On March 15, 2012, the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design went into effect. According to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, "these regulations reflect the fundamental principle that all Americans with disabilities should have equal access and an equal right to participate fully in our society." The standards also are viewed by many as very burdensome for real estate owners and developers.

How will the new standards affect your operations? In particular, the 2010 Standards set new requirements for fixed or built-in elements in facilities such as swimming pools and play areas. The rules also clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years, including service animals, reach ranges, toilet room dimensions, and accessible routes.

Under the 2010 Standards, the definition of "service animal" is now limited to a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, many people who are blind or have low vision use dogs to guide and assist them with orientation. Service members returning from war with new disabilities are increasingly using service animals to assist them with activities of daily living as they reenter civilian life. Under the 2010 Standards, "comfort," "therapy," or "emotional support" animals do not meet the definition of a service animal; however, this definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of "assistance animal" under the Fair Housing Act or any state and local laws that also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does.

While the 2010 Standards for pools have received significant press over the past weeks, their application to play areas is significant as well. The 2010 Standards address access to parking, routes to the playground, playground equipment and amenities (picnic tables and restrooms). Playground equipment is now required to be accessible. Previously, only the route to the playground was required to be accessible. The new regulation specifies percentages of ground-level equipment and above-ground equipment be must be accessible as well as the types of surface materials to be used.

With regard to swimming pools, the 2010 Standards set minimum requirements for making swimming pools, wading pools, and spas (pools) accessible. The 2010 Standards establish two different categories of pools: large pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall and smaller pools with less than 300 linear feet of wall. Large pools must have two accessible means of entry, with at least one being a pool lift or sloped entry; smaller pools are only required to have one accessible means of entry, provided that it is either a pool lift or a sloped entry.

Newly constructed and altered pools must meet these requirements. Public entities and public accommodations must bring existing pools into compliance with the 2010 Standards to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so. There are a limited number of exceptions to the requirements. Requirements for existing swimming pools will be extended for 60 days. The department will also publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with a 15-day comment period on a possible six-month extension in order to allow additional time to address issues regarding compliance with these ADA requirements.

Newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation, commercial facilities and state and local government facilities are required to comply with the ADA Standards. Places of public accommodation in existing facilities are required to remove accessibility barriers to the extent it is readily achievable – meaning easy to accomplish without much difficulty or expense. State and local governments using existing facilities are required to ensure their programs, services and activities, when viewed in their entirety, are accessible. Depending on the circumstances, that may mean taking specific action to come into compliance with the 2010 Standards.

These standards were adopted as part of the revised regulations for Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The standards can be found at www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm. The final regulations were published in the Federal Register on Sept. 15, 2010. Title II of the ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs and activities provided by state and local government entities. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by places of public accommodation (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreational facilities and doctors’ offices).