New Toys and New ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Darth Vader on a Segway

Darth Vader on a Segway (pdmd) - He IS a double-amputee...

Greetings!

It has been a long time, but I am excited to be back AND I have a new toy. Within my sidebar, there now is a space for upcoming events. I hope to keep it populated with information about upcoming disability conferences and events with links for registration and further information. It is a small thing, but I’m pretty excited about it. If you have a disability policy or political event that you would like to see listed, please let me know.

Now, back to policy. There is so much going on; I’m not quite sure where to start. Health Reform law is now being battled out in the courts, states are in tight financial straights in a tough economy, IDEA just celebrated 35 years and the Justice Department just made its ADA standards available…whew! And there’s still more going on!

I figure I will just begin with what is nearest and dearest to my heart, the ADA Standards for Accessible design. Although these came out frmo the Justice Department in September, they don’t go into effect until March 15, 2012 AND there remain “safe harbours” for some parts. What that means is that some places will not have to QUITE meet the requirements, giving them an out until there are “planned” renovations. I’m not sure how I feel about that, especially for structures like amusement parks or playgrounds which may have long stretches between any changes.

But, thinking positively, what makes these standards so important is that when they go into effect on March 15, 2012, they will set minimum requirements which, translating from government-speak means enforceable standards for new construction and alterations of the facilities of more than 80,000 state and local governments and over seven million businesses. That is going to have a big impact.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about the impact on recreational areas, amusement parks, swimming pools, playgrounds etc. where accessibility, or the lack thereof, has impacted not just individuals, but families. There is something particularly heart-wrenching about the loss of shared experiences for families with a member with a disability;particularly around shared vacations, recreational activities, fun events, and time spent with children. Addressing accessibility in these spaces is critical to the heart of the ADA.

Of particular note to me personally is the section regarding service animals. The rule specifically defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This language excludes other animals of any sort – including the miniature horses and monkeys that many of us may have considered service animals previously (although later on in the language a small exception is created for the miniature horses although they are still cut out of the definition of “service animal”). What is also interesting in the new rule is that it CLEARLY states that “dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals.” The choice of this language makes me wonder how it will fit with the way the Air Carrier Access Act has separated these animals – ADA with 2 categories and ACAA with 3 for “helping” animals (Worthy of a post all on its own). For those of you wondering, dogs providing support for individuals with mental disabilities and who are trained to perform a specific task (i.e. meeting the definition of “service animal”) are protected by the ADA.

I also strongly support the language around wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices (wow, is that a mouthful – I think I’ll use pdmd for the latter). What is great is that it is the first recognition that perhaps not everyone wants to use a wheelchair as their mobility device of choice. There are already other options available on the market (such as Segways – which are popular among veterans and amputees – does my picture of Vader now make sense?) and as technology improves we will see even more variants. The rule adopts a two-tiered approach to mobility devices, drawing distinctions between wheelchairs and the pdmds. Wheelchairs must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use; pdmds must be permitted unless the site can show it would “fundamentally alter its programs, services, or activities, create a direct threat, or create a safety hazard.”

And last, but not least, under “Effective Communication” the rule includes video remote interpreting (VRI) services as a kind of auxiliary aid that may be used to provide effective communication. Again, technology is offering us more options for accessibility and to have it not be available as an aid or accommodation is simply foolish. So this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Below are some of the fact sheets put together by DOJ that do a really good job of showing the changes. As always, I encourage you to check things out for yourself.

Highlights of the Final Rule to Amend the Department of Justice’s Regulation Implementing Title II of the ADA

Highlights of the Final Rule to Amend the Department of Justice’s Regulation Implementing Title III of the ADA

The 2010 Standards for Accessible Design

If you’d like to find out even more about the ADA or the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design you can call the Department of Justice’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (Voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY), or access the ADA website at www.ada.gov.