[AI] Plan Seeks More Access for Disabled
harish at accessindia.org.in
Thu Jun 19 10:39:20 EDT 2008
Plan Seeks More Access for Disabled
Published: June 16, 2008
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is about to propose far-reaching new rules that would give people with disabilities greater access to tens of thousands
of courtrooms, swimming pools, golf courses, stadiums, theaters, hotels and retail stores.
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A proposal would rewrite standards for enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed with strong bipartisan support in 1990. President George
Bush signed the act that year.
The proposal would substantially update and rewrite federal standards for enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a landmark civil rights law
passed with strong bipartisan support in 1990. The new rules would set more stringent requirements in many areas and address some issues for the first
time, in an effort to meet the needs of an aging population and growing numbers of disabled war veterans.
More than seven million businesses and all state and local government agencies would be affected. The proposal includes some exemptions for parts of existing
buildings, but any new construction or renovations would have to comply.
The new standards would affect everything from the location of light switches to the height of retail service counters, to the use of monkeys as "service
animals" for people with disabilities, which would be forbidden.
The White House approved the proposal in May after a five-month review. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, with 60 days
for public comment. After considering those comments, the government would issue final rules with the force of law.
Already, the proposal is stirring concern. The United States Chamber of Commerce says it would be onerous and costly, while advocates for disabled Americans
say it does not go far enough.
Since the disability law was signed by the first President Bush, advances in technology have made services more available to people with disabilities. But
Justice Department officials said they were still receiving large numbers of complaints. In recent months, the federal government has settled lawsuits
securing more seats for disabled fans at Madison Square Garden in New York and at the nation's largest college football stadium, at the
University of Michigan.
says more than 51 million Americans have some kind of disability, with nearly two-thirds of them reporting severe impairments.
The proposed rules, under development for more than four years, flesh out the meaning of the 1990 law, which set forth broad objectives. The 215,000-word
proposal includes these new requirements:
¶Courts would have to provide a lift or a ramp to ensure that people in wheelchairs could get into the witness stand, which is usually elevated from floor
¶Auditoriums would have to provide a lift or a ramp so wheelchair users could "participate fully and equally in graduation exercises and other events" at
which members of the audience have direct access to the stage.
¶Any sports stadium with a seating capacity of 25,000 or more would have to provide safety and emergency information by posting written messages on scoreboards
and video monitors. This would alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
¶Theaters must provide specified numbers of seats for wheelchair users (at least five in a 300-seat facility). Viewing angles to the screen or stage must
be "equivalent to or better than the average viewing angles provided to all other spectators."
¶Light switches in a hotel room could not be more than 48 inches high. The current maximum is 54 inches.
¶Hotels must allow people with disabilities to reserve accessible guest rooms, and they must honor these reservations to the same degree they guarantee
other room reservations.
¶At least 25 percent of the railings at fishing piers would have to be no more than 34 inches high, so that a person in a wheelchair could fish over the
¶At least half of the holes on miniature golf courses must be accessible to people using wheelchairs, and these holes must be connected by a continuous,
¶A new swimming pool with a perimeter of more than 300 feet would have to provide "at least two accessible means of entry," like a gentle sloping ramp or
a chair lift.
¶New playgrounds would have to provide access to slides, swings and other play equipment for children who use wheelchairs.
The Justice Department acknowledged that some of the changes would have significant costs. But over all, it said, the value of the public benefits, estimated
at $54 billion, exceeds the expected costs of $23 billion.
In an economic analysis of the proposed rules, the Justice Department said the need for an accessible environment was greater than ever because the Iraq
war was "creating a new generation of young men and women with disabilities."
John L. Wodatch, chief of the disability rights section of the Justice Department, said: "Disability is inherent in the human condition. The vast majority
of individuals who are fortunate enough to reach an advanced age will benefit from the proposed requirements."
By 2010, the department estimates, 2 percent of the adult population will use wheelchairs, and 4 percent will use crutches, canes, walkers or other mobility
devices. Likewise, it said, as the population ages, the number of people with
Under the 1990 law, businesses are supposed to remove barriers to people with disabilities if the changes are "readily achievable," meaning they can be
"carried out without much difficulty or expense."
The Bush administration is proposing a safe harbor for small businesses. They could meet their obligations in a given year if, in the prior year, they had
spent at least 1 percent of their gross revenues to remove barriers.
Curtis L. Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, a coalition of legal advocates, said: "Safe harbors make us very nervous.
A small business could spend the requisite amount of money and still not be accessible."
Randel K. Johnson, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed rules "are so long and technically complex that even the
best-intentioned small business could be found out of compliance by a clever lawyer looking to force a settlement."
The Justice Department cited the "monetary cost cap" as one of several steps it was taking to limit the rules' impact on small businesses. But Mr. Johnson
said he feared that courts would view the ceiling as a floor and tell businesses they should spend 1 percent of their revenues on removing barriers.
The proposed rules affirm the right of people with disabilities to use guide dogs and other service animals in public places, but they tighten the definition
to exclude certain species.
When the existing rules were adopted in the early 1990s, the Justice Department said, few people anticipated the current trend toward "the use of wild,
exotic or unusual species" as service animals.
The proposed rules define a service animal as "any dog or other common domestic animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks" for a person with
a physical or mental disability.
Under this definition, the administration says, monkeys could not qualify as service animals, nor would reptiles; amphibians; rabbits, ferrets and rodents;
or most farm animals.
Under the rules, a hotel, restaurant, theater, store or public park could ask a person with a disability to remove a service animal if the animal was out
of control or not housebroken, or if it posed a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
By way of example, the rules say that a theater could exclude a dog that disrupted a live performance by repeated barking.
The rules confirm that people with disabilities can use traditional wheelchairs, power wheelchairs and electric scooters in any public areas open to pedestrians.
But shopping centers, amusement parks and other public places could impose reasonable restrictions on two-wheeled Segway vehicles, golf carts and "other
power-driven mobility devices" used by those with disabilities
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