35.171(a)(2)(i) regarding misdirected complaints to make it clear that if an agency receives a complaint for which it lacks jurisdiction either under section 504 or as a designated agency under the ADA, the agency may refer the complaint to the appropriate agency with title II or section 504 jurisdiction or to the Department of Justice. The language of the 1991 title II regulation only requires the agency to refer such a complaint to the Department, which in turn refers the complaint to the appropriate designated agency. The proposed revisions to § 35.171 made it clear that an agency can refer a misdirected complaint either directly to the appropriate agency or to the Department. This amendment was intended to protect against the unnecessary backlogging of complaints and to prevent undue delay in an agency taking action on a complaint.
Several commenters supported this amendment as a more efficient means of directing title II complaints to the appropriate enforcing agency. One commenter requested that the Department emphasize the need for timeliness in referring a complaint. The Department does not believe it is appropriate to adopt a specific time frame but will continue to encourage designated agencies to make timely referrals. The final rule retains, with minor modifications, the language in proposed § 35.171(a)(2)(i). The Department has also amended § 35.171(a)(2)(ii) to be consistent with the changes in the rule at § 35.190(e), as discussed below.
In the NPRM, the Department proposed a number of changes to language in § 35.172 relating to the resolution of complaints. Subtitle A of title II of the ADA defines the remedies, procedures, and rights provided for qualified individuals with disabilities who are discriminated against on the basis of disability in the services, programs, or activities of State and local governments. 42 U.S.C. 12131-12134. Subpart F of the current regulation establishes administrative procedures for the enforcement of title II of the ADA. 28 CFR 35.170-35.178. Subpart G identifies eight “designated agencies,” including the Department, that have responsibility for investigating complaints under title II. See 28 CFR 35.190(b).
The Department's 1991 title II regulation is based on the enforcement procedures established in regulations implementing section 504. Thus, the Department's 1991 title II regulation provides that the designated agency “shall investigate each complete complaint” alleging a violation of title II and shall “attempt informal resolution” of such complaint. 28 CFR 35.172(a). The full range of remedies (including compensatory damages) that are available to the Department when it resolves a complaint or resolves issues raised in a compliance review are available to designated agencies when they are engaged in informal complaint resolution or resolution of issues raised in a compliance review under title II.
In the years since the 1991 title II regulation went into effect, the Department has received many more complaints alleging violations of title II than its resources permit it to resolve. The Department has reviewed each complaint that the Department has received and directed its resources to resolving the most critical matters. In the NPRM, the Department proposed deleting the word “each” as it appears before “complaint” in § 35.172(a) of the 1991 title II regulation as a means of clarifying that designated agencies may exercise discretion in selecting title II complaints for resolution.
Many commenters opposed the removal of the term “each,” requesting that all title II complaints be investigated. The commenters explained that complaints against title II entities implicate the fundamental right of access to government facilities and programs, making an administrative enforcement mechanism critical. Rather than aligning enforcement discretion of title II complaints with the discretion under the enforcement procedures of title III, the commenters favored obtaining additional resources to address more complaints. The commenters highlighted the advantage afforded by Federal involvement in complaint investigations in securing favorable voluntary resolutions. When Federal involvement results in settlement agreements, commenters believed those agreements are more persuasive to other public entities than private settlements. Private litigation as a viable alternative was rejected by the commenters because of the financial limitations of many complainants, and because in some scenarios legal barriers foreclose private litigation as an option.
Several of those opposing this amendment argued that designated agencies are required to investigate each complaint under section 504, and a departure for title II complaints would be an inconsistency. The Department believes that § 35.171(a) of the final rule is consistent with the obligation to evaluate all complaints. However, there is no statutory requirement that every title II complaint receive a full investigation. Section 203 of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12133, adopts the “remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in section 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973” (29 U.S.C. 794a). Section 505 of the Rehabilitation Act, in turn, incorporates the remedies available under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into section 504. Under these statutes, agencies may engage in conscientious enforcement without fully investigating each citizen complaint. An agency's decision to conduct a full investigation requires a complicated balancing of a number of factors that are particularly within its expertise. Thus, the agency must not only assess whether a violation may have occurred, but also whether agency resources are best spent on this complaint or another, whether the agency is likely to succeed if it acts, and whether the particular enforcement action requested best fits the agency's overall policies. Availability of resources will always be a factor, and the Department believes discretion to maximize these limited resources will result in the most effective enforcement program. If agencies are bound to investigate each complaint fully, regardless of merit, such a requirement could have a deleterious effect on their overall enforcement efforts. The Department continues to expect that each designated agency will review the complaints the agency receives to determine whether further investigation is appropriate.
The Department also proposed revising § 35.172 to add a new paragraph (b) that provided explicit authority for compliance reviews consistent with the Department's longstanding position that such authority exists. The proposed section stated, “[t]he designated agency may conduct compliance reviews of public entities based on information indicating a possible failure to comply with the nondiscrimination requirements of this part.” Several commenters supported this amendment, identifying title III compliance reviews as having been a successful means for the Department and designated agencies to improve accessibility. The Department has retained this section. However, the Department has modified the language of the section to make the authority to conduct compliance reviews consistent with that available under section 504 and title VI. See, e.g., 28 CFR 42.107(a). The new provision reads as follows: “(b) The designated agency may conduct compliance reviews of public entities in order to ascertain whether there has been a failure to comply with the nondiscrimination requirements of this part.” The Department has also added a provision to § 35.172(c)(2) clarifying the Department's longstanding view that agencies may obtain compensatory damages on behalf of complainants as the result of a finding of discrimination pursuant to a compliance review or in informal resolution of a complaint.
Finally, in the NPRM, the Department proposed revising the requirements for letters of findings for clarification and to reflect current practice. Section 35.172(a) of the 1991 title II regulation required designated agencies to issue a letter of findings at the conclusion of an investigation if the complaint was not resolved informally, and to attempt to negotiate a voluntary compliance agreement if a violation was found. The Department's proposed changes to the 1991 title II regulation moved the discussion of letters of findings to a new paragraph (c) in the NPRM, and clarified that letters of findings are only required when a violation is found.
One commenter opposed the proposal to eliminate the obligation of the Department and designated agencies to issue letters of finding at the conclusion of every investigation. The commenter argued that it is beneficial for public entities, as well as complainants, for the Department to provide a reasonable explanation of both compliance and noncompliance findings.
The Department has considered this comment but continues to believe that this change will promote the overall effectiveness of its enforcement program. The final rule retains the proposed language.
Subpart G of the 1991 title II regulation designates specific Federal agencies to investigate certain title II complaints. Paragraph 35.190(b) specifies these agency designations. Paragraphs 35.190(c) and (d), respectively, grant the Department discretion to designate further oversight responsibilities for matters not specifically assigned or where there are apparent conflicts of jurisdiction. The NPRM proposed adding a new § 35.190(e) further refining procedures for complaints filed with the Department of Justice. Proposed § 35.190(e) provides that when the Department receives a complaint alleging a violation of title II that is directed to the Attorney General but may fall within the jurisdiction of a designated agency or another Federal agency with jurisdiction under section 504, the Department may exercise its discretion to retain the complaint for investigation under this part. The Department would, of course, consult with the designated agency when the Department plans to retain a complaint. In appropriate circumstances, the Department and the designated agency may conduct a joint investigation.
