Sweeping Rules Improve Access for the Disabled
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The federal government proposed rules on Tuesday which would require new or renovated stores, restaurants and other public facilities ranging from ball parks to museums to be designed to accommodate the nation’s 43 million disabled people.
The rules, published in the Federal Register, would give teeth to major civil rights legislation for the disabled signed into law last July by President Bush.
Among the numerous requirements, owners of ″newly constructed and altered″ grocery stores would have to make all checkout aisles wide enough for wheelchairs. Concert halls and theatres would be equipped with special listening devices for the hearing impaired, and restaurants and libraries would be required to make areas available to the disabled.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said the proposed regulations ″are the first step in implementing the emancipation proclamation for the 43 million Americans with disabilities.″
″They will begin to eliminate mindless physical barriers and outdated social attitudes and widen the door of opportunity for the disabled. The time is long overdue that America become more accessible to people with disabilities,″ Kennedy said.
The rules were drafted by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, an independent federal agency which will review public comment and plans to implement a final version on Jan. 26 of next year.
″Our goal is full independence for people with disabilities and full integration into society,″ said Sandra Parrino, chairperson of the National Council on Disability, a separate federal agency that drafted the initial legislation.
The law bans discrimination against the blind, deaf, mentally or physically disabled and persons who use wheelchairs in employment, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. Bush likened the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall as a symbol of freedom for a once-oppressed people.
Individuals and businesses have 90 days to file comments on the proposed rules, which would cover virtually every new or redesigned public establishment.
Under the requirements:
-Grocery and other retail stores must make all checkout aisles accessible to the disabled, including those in wheelchairs. Aisles would generally have to be at least 36 inches wide.
-Restaurants would have to have at least 5 percent of their fixed tables fully accessible to people in wheelchairs; two-thirds of the total restaurant eating area would be accessible to people with disabilities.
-Automatic elevators would have to meet standards regarding how long doors must stay open to accommodate people who use wheelchairs, walkers or crutches.
-Hotels, motels and dormitories must make 5 percent of their rooms accessible to the handicapped. Hotels and office buildings must have ″visual alarm signals to indicate a fire or other emergency″ to the deaf.
-Concert halls, theaters and conference rooms would have special earphones or other listening devices to assist people with hearing impairments.
-Newly constructed banks must have automated teller machines accessible to people in wheelchairs and those with poor vision.
The rules also focus on parking spaces and specify the maximum slope of ramps.
Although immediate changes would not be required in existing buildings, businesses would have to address the needs of the disabled if the owner remodels or renovates any portion of them. The Department of Justice will be responsible for compliance enforcement.
Exempt from the requirements are private clubs, churches and other religious organizations. However, the law considers a public accommodation any private entity whose operations ″affect commerce.″
Officials said that separate rules will be issued later this year for making many forms of transportation accessible to the disabled.