On July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department of Justice regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These new regulations address general nondiscrimination requirements relative to people with disabilities and adopt new Standards for Accessible Design that are consistent with the minimum guidelines published by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board (Access Board). These new design standards align the ADA’s requirements with other federal standards, as well as with model building codes, and reflect the experience gained in the 20 years since the first design related regulations were adopted.
The general nondiscrimination requirements became effective on March 15, 2011; however, the Justice Department delayed the effective date until March 15, 2012, to allow sufficient time to plan for implementation. Design professionals and businesses needed time to understand the effects of these new rules and evaluate how to incorporate the modifications into their future plans and projects, says Dale Hermeling, a partner with The Stolar Partnership LLP in St. Louis.
“With the nondiscrimination standards already in effect and with the upcoming March 15, 2012, compliance date on the design standards, now is the time for businesses to review their overall compliance with the ADA,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Hermeling about the ADA and how the changes could impact a business’s compliance obligations.
Who is affected by these new rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
As with the previous rules, these modifications deal with Title II and Title III of the ADA. Title II addresses public entities, which include state and local governments and their various departments and agencies. Title III addresses private entities that operate public accommodations, places such as hotels, restaurants, bars, theaters, retail stores, doctors’ offices, etc. There is no limitation on the size of the business, and each is required to modify its business policies and practices in order to serve customers with disabilities.
These policies and practices need to address considerations for the expanded use of service animals, different types of wheel chairs or other power-driven devices such as Segways, seating requirements in assembly areas and effective ways for communicating with persons with disabilities.
What are the requirements relating to removal of barriers?
Public accommodations have been required under previous regulations to remove architectural barriers where the removal is ‘readily achievable’ or can be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Examples include the installation of ramps, making curb cuts in sidewalks, widening of doors, creating designated parking spaces, etc. All of these types of modifications should already be in place under the previous regulations.
Will building owners be required to modify existing facilities to make them more accessible?
If a building has failed to follow the previous regulations and hasn’t addressed barrier removal under the 1991 standards, it needs to address those now and can use either the 1991 or the 2010 Design Standard until March 15, 2012. If a building has already addressed these issues under the 1991 Design Standard, it is protected by a safe harbor and doesn’t need to take immediate steps, but if it embarks on other alterations to the building or facility, it will need to utilize the new 2010 Design Standards. Any new construction after March 15, 2012, will be covered by the new standard.
Who is responsible for compliance with ADA regulations in a lease arrangement?
Both the landlord who owns a building with a public accommodation and a tenant who owns or operates a business with a public accommodation are subject to the requirements. You may see provisions in the lease that impose the obligation on one party or another, but under the law, both parties are responsible.
Are there any tax benefits available for complying with these new requirements?
Section 44 of the Internal Revenue Code allows a tax credit for small businesses with 30 or fewer full-time employees or total revenue of $1 million or less in the previous tax year. This credit can cover 50 percent of the eligible access expenditures in a year, with a maximum credit of $5,000.
The tax credit can be used to offset costs associated with barrier removal and alterations to improve accessibility, or providing accessible formats for communication such as Braille, or large print signs or audio tapes. Section 190 of the code allows a tax deduction for all businesses, with a maximum deduction of $15,000 per year for costs associated with barrier removal or alterations .
What advice would you give a business owner about complying with the new standards?
The ADA has a variety of components. Whether it’s issues of general non-discrimination and dealing with the new Design Standards or the employment elements under the EEOC, business owners need to stay on top of these matters as they develop. They need to evaluate their policies and procedures to make sure that they comply with the new requirements and train their work force to help accommodate people with disabilities as required.
It is important that you have a policy in place that addresses how to respond to a person who might lodge a complaint and to document what happened during the course of the discussion. We can anticipate increased enforcement by the Justice Department, which could result in fines and other penalties.
Dale Hermeling is a partner with The Stolar Partnership. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 641-5135.