Several commenters supported this amendment as a more efficient means of processing title II complaints. The commenters supported the Department using its discretion to conduct timely investigations of such complaints. The language of the proposed § 35.190(e) remains unchanged in the final rule.
In the NPRM, the Department requested comment on various cost and benefit issues related to eight requirements in the Department's Initial Regulatory Impact Analysis (Initial RIA), available at ada.gov/NPRM2008/ria.htm), that were projected to have incremental costs exceeding monetized benefits by more than $100 million when using the 1991 Standards as the comparative baseline, i.e., side reach, water closet clearances in single-user toilet rooms with in-swinging doors, stairs, elevators, location of accessible routes to stages, accessible attorney areas and witness stands, assistive listening systems, and accessible teeing grounds, putting greens, and weather shelters at golf courses. 73 FR 34466, 34469 (June 17, 2008). The Department noted that pursuant to the ADA, the Department does not have statutory authority to modify the 2004 ADAAG and is required instead to issue regulations implementing the ADA that are consistent with the Board's guidelines. In that regard, the Department also requested comment about whether any of these eight elements in the 2010 Standards should be returned to the Access Board for further consideration, in particular as applied to alterations. Many of the comments received by the Department in response to these questions addressed both titles II and III. As a result, the Department's discussion of these comments and its response are collectively presented for both titles.
Side reach. The 1991 Standards at section 4.2.6 establish a maximum side-reach height of 54 inches. The 2010 Standards at section 308.3 reduce that maximum height to 48 inches. The 2010 Standards also add exceptions for certain elements to the scoping requirement for operable parts.
The vast majority of comments the Department received were in support of the lower side-reach maximum of 48 inches in the 2010 Standards. Most of these comments, but not all, were received from individuals of short stature, relatives of individuals of short stature, or organizations representing the interests of persons with disabilities, including individuals of short stature. Comments from individuals with disabilities and disability advocacy groups stated that the 48-inch side reach would permit independence in performing many activities of daily living for individuals with disabilities, including individuals of short stature, persons who use wheelchairs, and persons who have limited upper body strength. In this regard, one commenter who is a business owner pointed out that as a person of short stature there were many occasions when he was unable to exit a public restroom independently because he could not reach the door handle. The commenter said that often elevator control buttons are out of his reach and, if he is alone, he often must wait for someone else to enter the elevator so that he can ask that person to press a floor button for him. Another commenter, who is also a person of short stature, said that he has on several occasions pulled into a gas station only to find that he was unable to reach the credit card reader on the gas pump. Unlike other customers who can reach the card reader, swipe their credit or debit cards, pump their gas and leave the station, he must use another method to pay for his gas. Another comment from a person of short stature pointed out that as more businesses take steps to reduce labor costs - a trend expected to continue - staffed booths are being replaced with automatic machines for the sale, for example, of parking tickets and other products. He observed that the “ability to access and operate these machines becomes ever more critical to function in society,” and, on that basis, urged the Department to adopt the 48-inch side-reach requirement. Another individual commented that persons of short stature should not have to carry with them adaptive tools in order to access building or facility elements that are out of their reach, any more than persons in wheelchairs should have to carry ramps with them in order to gain access to facilities.
Many of the commenters who supported the revised side-reach requirement pointed out that lowering the side-reach requirement to 48 inches would avoid a problem sometimes encountered in the built environment when an element was mounted for a parallel approach at 54 inches only to find afterwards that a parallel approach was not possible. Some commenters also suggested that lowering the maximum unobstructed side reach to 48 inches would reduce confusion among design professionals by making the unobstructed forward and side-reach maximums the same (the unobstructed forward reach in both the 1991 and 2010 Standards is 48 inches maximum). These commenters also pointed out that the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard, which is a private sector model accessibility standard, has included a 48-inch maximum high side-reach requirement since 1998. Many jurisdictions have already incorporated this requirement into their building codes, which these commenters believed would reduce the cost of compliance with the 2010 Standards. Because numerous jurisdictions have already adopted the 48-inch side-reach requirement, the Department's failure to adopt the 48-inch side-reach requirement in the 2010 Standards, in the view of many commenters, would result in a significant reduction in accessibility, and would frustrate efforts that have been made to harmonize private sector model construction and accessibility codes with Federal accessibility requirements. Given these concerns, they overwhelmingly opposed the idea of returning the revised side-reach requirement to the Access Board for further consideration.
The Department also received comments in support of the 48-inch side-reach requirement from an association of professional commercial property managers and operators and from State governmental entities. The association of property managers pointed out that the revised side-reach requirement provided a reasonable approach to “regulating elevator controls and all other operable parts” in existing facilities in light of the manner in which the safe harbor, barrier removal, and alterations obligations will operate in the 2010 Standards. One governmental entity, while fully supporting the 48-inch side-reach requirement, encouraged the Department to adopt an exception to the lower reach range for existing facilities similar to the exception permitted in the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard. In response to this latter concern, the Department notes that under the safe harbor, existing facilities that are in compliance with the 1991 Standards, which require a 54-inch side-reach maximum, would not be required to comply with the lower side-reach requirement, unless there is an alteration. See § 35.150(b)(2).
A number of commenters expressed either concern with, or opposition to, the 48-inch side-reach requirement and suggested that it be returned to the Access Board for further consideration. These commenters included trade and business associations, associations of retail stores, associations of restaurant owners, retail and convenience store chains, and a model code organization. Several businesses expressed the view that the lower side-reach requirement would discourage the use of their products and equipment by most of the general public. In particular, concerns were expressed by a national association of pay phone service providers regarding the possibility that pay telephones mounted at the lower height would not be used as frequently by the public to place calls, which would result in an economic burden on the pay phone industry. The commenter described the lower height required for side reach as creating a new “barrier” to pay phone use, which would reduce revenues collected from pay phones and, consequently, further discourage the installation of new pay telephones. In addition, the commenter expressed concern that phone service providers would simply decide to remove existing pay phones rather than incur the costs of relocating them at the lower height. With regard to this latter concern, the commenter misunderstood the manner in which the safe harbor obligation will operate in the revised title II regulation for elements that comply with the 1991 Standards. If the pay phones comply with the 1991 Standards or UFAS, the adoption of the 2010 Standards does not require retrofitting of these elements to reflect incremental changes in the 2010 Standards (see § 35.150(b)(2)). However, pay telephones that were required to meet the 1991 Standards as part of new construction or alterations, but do not in fact comply with those standards, will need to be brought into compliance with the 2010 Standards as of 18 months from the publication date of this final rule. See § 35.151(c)(5)(ii).
The Department does not agree with the concerns expressed by the commenter about reduced revenues from pay phones mounted at lower heights. The Department believes that, while given the choice some individuals may prefer to use a pay phone that is at a higher height, the availability of some phones at a lower height will not deter individuals from making needed calls.
The 2010 Standards will not require every pay phone to be installed or moved to a lowered height. The table accompanying section 217.2 of the 2010 Standards makes clear that, where one or more telephones are provided on a floor, level, or an exterior site, only one phone per floor, level, or exterior site must be placed at an accessible height. Similarly, where there is one bank of phones per floor, level, or exterior site, only one phone per floor, level, or exterior site must be accessible. And if there are two or more banks of phones per floor, level, or exterior site, only one phone per bank must be placed at an accessible height.
