New ADA Rules Effective March 15, 2011 All Places of Public Accommodation are Affected

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from ordinary everyday activities, such as dining in a restaurant, shopping for shoes or having a beer at the local bar. Private businesses that provide goods and services to the public are considered “places of public accommodation” and are subject to the ADA’s requirements. It should be noted that nearly all private businesses are places of public accommodation. Therefore, if you own or operate a business or lease a facility to or from another business, the services you provide and facilities in which you operate must comply with the ADA.

On March 15, 2011, the revised regulations from the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) implementing the ADA became effective (the “Regulations”). (The DOJ is the governmental body authorized to provide technical guidance regarding the ADA.) These Regulations are the first major revision of the DOJ’s previous guidance in twenty years. According to the DOJ, more than seven million places of public accommodation, including restaurants, hotels, shopping centers and movie theatres are affected by the Regulations.

The Regulations adopted the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“2010 Standards”) which are intended to be more user friendly for design professionals and provide heightened technical specifications for construction. Both new construction and remodels must comply with either the 2010 Standards or the existing 1991 Standards until March 15, 2012, after which date the 2010 Standards are mandatory. The 2010 Standards include, among other things, standards for wheelchair access points, locations of accessible routes, entrances from parking structures and primary path of travel in employee work areas. Businesses that are constructing new facilities or remodeling existing locations should obtain assurances from their design and construction companies that the new obligations and restrictions are being incorporated into their plans.

In addition, the Regulations include new and expanded non-discrimination policies. These policies include the use of service animals and other power-driven mobility devices (such as Segways), the selling of tickets for wheelchair accessible seats at sports arenas and performance venues, the use of auxiliary communication aids, and the reserving and guaranteeing of hotel reservations for accessible rooms. The Regulations now define “service animals” as dogs that are trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Other animals or untrained dogs are not included in the definition. In light of the Regulations, businesses should review their internal policies and procedures to make sure that they comply with the new rules. Unlike the 2010 Standards, compliance with the non-discrimination policies is mandatory as of March 15, 2011 (with the exception of hotel reservation policies for which compliance is not required until 2012).

The ADA, including the Regulations, affect both the physical and operational aspects of any business that is a place of public accommodation. Since enforcement of the ADA comes in the form of DOJ audits, as well as private lawsuits, it is important to make sure your property and your business operations comply with the ADA, including the Regulations.

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Amy E. Altshuler
Amy E. Altshuler
Practice Group Leader, Partner

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