Potential ADA Requirements Involving Websites, and Certain Equipment, Furniture, and Technology Devices of Public Accommodations and State and Local Governments

On the heels of the July 2010 revamping of the ADA Regulations for public accommodations and state and local governments, including the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“ADAAG Standards”), the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is seeking to implement additional changes pertaining to websites, electronic technology devices such as kiosks, POS devices and ATMs; beds and telephones/communication devices in accessible hotel rooms, hospitals and nursing homes; and certain medical and exercise equipment and furniture, among others. The DOJ has issued the following Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (“Advance Notices”) alerting the public to potential changes in the law and seeking public comments on these topics. Comments may be submitted via mail or electronically at www.regulations.gov on or before January 24, 2011. Once finalized, adopted, and published by the DOJ, the compliance deadline for each new rule could vary from six months to two years after final publication. However, covered entities should not wait until that time to consider potential accessibility issues and solutions for the elements addressed in these Advance Notices.  

Websites

Because it is now settled that websites for public accommodations and state and local governments are covered by the general ADA protections, the DOJ is considering adding specific regulations regarding website accessibility requirements. The DOJ has posed a list of questions concerning what standards, if any, it should adopt for website accessibility, whether there should be coverage limitations for certain entities like small businesses, the costs of making websites accessible, and whether there are effective and reasonable alternatives.  

The DOJ indicates that one of two sets of standards regarding web accessibility may be adopted, or it may adopt something entirely different. These two sets of standards are good guidance for accessibility until the final regulations are established. The World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”) guidelines cover recommendations for making web content more accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, including those with blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, and learning disabilities, to name a few. Another resource for website accessibility standards are the rules promulgated by the Access Board regarding federal agencies’ websites and use of electronic information found by clicking here. It is important to note that until standards are adopted by the DOJ, these are merely guidelines that may or may not be compliant with the final regulations. Further details regarding this proposed rule may be found in the Advance Notice.

Equipment and Furniture and Technology Devices

The DOJ is analyzing the nature of accessibility problems and possible solutions for medical examination equipment and furniture; beds and telephones/communication devices in hospitals, nursing homes, hotels; golf cars; exercise equipment; and electronic technology devices including kiosks, POS devices and ATMs. For example, the DOJ asks about the appropriate bed heights in accessible hotel guest rooms to ensure accessibility by individuals with mobility disabilities, as well as space under the bed to allow for the use of a lift. Regarding medical examination equipment and furniture, the DOJ focuses on requiring accessible scales to weigh individuals in wheelchairs or with other mobility disabilities, changing the configuration of radiological diagnostic equipment for easier accessibility, and requiring medical and dental providers to use patient lifts. The DOJ is also seeking to enhance the accessibility and usability of telephones/communication devices, exercise equipment, golf cars and POS devices. Further details regarding this proposed rule are available in the Advance Notice.  

Accessibility of 9-1-1 Call Centers and Captioning in Movie Theaters

The DOJ is also considering revising the requirements to provide a form of direct, equal access to 9-1-1 centers for individuals with disabilities until an Internet-enabled network—Next Generation 9-1-1—is implemented, allowing 9-1-1 “calls” via voice, text, or video over the Internet. Further details on this proposed rule may be found in the Advance Notice.  

The DOJ is looking into whether to require movie theater owners and operators to show movies with closed captions and video description in their theaters at least fifty percent of the time. Further details on this proposed rule may be found in the Advance Notice.  

Compliance with the 1991 or 2010 ADAAG Standards

On a separate note, regarding the recently adopted July 2010 ADAAG Standards, entities may choose to comply with either the 1991 ADAAG Standards or the 2010 ADAAG Standards until March 15, 2012. Any elements compliant with the 1991 ADAAG Standards by March 15, 2012 will not have to comply with the 2010 Standards. However, any element not in compliance with the 1991 ADAAG Standards by March 15, 2012 must fully comply with the 2010 Standards. Note that compliance for existing and unaltered facilities, under either the 1991 or 2010 ADAAG Standards, is required to the extent it is readily achievable to do so.