Another comment in opposition to the lower reach range requirement was submitted on behalf of a chain of convenience stores with fuel stops. The commenter expressed the concern that the 48-inch side reach “will make it uncomfortable for the majority of the public,” including persons of taller stature who would need to stoop to use equipment such as fuel dispensers mounted at the lower height. The commenter offered no objective support for the observation that a majority of the public would be rendered uncomfortable if, as required in the 2010 Standards, at least one of each type of fuel dispenser at a facility was made accessible in compliance with the lower reach range. Indeed, the Department received no comments from any individuals of tall stature expressing concern about accessible elements or equipment being mounted at the 48-inch height.
Several convenience store, restaurant, and amusement park commenters expressed concern about the burden the lower side-reach requirement would place on their businesses in terms of self-service food stations and vending areas if the 48-inch requirement were applied retroactively. The cost of lowering counter height, in combination with the lack of control businesses exercise over certain prefabricated service or vending fixtures, outweighed, they argued, any benefits to persons with disabilities. For this reason, they suggested the lower side-reach requirement be referred back to the Access Board.
These commenters misunderstood the safe harbor and barrier removal obligations that will be in effect under the 2010 Standards. Those existing self-service food stations and vending areas that already are in compliance with the 1991 Standards will not be required to satisfy the 2010 Standards unless they engage in alterations. With regard to prefabricated vending machines and food service components that will be purchased and installed in businesses after the 2010 Standards become effective, the Department expects that companies will design these machines and fixtures to comply with the 2010 Standards in the future, as many have already done in the 10 years since the 48-inch side-reach requirement has been a part of the model codes and standards used by many jurisdictions as the basis for their construction codes.
A model code organization commented that the lower side-reach requirement would create a significant burden if it required entities to lower the mounting height for light switches, environmental controls, and outlets when an alteration did not include the walls where these elements were located, such as when “an area is altered or as a path of travel obligation.” The Department believes that the final rule adequately addresses those situations about which the commenter expressed concern by not requiring the relocation of existing elements, such as light switches, environmental controls, and outlets, unless they are altered. Moreover, under § 35.151(b)(4)(iii) of the final rule, costs for altering the path of travel to an altered area of primary function that exceed 20 percent of the overall costs of the alteration will be deemed disproportionate.
The Department has determined that the revised side-reach requirement should not be returned to the Access Board for further consideration, based in large part on the views expressed by a majority of the commenters regarding the need for, and importance of, the lower side-reach requirement to ensure access for persons with disabilities.
The 1991 Standards allow a lavatory to be placed a minimum of 18 inches from the water closet centerline and a minimum of 36 inches from the side wall adjacent to the water closet, which precludes side transfers. The 1991 Standards do not allow an in-swinging door in a toilet or bathing room to overlap the required clear floor space at any accessible fixture. To allow greater transfer options, section 604.3.2 of the 2010 Standards prohibits lavatories from overlapping the clear floor space at water closets, except in residential dwelling units. Section 603.2.3 of the 2010 Standards maintains the prohibition on doors swinging into the clear floor space or clearance required for any fixture, except that they permit the doors of toilet or bathing rooms to swing into the required turning space, provided that there is sufficient clearance space for the wheelchair outside the door swing. In addition, in single-user toilet or bathing rooms, exception 2 of section 603.2.3 of the 2010 Standards permits the door to swing into the clear floor space of an accessible fixture if a clear floor space that measures at least 30 inches by 48 inches is available outside the arc of the door swing.
The majority of commenters believed that this requirement would increase the number of toilet rooms accessible to individuals with disabilities who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters, and will make it easier for them to transfer. A number of commenters stated that there was no reason to return this provision to the Access Board. Numerous commenters noted that this requirement is already included in other model accessibility standards and many State and local building codes and that the adoption of the 2010 Standards is an important part of harmonization efforts.
Other commenters, mostly trade associations, opposed this requirement, arguing that the added cost to the industry outweighs any increase in accessibility. Two commenters stated that these proposed requirements would add two feet to the width of an accessible single-user toilet room; however, another commenter said the drawings in the proposed regulation demonstrated that there would be no substantial increase in the size of the toilet room. Several commenters stated that this requirement would require moving plumbing fixtures, walls, or doors at significant additional expense. Two commenters wanted the permissible overlap between the door swing and clearance around any fixture eliminated. One commenter stated that these new requirements will result in fewer alterations to toilet rooms to avoid triggering the requirement for increased clearances, and suggested that the Department specify that repairs, maintenance, or minor alterations would not trigger the need to provide increased clearances. Another commenter requested that the Department exempt existing guest room bathrooms and single-user toilet rooms that comply with the 1991 Standards from complying with the increased clearances in alterations.
After careful consideration of these comments, the Department believes that the revised clearances for single-user toilet rooms will allow safer and easier transfers for individuals with disabilities, and will enable a caregiver, aide, or other person to accompany an individual with a disability into the toilet room to provide assistance. The illustrations in Appendix B to the final title III rule, “Analysis and Commentary on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design,” published elsewhere in this volume and codified as Appendix B to 28 CFR part 36, describe several ways for public entities and public accommodations to make alterations while minimizing additional costs or loss of space. Further, in any isolated instances where existing structural limitations may entail loss of space, the public entity and public accommodation may have a technical infeasibility defense for that alteration. The Department also recognizes that in attempting to create the required clear floor space pursuant to section 604.3.2, there may be certain specific circumstances where it would be technically infeasible for a covered entity to comply with the clear floor space requirement, such as where an entity must move a plumbing wall in a multistory building where the mechanical chase for plumbing is an integral part of a building's structure or where the relocation of a wall or fixture would violate applicable plumbing codes. In such circumstances, the required clear floor space would not have to be provided although the covered entity would have to provide accessibility to the maximum extent feasible. The Department has, therefore, decided not to return this requirement to the Access Board.
Alterations to stairs. The 1991 Standards only require interior and exterior stairs to be accessible when they provide access to levels that are not connected by an elevator, ramp, or other accessible means of vertical access. In contrast, section 210.1 of the 2010 Standards requires all newly constructed stairs that are part of a means of egress to be accessible. However, exception 2 of section 210.1 of the 2010 Standards provides that in alterations, stairs between levels connected by an accessible route need not be accessible, except that handrails shall be provided. Most commenters were in favor of this requirement for handrails in alterations, and stated that adding handrails to stairs during alterations was not only feasible and not cost-prohibitive, but also provided important safety benefits. One commenter stated that making all points of egress accessible increased the number of people who could use the stairs in an emergency. A majority of the commenters did not want this requirement returned to the Access Board for further consideration.
The International Building Code (IBC), which is a private sector model construction code, contains a similar provision, and most jurisdictions enforce a version of the IBC as their building code, thereby minimizing the impact of this provision on public entities and public accommodations. The Department believes that by requiring only the addition of handrails to altered stairs where levels are connected by an accessible route, the costs of compliance for public entities and public accommodations are minimized, while safe egress for individuals with disabilities is increased. Therefore, the Department has decided not to return this requirement to the Access Board.
