45 CFR 85.62 - Coordination and compliance responsibilities.
(a) Each component agency shall be primarily responsible for compliance with this part in connection with the programs and activities it conducts.
(b) The OCR Director/Special Assistant shall have the overall responsibility to coordinate implementation of this part. The OCR Director/Special Assistant shall have authority to conduct investigations, to conduct compliance reviews, and to initiate such other actions as may be necessary to facilitate and ensure effective implementation of and compliance with, this part.
(c) If as a result of an investigation or in connection with any other compliance or implementation activity, the OCR Director/Special Assistant determines that a component agency appears to be in noncompliance with its responsibilities under this part, OCR will undertake appropriate action with the component agency to assure compliance. In the event that OCR and the component agency are unable to agree on a resolution of any particular matter, the matter shall be submitted to the Secretary for resolution.
Where no discussion of comments follows the analysis of a section, no comments have been received thereon.
Section 85.1 states the purpose of the rule, which is to effectuate section 119 of the Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities Amendments of 1978, which amended section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of handicap in programs or activities conducted by Executive agencies or the United States Postal Service.
The proposed regulation covers all programs and activities conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS” or the “agency”).
This includes the following components:
Under this section, a federally conducted program or activity is, in simple terms, anything a Federal agency does. Aside from employment, there are two major categories of federally conducted programs or activities covered by this regulation: those involving general public contact as part of ongoing agency operations, and those directly administered by the agency for program beneficiaries and participants. Activities in the first category include communication with the public (telephone contacts, office walk-ins, or interviews) and the public's use of the agency's facilities. Activities in the second category include programs that provide Federal services or benefits. This regulation does not, however, apply to programs or activities conducted outside the United States that do not involve individuals with handicaps in the United States.
The major programs subject to this regulation are listed below. Each of the components listed above occupies facilities which the public may have occasion to visit, engages in written and oral communication with the public, and hires Federal employees. In addition, some components operate programs which involve extensive public use, as summarized below:
1 Financial assistance programs conducted through grants to States and other recipients are covered by the section 504 rule for federally assisted programs at 45 CFR part 84.
One commenter urged the inclusion of a program operated by one component of the Office of the Secretary, and for a list of all programs and activities to be appended to the regulation. In light of the fact that all programs and activities are covered, that a comprehensive list of all programs would be very lengthy, and that such a list would have to be amended frequently as new programs are enacted and existing programs expire, the above list appears to be sufficient.
Agency. For purposes of this part agency means the Department of Health and Human Services or any component part of the Department of Health and Human Services that conducts a program or activity covered by this part. Component agency means any such component part.
Assistant Attorney General. Assistant Attorney General refers to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice.
Auxiliary aids. Auxiliary aids means services or devices that enable persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills to have an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, the agency's programs or activities. The definition provides examples of commonly used auxiliary aids. Although auxiliary aids are required explicitly only by § 85.51(a)(1), they may also be necessary to meet other requirements of this regulation.
Two commenters suggested expanding the definition of auxiliary aids and one of them further suggested re-naming auxiliary aids to read aids for reasonable accommodation and specifically include the services of attendants.
The items set out in § 85.3 are clearly described as examples, and are not intended to constitute an exhaustive list. By giving examples rather than by including a list, other aids can be used, and, in appropriate cases, required, without amending the regulation. In certain instances, the services of attendants may indeed be appropriate; in those instances, they will fall under the definition in § 85.3. Therefore, there is no need to change the text of the regulations.
Complete complaint. Complete complaint is defined to include all of the information necessary to enable the agency to investigate the complaint. The definition is necessary, because the 180 day period for the agency's investigation (see § 85.61(g)) begins when the agency receives a complete complaint.
Two commenters stated their belief that the definition of complete complaint is too restrictive, and urged language which would give the complainant specific information as to what additional information is needed, and a further 30 days to submit such information, failing which the complaint would be dismissed without prejudice, and the complainant would be so informed.
Procedures similar to this suggestion are currently in place, and complainants will be given reasonable opportunities to complete the information submitted. There appears to be no need to spell these procedures out in the regulation.
Facility. The definition of facility is similar to that in the section 504 coordination regulation for federally assisted programs ( 28 CFR 41.3(f)), except that the term rolling stock or other conveyances has been added and the phrase or interest in such property has been deleted because the term facility, as used in this part, refers to structures and not to intangible property rights. It should, however, be noted that this part applies to all programs and activities conducted by the agency regardless of whether the facility in which they are conducted is owned, leased, or used on some other basis by the agency. The term facility is used in §§ 85.41, 85.42, and 85.61(f).
