New DOJ Guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act

05 May 2011 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

For the first time in the last twenty years, the U.S. Department of Justice has significantly revised its guidelines to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The revised regulations went into effect on March 15th of this year, and it is estimated they will impact over seven million private businesses that provide goods and services to the public nationwide.  The compliance date for the new regulations regarding disability discrimination is May 24, 2011 and the compliance date for implementing the newly-adopted standards for construction and renovations is March 15, 2012.

There are two central zones of changes contained in the regulations:

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.  The new ADA rules adopt these standards, which were retooled to be more user-friendly for building code officials, builders, and architects, and to provide more specific, technical specifications for construction.  After March 15, 2012, compliance with the 1991 Standards will no longer satisfy the obligations of the ADA, and compliance with the 2010 Standards will be mandatory for all new construction and remodels.

If you are constructing new facilities or remodeling existing locations, these regulations will affect you.  You may wish to obtain explicit assurances from your design and construction teams that they have incorporated all the applicable new regulations into their plans, or engage a consultant to ensure that you will be in full compliance by the mandatory compliance deadline.

New and expanded provisions on general nondiscrimination policies.  The revised regulations include provisions on the use of service animals, the use of wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices (for example, Segways), selling tickets for wheelchair-accessible seating at sports and performance venues, reserving and guaranteeing accessible rooms at hotels, providing interpreter services through video conferencing, and the effect of the new regulations on existing facilities.   The hotel reservation policies are not mandatory until March 15, 2012, but all other provisions are already in effect and compliance with these new nondiscrimination provisions is already mandatory.

Violations of the ADA regulations are taken very seriously by the DOJ and by individuals who believe they have been unlawfully discriminated against.  To manage your risk of an audit or private lawsuit, we recommend you take steps to ensure you are in compliance with these new regulations – especially the provisions regarding nondiscrimination that are already in effect.

For more information about this subject or to discuss ways in which these changes could impact your business, please contact Megan Batchelor or one of Gardere Wynne Sewell’s Labor and Employment attorneys.

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