Alterations to elevators. Under the 1991 Standards, if an existing elevator is altered, only that altered elevator must comply with the new construction requirements for accessible elevators to the maximum extent feasible. It is therefore possible that a bank of elevators controlled by a single call system may contain just one accessible elevator, leaving an individual with a disability with no way to call an accessible elevator and thus having to wait indefinitely until an accessible elevator happens to respond to the call system. In the 2010 Standards, when an element in one elevator is altered, section 206.6.1 will require the same element to be altered in all elevators that are programmed to respond to the same call button as the altered elevator.
Most commenters favored the proposed requirement. This requirement, according to these commenters, is necessary so a person with a disability need not wait until an accessible elevator responds to his or her call. One commenter suggested that elevator owners could also comply by modifying the call system so the accessible elevator could be summoned independently. One commenter suggested that this requirement would be difficult for small businesses located in older buildings, and one commenter suggested that this requirement be sent back to the Access Board.
After considering the comments, the Department agrees that this requirement is necessary to ensure that when an individual with a disability presses a call button, an accessible elevator will arrive in a timely manner. The IBC contains a similar provision, and most jurisdictions enforce a version of the IBC as their building code, minimizing the impact of this provision on public entities and public accommodations. Public entities and businesses located in older buildings need not comply with this requirement where it is technically infeasible to do so. Further, as pointed out by one commenter, modifying the call system so the accessible elevator can be summoned independently is another means of complying with this requirement in lieu of altering all other elevators programmed to respond to the same call button. Therefore, the Department has decided not to return this requirement to the Access Board.
Location of accessible routes to stages. The 1991 Standards at section 4.33.5 require an accessible route to connect the accessible seating and the stage, as well as other ancillary spaces used by performers. The 2010 Standards at section 206.2.6 provide in addition that where a circulation path directly connects the seating area and the stage, the accessible route must directly connect the accessible seating and the stage, and, like the 1991 Standards, an accessible route must connect the stage with the ancillary spaces used by performers.
In the NPRM, the Department asked operators of auditoria about the extent to which auditoria already provide direct access to stages and whether there were planned alterations over the next 15 years that included accessible direct routes to stages. The Department also asked how to quantify the benefits of this requirement for persons with disabilities, and invited commenters to provide illustrative anecdotal experiences about the requirement's benefits. The Department received many comments regarding the costs and benefits of this requirement. Although little detail was provided, many industry and governmental entity commenters anticipated that the costs of this requirement would be great and that it would be difficult to implement. They noted that premium seats may have to be removed and that load-bearing walls may have to be relocated. These commenters suggested that the significant costs would deter alterations to the stage area for a great many auditoria. Some commenters suggested that ramps to the front of the stage may interfere with means of egress and emergency exits. Several commenters requested that the requirement apply to new construction only, and one industry commenter requested an exemption for stages used in arenas or amusement parks where there is no audience participation or where the stage is a work area for performers only. One commenter requested that the requirement not apply to temporary stages.
The final rule does not require a direct accessible route to be constructed where a direct circulation path from the seating area to the stage does not exist. Consequently, those commenters who expressed concern about the burden imposed by the revised requirement (i.e., where the stage is constructed with no direct circulation path connecting the general seating and performing area) should note that the final rule will not require the provision of a direct accessible route under these circumstances. The final rule applies to permanent stages, as well as “temporary stages,” if there is a direct circulation path from the seating area to the stage. However, the Department does recognize that in some circumstances, such as an alteration to a primary function area, the ability to provide a direct accessible route to a stage may be costly or technically infeasible, the auditorium owner is not precluded by the revised requirement from asserting defenses available under the regulation. In addition, the Department notes that since section 4.33.5 of the 1991 Standards requires an accessible route to a stage, the safe harbor will apply to existing facilities whose stages comply with the 1991 Standards.
Several governmental entities supported accessible auditoria and the revised requirement. One governmental entity noted that its State building code already required direct access, that it was possible to provide direct access, and that creative solutions had been found to do so.
Many advocacy groups and individual commenters strongly supported the revised requirement, discussing the acute need for direct access to stages as it impacts a great number of people at important life events such as graduations and awards ceremonies, at collegiate and competitive performances and other school events, and at entertainment events that include audience participation. Many commenters expressed the belief that direct access is essential for integration mandates to be satisfied and that separate routes are stigmatizing and unequal. The Department agrees with these concerns.
Commenters described the impact felt by persons in wheelchairs who are unable to access the stage at all when others are able to do so. Some of these commenters also discussed the need for performers and production staff who use wheelchairs to have direct access to the stage and provided a number of examples that illustrated the importance of the rule proposed in the NPRM. Personal anecdotes were provided in comments and at the Department's public hearing on the NPRM. One mother spoke passionately and eloquently about the unequal treatment experienced by her daughter, who uses a wheelchair, at awards ceremonies and band concerts. Her daughter was embarrassed and ashamed to be carried by her father onto a stage at one band concert. When the venue had to be changed for another concert to an accessible auditorium, the band director made sure to comment that he was unhappy with the switch. Rather than endure the embarrassment and indignities, her child dropped out of band the following year. Another father commented about how he was unable to speak from the stage at a PTA meeting at his child's school. Speaking from the floor limited his line of sight and his participation. Several examples were provided of children who could not participate on stage during graduation, awards programs, or special school events, such as plays and festivities. One student did not attend his college graduation because he would not be able to get on stage. Another student was unable to participate in the class Christmas programs or end-of-year parties unless her father could attend and lift her onto the stage. These commenters did not provide a method to quantify the benefits that would accrue by having direct access to stages. One commenter stated, however, that “the cost of dignity and respect is without measure.”
Many industry commenters and governmental entities suggested that the requirement be sent back to the Access Board for further consideration. One industry commenter mistakenly noted that some international building codes do not incorporate the requirement and that therefore there is a need for further consideration. However, the Department notes that both the 2003 and 2006 editions of the IBC include scoping provisions that are almost identical to this requirement and that these editions of the model code are the most frequently used. Many individuals and advocacy group commenters requested that the requirement be adopted without further delay. These commenters spoke of the acute need for direct access to stages and the amount of time it would take to resubmit the requirement to the Access Board. Several commenters noted that the 2004 ADAAG tracks recent model codes and thus there is no need for further consideration. The Department agrees that no further delay is necessary and therefore has decided not to return the requirement to the Access Board for further consideration.
Attorney areas and witness stands. The 1991 Standards do not require that public entities meet specific architectural standards with regard to the construction and alteration of courtrooms and judicial facilities. Because it is apparent that the judicial facilities of State and local governments have often been inaccessible to individuals with disabilities, as part of the NPRM, the Department proposed the adoption of sections 206.2.4, 231.2, 808, 304, 305, and 902 of the 2004 ADAAG concerning judicial facilities and courtrooms, including requirements for accessible courtroom stations and accessible jury boxes and witness stands.
Those who commented on access to judicial facilities and courtrooms uniformly favored the adoption of the 2010 Standards. Virtually all of the commenters stated that accessible judicial facilities are crucial to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are afforded due process under law and have an equal opportunity to participate in the judicial process. None of the commenters favored returning this requirement to the Access Board for further consideration.