One commenter proposed not to delete the phrase or interest in such property. As previously stated, the phrase or interest in such property has been deleted because the term facility, as used in this part, refers to structures and not to intangible property rights.
Individual with Handicaps. The definition of individual with handicaps is identical to the definition of handicapped person appearing in the section 504 coordination regulation for federally assisted programs ( 28 CFR 41.31), and the HHS regulation for federally assisted programs ( 45 CFR 84.3(j)). Although section 103(d) of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 changed the statutory term handicapped individual to individual with handicaps, the legislative history of the amendment indicates that no substantive change was intended. Thus, although the term has been changed in this regulation to be consistent with the statute as amended, the definition is unchanged. In particular, although the term as revised refers to handicaps in the plural, it does not exclude persons who have only one handicap.
One commenter suggested that we add sensory to the phrase physical or mental impairment. Since the definition set out in § 85.3 specifically includes the sense organs among the body systems whose impairment constitutes a handicap, we have not found it necessary to amend the regulation.
OCR. OCR means the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services.
OCR Director/Special Assistant means the Director of the Office for Civil Rights, who serves concurrently as the Special Assistant to the Secretary for Civil Rights, or a designee of the OCR Director/Special Assistant.
Qualified individual with handicaps. The definition of qualified individual with handicaps is a revised version of the definition of qualified handicapped person appearing in the section 504 coordination regulation for federally assisted programs ( 28 CFR 41.32) and the HHS section 504 regulation for federally assisted programs ( 45 CFR 84.3(k)).
Paragraph (1) is an adaptation of existing definitions of qualified handicapped person for purposes of federally assisted preschool, elementary, and secondary education programs (see, e.g., 45 CFR 84.3(k)(2)). It provides that an individual with handicaps is qualified for preschool, elementary, or secondary education programs conducted by the agency, if he or she is a member of a class of persons otherwise entitled by statute, regulation, or agency policy to receive these services from the agency. In other words, an individual with handicaps is qualified if, considering all factors other than the handicapping condition, he or she is entitled to receive educational services from the agency.
Paragraph (2) deviates from existing regulations for federally assisted programs because of intervening court decisions. It defines qualified individual with handicaps with regard to any program other than those covered by paragraph (1) under which a person is required to perform services or to achieve a level of accomplishment. In such programs, a qualified individual with handicaps is one who can achieve the purpose of the program without modifications in the program that the agency can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in its nature. This definition reflects the decision of the Supreme Court in Davis.
In that case, the Court ruled that a hearing-impaired applicant to a nursing school was not a qualified handicapped person because her hearing impairment would prevent her from participating in the clinical training portion of the program. The Court found that, if the program were modified so as to enable the respondent to participate (by exempting her from the clinical training requirements), she would not receive even a rough equivalent of the training a nursing program normally gives. Id. at 410. It also found that the purpose of [the] program was to train persons who could serve the nursing profession in all customary ways, Id. at 413, and that the respondent would be unable, because of her hearing impairment, to perform some functions expected of a registered nurse. It, therefore, concluded that the school was not required by section 504 to make such modifications that would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the program. Id. at 410.
We have incorporated the Court's language in the definition of qualified individual with handicaps in order to make clear that such a person must be able to participate in the program offered by the agency. The agency is required to make modifications in order to enable an applicant with handicaps to participate, but is not required to offer a program of a fundamentally different nature. The test is whether, with appropriate modifications, the applicant can achieve the purpose of the program offered, not whether the applicant could benefit or obtain results from some other program that the agency does not offer. Although the revised definition allows exclusion of some individuals with handicaps from some programs, it requires that an individual with handicaps who is capable of achieving the purpose of the program must be accommodated, provided that the modifications do not fundamentally alter the purpose of the program.
One commenter proposed inserting the second sentence from the above paragraph into the regulatory text. We believe that the use of this language in the preamble is sufficient.
Another commenter commended HHS for the discussion of Davis, and the cases interpreting the Davis decision, in order to explain why the language of this part does not precisely track that of the regulations concerning federally assisted recipients ( 45 CFR part 84). Two other commenters stated their view that incorporating Davis and Alexander into the regulation was unduly restrictive, and that the differences between this part and part 84 would result in holding HHS to a lesser standard than HHS holds recipients of Federal financial assistance.
