New disability access requirements take effect in early 2012

The Americans With Disabilities Act was passed 20 years ago and required retail and other commercial business owners to renovate their properties to make them accessible to the disabled. For the first time since then, the U.S. government has comprehensively revised the requirements. The new requirements will go into effect on March 15, 2012.

The changes include new rules for the following: van-accessible parking, maximum height and “reach ranges” for certain objects, service animals, communication devices for the hearing-impaired, seating requirements in theaters and other assembly areas (including access to stages), pool access, hotel reservations, wheelchair accessibility for employees, the use of mobility devices other than wheelchairs (such as Segways), and more.

In addition, the U.S. Justice Department has updated its list of modifications that all building owners are expected to consider, including ramps, curb cuts, access to vending machines, widening doors, accessible door hardware, rearranging toilet partitions, grab bars and raised toilet seats, and insulating pipes under sinks to prevent burns.

Higher standards are required for new construction and for older properties that are undergoing substantial renovations.

Exactly what is required varies and depends on the nature of the property and the expense involved in making it more accessible, but all commercial property owners need to be aware that new requirements are taking effect soon.

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