The majority of commenters, including many disability rights and advocacy organizations, stated that it is crucial for individuals with disabilities to have effective and meaningful access to our judicial system so as to afford them due process under law. They objected to asking the Access Board to reconsider this requirement. In addition to criticizing the initial RIA for virtually ignoring the intangible and non-monetary benefits associated with accessible courtrooms, these commenters frequently cited the Supreme Court's decision in Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 531 (2004), 4 as ample justification for the requirement, noting the Court's finding that “[t]he unequal treatment of disabled persons in the administration of judicial services has a long history, and has persisted despite several legislative efforts to remedy the problem of disability discrimination.” Id. at 531. These commenters also made a number of observations, including the following: providing effective access to individuals with mobility impairments is not possible when architectural barriers impede their path of travel and negatively emphasize an individual's disability; the perception generated by makeshift accommodations discredits witnesses and attorneys with disabilities, who should not be stigmatized or treated like second-class citizens; the cost of accessibility modifications to existing courthouses can often be significantly decreased by planning ahead, by focusing on low-cost options that provide effective access, and by addressing existing barriers when reasonable modifications to the courtroom can be made; by planning ahead and by following best practices, jurisdictions can avoid those situations where it is apparent that someone's disability is the reason why ad hoc arrangements have to be made prior to the beginning of court proceedings; and accessibility should be a key concern during the planning and construction process so as to ensure that both courtroom grandeur and accessibility are achieved. One commenter stated that, in order for attorneys with disabilities to perform their professional duties to their clients and the court, it is essential that accessible courtrooms, conference rooms, law libraries, judicial chambers, and other areas of a courthouse be made barrier-free by taking accessible design into account prior to construction.
4 The Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 533-534 (2004), held that title II of the ADA constitutes a valid exercise of Congress' enforcement power under the Fourteenth Amendment in cases implicating the fundamental right of access to the courts.
Numerous commenters identified a variety of benefits that would accrue as a result of requiring judicial facilities to be accessible. These included the following: maintaining the decorum of the courtroom and eliminating the disruption of court proceedings when individuals confront physical barriers; providing an accessible route to the witness stand and attorney area and clear floor space to accommodate a wheelchair within the witness area; establishing crucial lines of sight between the judge, jury, witnesses, and attorneys - which commenters described as crucial; ensuring that the judge and the jury will not miss key visual indicators of a witness; maintaining a witness's or attorney's dignity and credibility; shifting the focus from a witness's disability to the substance of that person's testimony; fostering the independence of an individual with disability; allowing persons with mobility impairments to testify as witnesses, including as expert witnesses; ensuring the safety of various participants in a courtroom proceeding; and avoiding unlawful discrimination. One commenter stated that equal access to the well of the courtroom for both attorney and client is important for equal participation and representation in our court system. Other commenters indicated that accessible judicial facilities benefit a wide range of people, including many persons without disabilities, senior citizens, parents using strollers with small children, and attorneys and court personnel wheeling documents into the courtroom. One commenter urged the adoption of the work area provisions because they would result in better workplace accessibility and increased productivity. Several commenters urged the adoption of the rule because it harmonizes the ADAAG with the model IBC, the standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and model codes that have been widely adopted by State and local building departments, thus increasing the prospects for better understanding and compliance with the ADAAG by architects, designers, and builders.
Several commenters mentioned the report “Justice for All: Designing Accessible Courthouses” (Nov. 15, 2006), available at http://www.access-board.gov/caac/report.htm (Nov. 24, 2009) (last visited June 24, 2010). The report, prepared by the Courthouse Access Advisory Committee for the Access Board, contained recommendations for the Board's use in developing and disseminating guidance on accessible courthouse design under the ADA and the ABA. These commenters identified some of the report's best practices concerning courtroom accessibility for witness stands, jury boxes, and attorney areas; addressed the costs and benefits arising from the use of accessible courtrooms; and recommended that the report be incorporated into the Department's final rule. With respect to existing courtrooms, one commenter in this group suggested that consideration be given to ensuring that there are barrier-free emergency evacuation routes for all persons in the courtroom, including different evacuation routes for different classes of individuals given the unique nature of judicial facilities and courtrooms.
The Department declines to incorporate the report into the regulation. However, the Department encourages State and local governments to consult the Committee report as a useful guide on ways to facilitate and increase accessibility of their judicial facilities. The report includes many excellent examples of accessible courtroom design.
One commenter proposed that the regulation also require a sufficient number of accessible benches for judges with disabilities. Under section 206.2.4 of the 2004 ADAAG, raised courtroom stations used by judges and other judicial staff are not required to provide full vertical access when first constructed or altered, as long as the required clear floor space, maneuvering space, and any necessary electrical service for future installation of a means of vertical access, is provided at the time of new construction or can be achieved without substantial reconstruction during alterations. The Department believes that this standard easily allows a courtroom station to be adapted to provide vertical access in the event a judge requires an accessible judge's bench.
The Department received several anecdotal accounts of courtroom experiences of individuals with disabilities. One commenter recalled numerous difficulties that her law partner faced as the result of inaccessible courtrooms, and their concerns that the attention of judge and jury was directed away from the merits of case to the lawyer and his disability. Among other things, the lawyer had to ask the judges on an appellate panel to wait while he maneuvered through insufficient space to the counsel table; ask judges to relocate bench conferences to accessible areas; and make last-minute preparations and rearrangements that his peers without disabilities did not have to make. Another commenter with extensive experience as a lawyer, witness, juror, and consultant observed that it is common practice for a witness who uses mobility devices to sit in front of the witness stand. He described how disconcerting and unsettling it has been for him to testify in front of the witness stand, which allowed individuals in the courtroom to see his hands or legs shaking because of spasticity, making him feel like a second-class citizen.
Two other commenters with mobility disabilities described their experiences testifying in court. One accessibility consultant stated that she was able to represent her clients successfully when she had access to an accessible witness stand because it gave her the ability “to look the judge in the eye, speak comfortably and be heard, hold up visual aids that could be seen by the judge, and perform without an architectural stigma.” She did not believe that she was able to achieve a comparable outcome or have meaningful access to the justice system when she testified from an inaccessible location. Similarly, a licensed clinical social worker indicated that she has testified in several cases in accessible courtrooms, and that having full access to the witness stand in the presence of the judge and the jury was important to her effectiveness as an expert witness. She noted that accessible courtrooms often are not available, and that she was aware of instances in which victims, witnesses, and attorneys with disabilities have not been able to obtain needed disability accommodations in order to fulfill their roles at trial.
Two other commenters indicated that they had been chosen for jury duty but that they were effectively denied their right to participate as jurors because the courtrooms were not accessible. Another commenter indicated that he has had to sit apart from the other jurors because the jury box was inaccessible.