We believe that the Supreme Court's decision in Davis as well as the subsequent lower court decisions following Davis interpret section 504 and that it is necessary to reflect those decisions in the Department's regulation. The suggested changes are therefore not being adopted.
The agency has the burden of demonstrating that a proposed modification would constitute a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity. Furthermore, in demonstrating that a modification would result in such an alteration, the agency must follow the procedures established in §§ 85.42(a) and 85.51(d), which are discussed below, for demonstrating that an action would result in undue financial and administrative burdens to the agency. That is, the decision must be made by the agency head or his or her designee in writing after consideration of all resources which are legally available to the agency for the purpose, and must be accompanied by an explanation of the reasons for the decision. If the agency head determines that an action would result in a fundamental alteration, the agency must consider options that would enable the individual with handicaps to achieve the purpose of the program but would not result in such an alteration.
Two commenters suggested that the total resources of the agency be considered in determining undue burden. Because many Department funds are earmarked for specific purposes and are therefore unavailable for use elsewhere, the entire agency budget is not an appropriate consideration.
For programs or activities which do not fall under either of the first two paragraphs, paragraph (3) adopts the existing definition of qualified handicapped person with respect to services ( 28 CFR 41.32(b)) in the coordination regulation for programs receiving Federal financial assistance. Under this definition, a qualified individual with handicaps is an individual with handicaps who meets the essential eligibility requirements for participation in the program or activity.
Paragraph (4) explains that qualified individual with handicaps means qualified handicapped person as that term is defined for purposes of employment in the EEOC regulation at 29 CFR 1613.702(f), which is made applicable to this part by § 85.31. Nothing in this part changes existing regulations pertaining to employment.
One commenter proposed using the general section 504 definition of qualified handicapped person in employment cases rather than the definition of the EEOC regulation. The definition has been supplied by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which coordinates all employment discrimination matters throughout the government. It is also the Department's view that it is important to have a uniform definition of what constitutes employment discrimination throughout the Federal government.
Section 504. This definition makes clear that, as used in this part, section 504 applies only to programs or activities conducted by the agency itself and not to programs or activities to which it provides Federal financial assistance.
The agency shall conduct a self-evaluation of its compliance with section 504 within one year of the effective date of this regulation. The self-evaluation requirement is present in the existing section 504 coordination regulation for programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance ( 28 CFR 41.5(b)(2)) and the HHS regulations for federally assisted programs ( 45 CFR 84.6(k)). Experience has demonstrated the self-evaluation process to be a valuable means of establishing a working relationship with individuals with handicaps that promotes both effective and efficient implementation of section 504.
One commenter stated that a three-year retention period is insufficient, and proposed that self-evaluations be kept indefinitely. The regulation requires the self-evaluation to be kept for a minimum of three years, but does not include a maximum. It is expected that the self-evaluation will be retained for the period provided in current document retention policies.
Another commenter proposed that copies of the self-evaluation be made available for copying as well as for public inspection. This proposal has been adopted.
A further commenter proposed the inclusion of provisions for assurances, transition plans and specific modification requirements. We believe that while assurances are appropriate - and can be specifically enforced - in section 504 regulations for federally assisted programs or activities, all of the entities involved in this part are under the control of the Secretary, who can issue the necessary directives; assurances are therefore not required.
The final rule provides for participation in the self-evaluation process by individuals with handicaps or organizations representing individuals with handicaps by submitting comments, which may include the development of transition plans. It is expected that component agencies will consult with individuals with handicaps among their own staff in the course of preparing self-evaluations.
Because modification requirements are intended to address any potential problems in the agency's programs or activities, they are not specified in the regulation.
Section 85.12 requires the agency to disseminate sufficient information to employees, applicants, participants, beneficiaries, and other interested persons to apprise them of the rights and protections afforded by section 504 and this part. Methods of providing this information include, for example, the publication of information in handbooks, manuals, and pamphlets that are distributed to the public to describe the agency's programs and activities or in connection with recruitment; the display of informative posters in service centers and other public places; or the broadcasting of information by television or radio.
One commenter suggested the inclusion of a reference to recruitment materials in the above examples. Such a reference has been included.
Paragraph (a) restates the nondiscrimination mandate of section 504. The remaining paragraphs in § 85.21 establish the general principles for analyzing whether any particular action of the agency violates this mandate. These principles serve as the analytical foundation for the remaining sections of the part. If the agency violates a provision in any of the subsequent sections, it will also violate one of the general prohibitions found in § 85.21. When there is no applicable subsequent provision, the general prohibitions stated in this section apply.
