New ADA Accessible Design standards go into effect

A variety of public facilities, many of which were previously not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, must now be accessible to people with disabilities under new regulations that went into effect Thursday.

Swimming Pool
Swimming Pool Accessibility

The standards, passed by Congress in 2010, set “new requirements for fixed or built-in elements” at detention facilities and courtrooms, amusement rides, boating facilities, golf and miniature golf facilities, swimming pools and play areas, among other facilities, according to a Department of Justice news release from March 15.

“People with disabilities should have the opportunity to participate in American society as fully and equally as those without disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in the news release. “The department encourages businesses and governments around the country to help break down barriers for people with disabilities so that we give every individual access to equal opportunity and equal justice.”

The DOJ, however, extended by 60 days new requirements for existing swimming pools, as well as a 15-day comment period “on a possible six-month extension in order to allow additional time to address misunderstandings regarding compliance with these ADA requirements.”

The extension came in response to a request from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the hotel industry’s main lobbying organization, which argued that the DOJ failed to make clear the standards for certain installation procedures and whether hotel owners must install temporary or permanent lifts at existing pools to assist people with disabilities with entering or leaving the pools.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association also alleged that some hotels would close down their pools rather than pay for the accommodations. South Carolina GOP Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham filed legislation March 12 to bar the regulations.

Some disability advocacy groups argue that the hotel owners have had plenty of time to comply with the regulations.

“Many hotel (managers) are like a deer in the headlights,” Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors, told USA Today. “They know (the deadline) is coming, but the things I’m hearing are ‘Corporate’s going to do it,’ or ‘Management company’s going to do it.’ They stare at you.”

Under the ADA, “newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation, commercial facilities and state and local government facilities” must fully comply with the new accessibility standards while existing facilities must “remove accessibility barriers to the extent it is readily achievable,” according to the DOJ news release.