A number of commenters expressed approval of actions taken by States to facilitate access in judicial facilities. A member of a State commission on disability noted that the State had been working toward full accessibility since 1997 when the Uniform Building Code required interior accessible routes. This commenter stated that the State's district courts had been renovated to the maximum extent feasible to provide greater access. This commenter also noted that a combination of Community Development Block Grant money and State funds are often awarded for renovations of courtroom areas. One advocacy group that has dealt with court access issues stated that members of the State legal community and disability advocates have long been promoting efforts to ensure that the State courts are accessible to individuals with disabilities. The comment cited a publication distributed to the Washington State courts by the State bar association entitled, “Ensuring Equal Access to the Courts for Persons with Disabilities.” (Aug. 2006), available at http://www.wsba.org/ensuringaccessguidebook.pdf (last visited July 20, 2010). In addition, the commenter also indicated that the State supreme court had promulgated a new rule governing how the courts should respond to requests of accommodation based upon disability; the State legislature had created the position of Disability Access Coordinator for Courts to facilitate accessibility in the court system; and the State legislature had passed a law requiring that all planned improvements and alterations to historic courthouses be approved by the ADA State facilities program manager and committee in order to ensure that the alterations will enhance accessibility.
The Department has decided to adopt the requirements in the 2004 ADAAG with respect to judicial facilities and courtrooms and will not ask the Access Board to review these requirements. The final rule is wholly consistent with the objectives of the ADA. It addresses a well-documented history of discrimination with respect to judicial administration and significantly increases accessibility for individuals with disabilities. It helps ensure that they will have an opportunity to participate equally in the judicial process. As stated, the final rule is consistent with a number of model and local building codes that have been widely adopted by State and local building departments and provides greater uniformity for planners, architects, and builders.
Assistive listening systems. The 1991 Standards at sections 4.33.6 and 4.33.7 require assistive listening systems (ALS) in assembly areas and prescribe general performance standards for ALS systems. In the NPRM, the Department proposed adopting the technical specifications in the 2004 ADAAG for ALS that are intended to ensure better quality and effective delivery of sound and information for persons with hearing impairments, especially those using hearing aids. The Department noted in the NPRM that since 1991, advancements in ALS and the advent of digital technology have made these systems more amenable to uniform standards, which, among other things, should ensure that a certain percentage of required ALS systems are hearing-aid compatible. 73 FR 34466, 34471 (June 17, 2008). The 2010 Standards at section 219 provide scoping requirements and at section 706 address receiver jacks, hearing aid compatibility, sound pressure level, signal-to-noise ratio, and peak clipping level. The Department requested comments specifically from arena and assembly area administrators on the cost and maintenance issues associated with ALS, asked generally about the costs and benefits of ALS, and asked whether, based upon the expected costs of ALS, the issue should be returned to the Access Board for further consideration.
Comments from advocacy organizations noted that persons who develop significant hearing loss often discontinue their normal routines and activities, including meetings, entertainment, and large group events, due to a sense of isolation caused by the hearing loss or embarrassment. Individuals with longstanding hearing loss may never have participated in group activities for many of the same reasons. Requiring ALS may allow individuals with disabilities to contribute to the community by joining in government and public events, and increasing economic activity associated with community activities and entertainment. Making public events and entertainment accessible to persons with hearing loss also brings families and other groups that include persons with hearing loss into more community events and activities, thus exponentially increasing the benefit from ALS.
Many commenters noted that when a person has significant hearing loss, that person may be able to hear and understand information in a quiet situation with the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants; however, as background noise increases and the distance between the source of the sound and the listener grows, and especially where there is distortion in the sound, an ALS becomes essential for basic comprehension and understanding. Commenters noted that among the 31 million Americans with hearing loss, and with a projected increase to over 78 million Americans with hearing loss by 2030, the benefit from ALS is huge and growing. Advocates for persons with disabilities and individuals commented that they appreciated the improvements in the 2004 ADAAG standards for ALS, including specifications for the ALS systems and performance standards. They noted that neckloops that translate the signal from the ALS transmitter to a frequency that can be heard on a hearing aid or cochlear implant are much more effective than separate ALS system headsets, which sometimes create feedback, often malfunction, and may create distractions for others seated nearby. Comments from advocates and users of ALS systems consistently noted that the Department's regulation should, at a minimum, be consistent with the 2004 ADAAG. Although there were requests for adjustments in the scoping requirements from advocates seeking increased scoping requirements, and from large venue operators seeking fewer requirements, there was no significant concern expressed by commenters about the technical specifications for ALS in the 2004 ADAAG.
Some commenters from trade associations and large venue owners criticized the scoping requirements as too onerous and one commenter asked for a remand to the Access Board for new scoping rules. However, one State agency commented that the 2004 ADAAG largely duplicates the requirements in the 2006 IBC and the 2003 ANSI codes, which means that entities that comply with those standards would not incur additional costs associated with ADA compliance.
According to one State office of the courts, the cost to install either an infrared system or an FM system at average-sized facilities, including most courtrooms covered by title II, would be between $500 and $2,000, which the agency viewed as a small price in comparison to the benefits of inclusion. Advocacy organizations estimated wholesale costs of ALS systems at about $250 each and individual neckloops to link the signal from the ALS transmitter to hearing aids or cochlear implants at less than $50 per unit. Many commenters pointed out that if a facility already is using induction neckloops, it would already be in compliance and would not have any additional installation costs. One major city commented that annual maintenance is about $2,000 for the entire system of performance venues in the city. A trade association representing very large venues estimated annual maintenance and upkeep expenses, including labor and replacement parts, to be at most about $25,000 for a very large professional sports stadium.
One commenter suggested that the scoping requirements for ALS in the 2004 ADAAG were too stringent and that the Department should return them to the Access Board for further review and consideration. Others commented that the requirement for new ALS systems should mandate multichannel receivers capable of receiving audio description for persons who are blind, in addition to a channel for amplification for persons who are hard of hearing. Some comments suggested that the Department should require a set schedule and protocol of mandatory maintenance. Department regulations already require maintenance of accessible features at § 35.133(a) of the title II regulation, which obligates a title II entity to maintain ALS in good working order. The Department recognizes that maintenance of ALS is key to its usability. Necessary maintenance will vary dramatically from venue to venue based upon a variety of factors including frequency of use, number of units, quality of equipment, and others items. Accordingly, the Department has determined that it is not appropriate to mandate details of maintenance, but notes that failure to maintain ALS would violate § 35.133(a) of this rule.
The NPRM asked whether the Department should return the issue of ALS requirements to the Access Board. The Department has received substantial feedback on the technical and scoping requirements for ALS and is convinced that these requirements are reasonable and that the benefits justify the requirements. In addition, the Department believes that the new specifications will make ALS work more effectively for more persons with disabilities, which, together with a growing population of new users, will increase demand for ALS, thus mooting criticism from some large venue operators about insufficient demand. Thus, the Department has determined that it is unnecessary to refer this issue back to the Access Board for reconsideration.
Accessible teeing grounds, putting greens, and weather shelters. In the NPRM, the Department sought public input on the proposed requirements for accessible golf courses. These requirements specifically relate to accessible routes within the boundaries of courses, as well as the accessibility of golfing elements (e.g., teeing grounds, putting greens, weather shelters).
In the NPRM, the Department sought information from the owners and operators of golf courses, both public and private, on the extent to which their courses already have golf car passages, and, if so, whether they intended to avail themselves of the proposed accessible route exception for golf car passages. 73 FR 34466, 34471 (June 17, 2008).