Paragraph (b) prohibits overt denials of equal treatment of individuals with handicaps. The agency may not refuse to provide an individual with handicaps with an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from its program simply because the person is handicapped. Such blatantly exclusionary practices could result from the use of irrebuttable presumptions that absolutely exclude certain classes of disabled persons (e.g., epileptics, hearing-impaired persons, persons with heart ailments) from participation in programs or activities without regard to an individual's actual ability to participate. Use of an irrebuttable presumption is permissible only when in all cases a physical condition by its very nature would prevent an individual from meeting the essential eligibility requirements for participation in the activity in question. It would be permissible, therefore, to exclude without an individual evaluation all persons who are blind in both eyes from eligibility for a license to operate a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce; but it may not be permissible to automatically disqualify all those who are blind in just one eye.
In addition, section 504 prohibits more than just the most obvious denials of equal treatment. It is not enough to admit persons in wheelchairs to a program if the facilities in which the program is conducted are inaccessible. Paragraph (b)(1)(iii), therefore, requires that the opportunity to participate or benefit afforded to an individual with handicaps be as effective as that afforded to others. The later sections on program accessibility ( §§ 85.41-43) and communication ( § 85.51) are specific applications of this principle.
Despite the mandate of paragraph (d) that the agency administer its programs and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with handicaps, paragraph (b)(1)(iv), in conjunction with paragraph (d), permits the agency to develop separate or different aids, benefits, or services when necessary to provide individuals with handicaps with an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from the agency's programs or activities. Paragraph (b)(1)(iv) requires that different or separate aids, benefits, or services be provided only when necessary to ensure that the aids, benefits, or services are as effective as those provided to others. Even when separate or different aids, benefits or services would be more effective, paragraph (b)(2) provides that a qualified individual with handicaps still has the right to choose to participate in the program that is not designed to accommodate individuals with handicaps.
Paragraph (b)(1)(vi) prohibits the agency from limiting a qualified individual with handicaps in the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity enjoyed by others receiving any aid, benefit, or service.
Paragraph (b)(3) prohibits the agency from utilizing criteria or methods of administration that deny individuals with handicaps access to the agency's programs or activities. The phrase criteria or methods of administration refers to official written agency policies, as well as the actual practices of the agency. This paragraph prohibits both blatantly exclusionary policies or practices and nonessential policies and practices that are neutral on their face, but deny individuals with handicaps an effective opportunity to participate.
Paragraph (b)(4) specifically applies the prohibition enunciated in § 85.21(b)(3) to the process of selecting sites for construction of new facilities or existing facilities to be used by the agency. Paragraph (b)(4) does not apply to construction of additional buildings at an existing site.
Paragraph (b)(5) prohibits the agency, in the selection of procurement contractors, from using criteria that subject qualified individuals with handicaps to discrimination on the basis of handicap.
Paragraph (b)(6) prohibits the agency from discriminating against qualified individuals with handicaps on the basis of handicap in the granting of licenses or certifications. A person is a qualified individual with handicaps with respect to licensing or certification if he or she can meet the essential eligibility requirements for receiving the license or certification (see § 85.3).
In addition, the agency may not establish requirements for the programs or activities of licensees or certified entities that subject qualified individuals with handicaps to discrimination on the basis of handicap. For example, the agency must comply with this requirement when establishing safety standards for the operations of licensees. In that case, the agency must ensure that the standards it promulgates do not discriminate against the employment of qualified individuals with handicaps in an impermissible manner.
Paragraph (b)(6) does not extend section 504 directly to the programs or activities of licensees or certified entities themselves. The programs or activities of Federal licensees or certified entities are not themselves federally conducted programs or activities; nor are they programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance merely by virtue of the Federal license or certificate. However, as noted above, section 504 may affect the content of the rules established by the agency for the operation of the program or activity of the licensee or certified entity and thereby indirectly affect limited aspects of their operations.
One commenter suggested pointing out that Federal licensees or certified entities, having received services from Federal employees during the process of licensing or certification, thereby become Federally assisted recipients, and are covered by 45 CFR part 84. Such an argument is beyond the scope of this part, and is therefore not being included.
Another commenter suggested including language such as that found in 45 CFR 84.4(b)(1) to the effect that agencies may not perpetuate discrimination against qualified individuals with handicaps by providing significant assistance to an agency, organization or person that discriminates on the basis of handicap. Assistance from the agency that would provide significant support to an organization constitutes Federal financial assistance and the organization, as a recipient of such assistance, would be covered by the section 504 regulation for federally assisted programs.
Paragraph (c) provides that programs conducted pursuant to Federal statute or Executive order that are designed to benefit only individuals with handicaps or a given class of individuals with handicaps may be limited to individuals those with handicaps.
Paragraph (d) provides that the agency must administer programs and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the next of qualified individuals with handicaps, i.e. in a setting that enables individuals with handicaps to interact with nonhandicapped individuals to the fullest extent possible.
Section 85.31 prohibits discrimination on the basis of handicap in employment by the agency. Courts have held that section 504, as amended in 1978, covers the employment practices of Executive agencies. Gardner v. Morris, 752 F.2d 1271, 1277 (8th Cir. 1985); Smith v. United States Postal Service, 742 F.2d 257, 259-60 (6th Cir. 1984); Prewitt v. United States Postal Service, 662 F.2d 292, 302-04 (5th Cir. 1981). Contra McGuiness v. United States Postal Service, 744 F.2d 1318, 1320-21 (7th Cir. 1984); Boyd v. United States Postal Service, 752 F.2d 410, 413-14 (9th Cir. 1985).
Courts uniformly have held that, in order to give effect to section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers Federal employment, the administrative procedures of section 501 must be followed in processing complaints of employment discrimination under section 504. Morgan v. United States Postal Service, 798 F.2d 1162, 1164-65 (8th Cir. 1986); Smith, 742 F.2d at 262; Prewitt, 662 F.2d at 304. Accordingly, § 85.31 (Employment) of this rule adopts the definitions, requirements, and procedures of section 501 as established in regulations of the EEOC at 29 CFR part 1613. Responsibility for coordinating enforcement of Federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment is assigned to the EEOC by Executive Order 12067 (3 CFR, 1978 Comp., p. 206). Under this authority, the EEOC establishes government-wide standards on nondiscrimination in employment on the basis of handicap.
One commenter proposed that the general definition of qualified individual with handicaps be used in this section, instead of that used under section 501. We believe that the above paragraphs sufficiently explain the need for using the section 501 definition.
This part adopts the program accessibility concept found in the existing section 504 coordination regulation for programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance ( 28 CFR 41.57) with certain modifications. Thus, § 85.42 requires that each agency program or activity, when viewed in its entirety, be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps. The part also makes clear that the agency is not required to make each of its existing facilities accessible ( § 85.42(a)(1)). However, § 85.42, unlike 28 CFR 41.57, places explicit limits on the agency's obligation to ensure program accessibility ( § 85.42(a)(2)).
One commenter stated that the provisions of § 85.42(a)(1) were negatively worded and may reflect a misinterpretation of the decision of the Supreme Court in Grove City College v. Bell, 465 U.S. 555 (1984), and argued for deletion of this language.
The language is identical to that in the section 504 regulation for federally assisted programs or activities. We believe that the inclusion of this language is necessary in order to make clear that, while every aspect of every Federal program or activity need not be accessible, each program or activity, when viewed as a whole, must be accessible.
Another commenter recommended adding the language “where other methods are equally effective in achieving compliance from § 84.42(b) to § 84.42(a)(1). We believe that, because § 84.42 (a) and (b) treat different aspects of the subject, their language must necessarily differ.
Paragraph (a)(2) generally codifies recent case law that defines the scope of the agency's obligation to ensure program accessibility. This paragraph provides that in meeting the program accessibility requirement, the agency is not required to take any action that would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity, or in undue financial and administrative burdens. A similar limitation is provided in § 85.51(d). This provision is based on the Supreme Court's holding in Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U.S. 397 (1979), that section 504 does not require program modifications that result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program, and on the Court's statement that section 504 does not require modifications that would result in “undue financial and administrative burdens.” 442 U.S. at 412. Since Davis, circuit courts have applied this limitation on a showing that only one of the two “undue burdens” would be created as a result of the modification sought to be imposed under section 504. See, e.g., Dopico v. Goldschmidt, 687 F.2d 644 (2d Cir. 1982); American Public Transit Association v. Lewis, 655 F.2d 1272 (D.C. Cir. 1981).