Most commenters expressed support for the adoption of an accessible route requirement that includes an exception permitting golf car passage as all or part of an accessible route. Comments in favor of the proposed standard came from golf course owners and operators, individuals, organizations, and disability rights groups, while comments opposing adoption of the golf course requirements generally came from golf courses and organizations representing the golf course industry.
The majority of commenters expressed the general viewpoint that nearly all golf courses provide golf cars and have either well-defined paths or permit golf cars to drive on the course where paths are not present, thus meeting the accessible route requirement. Several commenters disagreed with the assumption in the initial RIA, that virtually every tee and putting green on an existing course would need to be regraded in order to provide compliant accessible routes. According to one commenter, many golf courses are relatively flat with little slope, especially those heavily used by recreational golfers. This commenter concurred with the Department that it is likely that most existing golf courses have a golf car passage to tees and greens, thereby substantially minimizing the cost of bringing an existing golf course into compliance with the proposed standards. One commenter reported that golf course access audits found that the vast majority of public golf courses would have little difficulty in meeting the proposed golf course requirements. In the view of some commenters, providing access to golf courses would increase golf participation by individuals with disabilities.
The Department also received many comments requesting clarification of the term “golf car passage.” For example, one commenter requesting clarification of the term “golf car passage” argued that golf courses typically do not provide golf car paths or pedestrian paths onto the actual teeing grounds or greens, many of which are higher or lower than the car path. This commenter argued that if golf car passages were required to extend onto teeing grounds and greens in order to qualify for an exception, then some golf courses would have to substantially regrade teeing grounds and greens at a high cost.
After careful consideration of the comments, the Department has decided to adopt the 2010 Standards specific to golf facilities. The Department believes that in order for individuals with mobility disabilities to have an opportunity to play golf that is equal to golfers without disabilities, it is essential that golf courses provide an accessible route or accessible golf car passage to connect accessible elements and spaces within the boundary of the golf course, including teeing grounds, putting greens, and weather shelters.
Equipment and furniture. In the 1991 title II regulation, there are no specific provisions addressing equipment and furniture, although § 35.150(b) states that one means by which a public entity can make its program accessible to individuals with disabilities is “redesign of equipment.” In the NPRM, the Department announced its intention not to regulate equipment, proposing instead to continue with the current approach, under which equipment and furniture are covered by other provisions, including those requiring reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures, program accessibility, and effective communication. The Department suggested that entities apply the accessibility standards for fixed equipment in the 2004 ADAAG to analogous free-standing equipment in order to ensure that such equipment is accessible, and that entities consult relevant portions of the 2004 ADAAG and standards from other Federal agencies to make equipment accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision (e.g., the communication-related standards for ATMs in the 2004 ADAAG).
The Department received numerous comments objecting to this decision and urging the Department to issue equipment and furniture regulations. Based on these comments, the Department has decided that it needs to revisit the issuance of equipment and furniture regulations and it intends to do so in future rulemaking.
Among the commenters' key concerns, many from the disability community and some public entities, were objections to the Department's earlier decision not to issue equipment regulations, especially for medical equipment. These groups recommended that the Department list by name certain types of medical equipment that must be accessible, including exam tables (that lower to 15 inches above floor or lower), scales, medical and dental chairs, and radiologic equipment (including mammography equipment). These commenters emphasized that the provision of medically related equipment and furniture should also be specifically regulated since they are not included in the 2004 ADAAG (while depositories, change machines, fuel dispensers, and ATMs were) and because of their crucial role in the provision of healthcare. Commenters described how the lack of accessible medical equipment negatively affects the health of individuals with disabilities. For example, some individuals with mobility disabilities do not get thorough medical care because their health providers do not have accessible examination tables or scales.
Commenters also said that the Department's stated plan to assess the financial impact of free-standing equipment on businesses was not necessary, as any regulations could include a financial balancing test. Other commenters representing persons who are blind or have low vision urged the Department to mandate accessibility for a wide range of equipment - including household appliances (stoves, washers, microwaves, and coffee makers), audiovisual equipment (stereos and DVD players), exercise machines, vending equipment, ATMs, computers at Internet cafes or hotel business centers, reservations kiosks at hotels, and point-of-sale devices - through speech output and tactile labels and controls. They argued that modern technology allows such equipment to be made accessible at minimal cost. According to these commenters, the lack of such accessibility in point-of-sale devices is particularly problematic because it forces blind individuals to provide personal or sensitive information (such as personal identification numbers) to third parties, which exposes them to identity fraud. Because the ADA does not apply directly to the manufacture of products, the Department lacks the authority to issue design requirements for equipment designed exclusively for use in private homes. See Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual Covering Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities, III-4.4200, available at http://www.ada.gov/taman3.
Some commenters urged the Department to require swimming pool operators to provide aquatic wheelchairs for the use of persons with disabilities when the swimming pool has a sloped entry. If there is a sloped entry, a person who uses a wheelchair would require a wheelchair designed for use in the water in order to gain access to the pool because taking a personal wheelchair into water would rust and corrode the metal on the chair and damage any electrical components of a power wheelchair. Providing an aquatic wheelchair made of non-corrosive materials and designed for access into the water will protect the water from contamination and avoid damage to personal wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Additionally, many commenters urged the Department to regulate the height of beds in accessible hotel guest rooms and to ensure that such beds have clearance at the floor to accommodate a mechanical lift. These commenters noted that in recent years, hotel beds have become higher as hotels use thicker mattresses, thereby making it difficult or impossible for many individuals who use wheelchairs to transfer onto hotel beds. In addition, many hotel beds use a solid-sided platform base with no clearance at the floor, which prevents the use of a portable lift to transfer an individual onto the bed. Consequently, individuals who bring their own lift to transfer onto the bed cannot independently get themselves onto the bed. Some commenters suggested various design options that might avoid these situations.
The Department intends to provide specific guidance relating to both hotel beds and aquatic wheelchairs in a future rulemaking. For the present, the Department reminds covered entities that they have an obligation to undertake reasonable modifications to their current policies and to make their programs accessible to persons with disabilities. In many cases, providing aquatic wheelchairs or adjusting hotel bed heights may be necessary to comply with those requirements.
The Department has decided not to add specific scoping or technical requirements for equipment and furniture in this final rule. Other provisions of the regulation, including those requiring reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures, program accessibility, and effective communication may require the provision of accessible equipment in individual circumstances. The 1991 title II regulation at § 35.150(a) requires that entities operate each service, program, or activity so that, when viewed in its entirety, each is readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities, subject to a defense of fundamental alteration or undue financial and administrative burdens. Section 35.150(b) specifies that such entities may meet their program accessibility obligation through the “redesign of equipment.” The Department expects to undertake a rulemaking to address these issues in the near future.
Accessible golf cars. An accessible golf car means a device that is designed and manufactured to be driven on all areas of a golf course, is independently usable by individuals with mobility disabilities, has a hand-operated brake and accelerator, carries golf clubs in an accessible location, and has a seat that both swivels and raises to put the golfer in a standing or semi-standing position.
The 1991 title II regulation contained no language specifically referencing accessible golf cars. After considering the comments addressing the ANPRM's proposed requirement that golf courses make at least one specialized golf car available for the use of individuals with disabilities, and the safety of accessible golf cars and their use on golf course greens, the Department stated in the NPRM that it would not issue regulations specific to golf cars.