Paragraph (a)(2) and § 85.51(d) are also supported by the Supreme Court's decision in Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985). Alexander involved a challenge to the State of Tennessee's reduction of inpatient hospital care coverage under Medicaid from 20 to 14 days per year. Plaintiffs argued that this reduction violated section 504 because it had an adverse impact on handicapped persons. The Court assumed without deciding that section 504 reaches at least some conduct that has an unjustifiable disparate impact on handicapped people, but held that the reduction was not “the sort of disparate impact” discrimination that might be prohibited by section 504 or its implementing regulation. Id at 299.
Relying on Davis, the Court said that section 504 guarantees qualified handicapped persons “meaningful access to the benefits the grantee offers,” id. at 301, and that “reasonable adjustments in the nature of the benefit offered must at times be made to assure meaningful access.” Id. n.21 (emphasis added). However, section 504 does not require “ ‘changes,’ ‘adjustments,’ or ‘modifications’ to existing programs that would be ‘substantial’ * * * or that would constitute ‘fundamental alteration[s] in the nature of a program.’ ” Id. at n.20 (citations omitted). Alexander supports the position, based on Davis and the earlier lower court decisions, that in some situations, certain accommodations for a handicapped person may so alter an agency's program or activity, or entail such extensive costs and administrative burdens that the refusal to undertake the accommodations is not discriminatory. Thus, failure to include such an “undue burdens” provision could lead to judicial invalidation of the regulation or reversal of a particular enforcement action taken pursuant to the regulation.
This paragraph, however, does not establish an absolute defense; it does not relieve the agency of all obligations to individuals with handicaps. Although the agency is not required to take actions that would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens, it nevertheless must take any other steps necessary to ensure that individuals with handicaps receive the benefits and services of the federally conducted program or activity.
It is our view that compliance with § 85.42(a) would in most cases not result in undue financial and administrative burdens on the agency. In determining whether financial and administrative burdens are undue, all agency resources available for use in the funding and operation of the conducted program or activity should be considered. The burden of proving that compliance with § 85.42(a) would fundamentally alter the nature of a program or activity or would result in undue financial and administrative burdens rests with the agency. The decision that compliance would result in such alteration or burdens must be made by the agency head or his or her designee, and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reasons for reaching that conclusion. Any person who believes that he or she or any specific class of persons has been injured by the agency head's decision or failure to make a decision may file a complaint under the compliance procedures established in § 85.61. The opportunity to file such a complaint responds to one commenter's suggestion that review by a high level Department official be assured.
Paragraph (b)(1) sets forth a number of means by which program accessibility may be achieved, including redesign of equipment, reassignment of services to accessible buildings, and provision of aides. In choosing among methods, the agency shall give priority consideration to those that will be consistent with provision of services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with handicaps. Structural changes in existing facilities are required only when there is no other feasible way to make the agency's program accessible. (It should be noted that “structural changes” include all physical changes to a facility; the term does not refer only to changes to structural features, such as removal of or alteration to a load-bearing structural member.) The agency may comply with the program accessibility requirement by delivering services at alternate accessible sites or making home visits as appropriate.
One commenter proposed that methods other than structural changes to ensure accessibility should be “equally effective”. The regulations implementing section 504 for federally assisted programs do not contain such language. The addition of the proposed language would impose a regulatory standard on the Department not required of recipients. In view of the fact that the 1978 amendments were intended to apply the same requirements to federally conducted programs as apply to federally assisted programs, the proposed language is not being adopted.
Paragraphs (c) and (d) establish time periods for complying with the program accessibility requirement. As currently required for federally assisted programs by 28 CFR 41.57(b), the agency must make any necessary structural changes in facilities as soon as practicable, but in no event later than three (3) years after the effective date of this part. Where structural modifications are required and it is not expected that these can be completed within six months, a transition plan should be developed within six months of the effective date of this part. Aside from structural changes, all other necessary steps to achieve compliance shall be taken within sixty days.
One commenter proposes to limit the time allowed for making structural modifications to one year. We note that the basic requirement is that these changes be made “as soon as practicable,” and that the three-year limit is the maximum period of time. Furthermore, the three-year maximum for transition plans is identical to that contained in the regulations for federally assisted recipients.
Overlapping coverage exists with respect to new construction and alterations under section 504 and the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, as amended ( 42 U.S.C. 4151- 4157). Section 85.43 provides that those buildings that are constructed or altered by, on behalf of, or for the use of the agency shall be designed, constructed, or altered to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps in accordance with 41 CFR part 101-19, 101-19.600 to 101-19.607 (GSA regulation which incorporates the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards). This standard was promulgated pursuant to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, as amended ( 42 U.S.C. 4151- 4157). We believe that it is appropriate to adopt the existing Architectural Barriers Act standard for section 504 compliance because new and altered buildings subject to this regulation are also subject to the Architectural Barriers Act and because adoption of the standard will avoid duplicative and possibly inconsistent standards.
Existing buildings leased by the agency after the effective date of this regulation are not required by the regulation to meet accessibility standards simply by virtue of being leased. They are subject, however, to the program accessibility standards for existing facilities in § 85.42. To the extent the buildings are newly constructed or altered, they must also meet the new constructions and alteration requirements of § 85.43.
Federal practice under section 504 has always treated newly leased buildings as subject to the existing facility program accessibility standard. Unlike the construction of new buildings where architectural barriers can be avoided at little or no cost, the application of new construction standards to an existing building being leased raises the same prospect of retrofitting buildings as the use of an existing Federal facility, and the agency believes that same program accessibility standards should apply to both owned and leased existing buildings.
In Rose v. United States Postal Service, 774 F.2d 1355 (9th Cir. 1985), the Ninth Circuit held that the Architectural Barriers Act requires accessibility at the time of lease. The Rose court did not address the question of whether section 504 likewise requires accessibility as a condition of lease, and the case was remanded to the District Court for, among other things, consideration of this issue. Two commenters urged that leased buildings be required to be accessible at the time of lease. The agency may provide more specific guidance on section 504 requirements for leased buildings after the litigation is completed.
Section 85.51 requires the agency to take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with personnel of other Federal entities, applicants, participants, and members of the public. These steps shall include procedures for determining when auxiliary aids are necessary under § 85.1(a)(1) to afford an individual with handicaps an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, the agency's program or activity. They shall also include an opportunity for individuals with handicaps to request the auxiliary aids of their choice. This expressed choice shall be given primary consideration by the agency ( § 85.51(a)(1)(i)). The agency shall honor the choice unless it can demonstrate that another effective means of communication exists or that use of the means chosen would not be required under § 85.51(d). That paragraph limits the obligations of the agency to ensure effective communication in accordance with Davis and the circuit court opinions interpreting it (see supra preamble discussion of § 85.42(c)(2)). Unless not required by § 85.51(d), the agency shall provide auxiliary aids at no cost to the individual with handicaps.
One commenter proposed that the choice of auxiliary aid made by the individual with handicaps should govern unless it would constitute an undue hardship on the agency. We believe that the language set out above is adequate to ensure consideration of an individual's preference.
Another commenter proposed that the regulation require all films and videotapes produced by the agency to be captioned for the hearing-impaired. The Department intends to examine all appropriate methods of ensuring effective communication.
The same commenter applauded HHS for the inclusion of the language requiring HHS to inform individuals with handicaps of their section 504 rights.
The discussion of § 85.42(a), Program accessibility, Existing facilities, regarding the determination of what constitutes undue financial and administrative burdens, also applies to § 85.51(d) and should be referred to for a complete understanding of the agency's obligation to comply with § 85.51.
In some circumstances, a notepad and written materials may be sufficient to permit effective communication with a hearing-impaired person. In many circumstances, however, they may not be, particularly when the information being communicated is complex or exchanged for a lengthy period of time (e.g. a meeting) or where the hearing-impaired applicant or participant is not skilled in spoken or written language. In these cases, a sign language interpreter may be appropriate.
One commenter proposed changing the language to state that notepads rarely suffice for communication with the hearing-impaired. Considering that a significant number of the hearing-impaired may not be skilled in sign language, we believe that the language used is appropriate.
For vision-impaired persons, effective communication might be achieved by several means, including readers and audio recordings. In general, the agency intends to inform the public of (1) the communications services it offers to afford individuals with handicaps an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from its programs and activities, (2) the opportunity to request a particular mode of communication, and (3) the agency's preferences regarding auxiliary aids if it can demonstrate that several different modes are effective.
The agency shall ensure effective communication with vision-impaired and hearing-impaired persons involved in proceedings conducted by the agency. Auxiliary aids must be afforded where necessary to ensure effective communication at the proceedings. If sign language interpreters are necessary, the agency may require that it be given reasonable notice prior to the proceedings of the need for an interpreter. Moreover, the agency need not provide individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices of a personal nature ( § 85.51(a)(1)(ii)). For example, the agency need not provide eye glasses or hearing aids to applicants or participants in its programs. Similarly, the regulation does not require the agency to provide wheelchairs to persons with mobility impairments.