The Department received many comments in response to its decision to propose no new regulation specific to accessible golf cars. The majority of commenters urged the Department to require golf courses to provide accessible golf cars. These comments came from individuals, disability advocacy and recreation groups, a manufacturer of accessible golf cars, and representatives of local government. Comments supporting the Department's decision not to propose a new regulation came from golf course owners, associations, and individuals.
Many commenters argued that while the existing title II regulation covered the issue, the Department should nonetheless adopt specific regulatory language requiring golf courses to provide accessible golf cars. Some commenters noted that many local governments and park authorities that operate public golf courses have already provided accessible golf cars. Experience indicates that such golf cars may be used without damaging courses. Some argued that having accessible golf cars would increase golf course revenue by enabling more golfers with disabilities to play the game. Several commenters requested that the Department adopt a regulation specifically requiring each golf course to provide one or more accessible golf cars. Other commenters recommended allowing golf courses to make “pooling” arrangements to meet demands for such cars. A few commenters expressed support for using accessible golf cars to accommodate golfers with and without disabilities. Commenters also pointed out that the Departments of the Interior and Defense have already mandated that golf courses under their jurisdictional control must make accessible golf cars available unless it can be demonstrated that doing so would change the fundamental nature of the game.
While an industry association argued that at least two models of accessible golf cars meet the specifications recognized in the field, and that accessible golf cars cause no more damage to greens or other parts of golf courses than players standing or walking across the course, other commenters expressed concerns about the potential for damage associated with the use of accessible golf cars. Citing safety concerns, golf organizations recommended that an industry safety standard be developed.
Although the Department declines to add specific scoping or technical requirements for golf cars to this final rule, the Department expects to address requirements for accessible golf cars in future rulemaking. In the meantime, the Department believes that golfers with disabilities who need accessible golf cars are protected by other existing provisions in the title II regulation, including those requiring reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures, and program accessibility.
Web site accessibility. Many commenters expressed disappointment that the NPRM did not require title II entities to make their Web sites, through which they offer programs and services, accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those who are blind or have low vision. Commenters argued that the cost of making Web sites accessible, through Web site design, is minimal, yet critical to enabling individuals with disabilities to benefit from the entity's programs and services. Internet Web sites, when accessible, provide individuals with disabilities great independence, and have become an essential tool for many Americans. Commenters recommended that the Department require covered entities, at a minimum, to meet the section 508 Standard for Electronic and Information Technology for Internet accessibility. Under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Federal agencies are required to make their Web sites accessible. 29 U.S.C. 794(d); 36 CFR 1194.
The Department agrees that the ability to access, on an equal basis, the programs and activities offered by public entities through Internet-based Web sites is of great importance to individuals with disabilities, particularly those who are blind or who have low vision. When the ADA was enacted in 1990, the Internet was unknown to most Americans. Today, the Internet plays a critical role in daily life for personal, civic, commercial, and business purposes. In a period of shrinking resources, public entities increasingly rely on the web as an efficient and comprehensive way to deliver services and to inform and communicate with their citizens and the general public. In light of the growing importance Web sites play in providing access to public services and to disseminating the information citizens need to participate fully in civic life, accessing the Web sites of public entities can play a significant role in fulfilling the goals of the ADA.
Although the language of the ADA does not explicitly mention the Internet, the Department has taken the position that title II covers Internet Web site access. Public entities that choose to provide services through web-based applications (e.g., renewing library books or driver's licenses) or that communicate with their constituents or provide information through the Internet must ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to such services or information, unless doing so would result in an undue financial and administrative burden or a fundamental alteration in the nature of the programs, services, or activities being offered. The Department has issued guidance on the ADA as applied to the Web sites of public entities in a 2003 publication entitled, Accessibility of State and Local Government Web sites to People with Disabilities, (June 2003) available at http://www.ada.gov/websites2.htm. As the Department stated in that publication, an agency with an inaccessible Web site may also meet its legal obligations by providing an alternative accessible way for citizens to use the programs or services, such as a staffed telephone information line. However, such an alternative must provide an equal degree of access in terms of hours of operation and the range of options and programs available. For example, if job announcements and application forms are posted on an inaccessible Web site that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to individuals without disabilities, then the alternative accessible method must also be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Additional guidance is available in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), (May 5, 1999) available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT (last visited June 24, 2010) which are developed and maintained by the Web Accessibility Initiative, a subgroup of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C®).
The Department expects to engage in rulemaking relating to website accessibility under the ADA in the near future. The Department has enforced the ADA in the area of website accessibility on a case-by-case basis under existing rules consistent with the guidance noted above, and will continue to do so until the issue is addressed in a final regulation.
Multiple chemical sensitivities. The Department received comments from a number of individuals asking the Department to add specific language to the final rule addressing the needs of individuals with chemical sensitivities. These commenters expressed concern that the presence of chemicals interferes with their ability to participate in a wide range of activities. These commenters also urged the Department to add multiple chemical sensitivities to the definition of a disability.
The Department has determined not to include specific provisions addressing multiple chemical sensitivities in the final rule. In order to be viewed as a disability under the ADA, an impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. An individual's major life activities of respiratory or neurological functioning may be substantially limited by allergies or sensitivity to a degree that he or she is a person with a disability. When a person has this type of disability, a covered entity may have to make reasonable modifications in its policies and practices for that person. However, this determination is an individual assessment and must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Examinations and Courses. The Department received one comment requesting that it specifically include language regarding examinations and courses in the title II regulation. Because section 309 of the ADA 42 U.S.C. 12189, reaches “[a]ny person that offers examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or post secondary education, professional, or trade purposes,” public entities also are covered by this section of the ADA. Indeed, the requirements contained in title II (including the general prohibitions against discrimination, the program access requirements, the reasonable modifications requirements, and the communications requirements) apply to courses and examinations administered by public entities that meet the requirements of section 309. While the Department considers these requirements to be sufficient to ensure that examinations and courses administered by public entities meet the section 309 requirements, the Department acknowledges that the title III regulation, because it addresses examinations in some detail, is useful as a guide for determining what constitutes discriminatory conduct by a public entity in testing situations. See 28 CFR 36.309.
Hotel Reservations. In the NPRM, at § 36.302(e), the Department proposed adding specific language to title III addressing the requirements that hotels, timeshare resorts, and other places of lodging make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, or procedures, when necessary to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to reserve accessible hotel rooms with the same efficiency, immediacy, and convenience as those who do not need accessible guest rooms. The NPRM did not propose adding comparable language to the title II regulation as the Department believes that the general nondiscrimination, program access, effective communication, and reasonable modifications requirements of title II provide sufficient guidance to public entities that operate places of lodging (i.e., lodges in State parks, hotels on public college campuses). The Department received no public comments suggesting that it add language on hotel reservations comparable to that proposed for the title III regulation. Although the Department continues to believe that it is unnecessary to add specific language to the title II regulation on this issue, the Department acknowledges that the title III regulation, because it addresses hotel reservations in some detail, is useful as a guide for determining what constitutes discriminatory conduct by a public entity that operates a reservation system serving a place of lodging. See 28 CFR 36.302(e).