One commenter proposed that the items which agencies are not required to provide and the circumstances involved be described in more detail. We believe that the description given is sufficient, because the interpretation of this provision will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Paragraph (b) requires the agency to ensure that individuals with handicaps can obtain information concerning accessible services, activities, and facilities.
Paragraph (c) requires the agency to provide signage at inaccessible facilities that direct users to locations with information about accessible facilities.
One commenter suggested specifically mentioning the international symbol for deafness, and placing such signs at the main entrance of buildings equipped to service the hearing-impaired. We believe that the language contained in § 85.51 (b) and (c) requires the agency to ensure that individuals with handicaps, including those with impaired hearing, can obtain information regarding accessibility, and that this requirement is sufficient to afford flexibility on the part of the agency regarding use of appropriate signage.
One commenter proposed adding the words “in the most integrated setting appropriate” to the language in § 85.51(d). This language already appears elsewhere in the regulation, e.g. in § 85.42(b)(2), and it is the Department's intention to act in accordance with that provision.
Paragraph (a) specifies that paragraphs (b) and (d) through (l) of this section establish the procedures for processing complaints other than employment complaints. Paragraph (c) provides that the agency will process employment complaints according to procedures established in existing regulations of the EEOC ( 29 CFR part 1613) pursuant to section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ( 29 U.S.C. 791).
Paragraph (b) designates the official responsible for coordinating implementation of § 85.61. The NPRM stated that responsibility for the implementation and operation of this “part” shall be vested in the OCR Director/Special Assistant. The final rule has been revised by replacing the word “part” with the word “section” to clarify the responsibility for coordinating implementation of § 85.61.
The agency is required to accept and investigate all complete complaints ( § 85.61(d)). Two commenters suggested that a complainant have an opportunity to remedy an incomplete complaint. Current administrative procedures provide for this practice and it need not be included in the text of the regulation.
If the agency determines that it does not have jurisdiction over a complaint, it shall promptly notify the complainant and make reasonable efforts to refer the complaint to the appropriate entity of the Federal Government ( § 85.61(e)). One commenter pointed out that where a reference to another entity of the Federal government is required, the obligation to refer should be absolute, not limited to reasonable efforts. The language “shall make reasonable efforts to refer” is not intended to minimize the Department's obligation.
Paragraph (f) requires the agency to notify the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) upon receipt of a complaint alleging that a building or facility subject to the Architectural Barriers Act was designed, constructed, or altered in a manner that does not provide ready access and use by individuals with handicaps.
Paragraph (g) requires the agency to provide to the complainant, in writing, findings of fact and conclusions of law, the relief granted if noncompliance is found, and notice of the right to appeal ( § 85.61(g)). One appeal within the agency shall be provided ( § 85.61(i)). The appeal will not be heard by the same person who made the initial determination of compliance or noncompliance.
Paragraph (1) permits the agency to delegate its authority for investigating complaints to other Federal agencies. However, the statutory obligation of the agency to make a final determination of compliance or noncompliance may not be delegated.
Commenters have suggested the following:
Notifying complainants whenever their complaints are referred to another agency. Current administrative procedures provide for this practice and it need not be included in the text of the regulation.
Describing the basic parameters for submitting or obtaining evidence used to decide appeals. Since the grounds for appeal may be extremely varied, it would not be practicable to set out parameters for every appeal.
Including a statement as to complainants' rights to judicial review. These rights are statutory and beyond the scope of this regulation.
Obtaining the expertise of ATBCB in appropriate cases. A provision regarding notification of ATBCB is already included in the regulation.
Including a statement that all other regulations, forms and directives issued by HHS are superseded by the nondiscrimination requirements of this part. The Department views any other issuances falling short of the requirements of this regulation as insufficient to ensure compliance and therefore such a statement is unnecessary.
Provisions for attorneys fees and compensation to the prevailing party. Such provisions are statutory and beyond the scope of this regulation.
Section 85.62 sets out the respective responsibilities of the components of HHS and of the Director, OCR/Special Assistant in the implementation of section 504 to programs and activities conducted by HHS.
Paragraph (c) specifies the respective roles of OCR and of the HHS component in cases in which noncompliance is found.