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New regulations on access for disabled go into effect

Rules are first major revision in 20 years

WASHINGTON – New regulations improving access for the disabled in everything from amusement park rides to movie theaters under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect Tuesday.

The changes will affect more than 7 million facilities across the United States, including many used for recreation.

“If you went on vacation and your family was going to go play a game of miniature golf, up until now, a child in a wheelchair would have to sit on the side and watch everybody else have fun,” said Mary Fitzgerald, director of disability rights at the Disability Policy Collaboration, an advocacy group for the disabled. “Now there will have to be an accessible route for the child so they can play, too.”

New construction and renovation projects will increasingly have to take people with disabilities into account. Requirements range from having wheelchair ramps to things as specific as accessible benches in saunas and steam rooms.

Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, said the new regulations will fit well with existing local building codes. “So now architects have one standard to follow – they don’t have to comply with multiple standards that may seem conflicting.”

These changes are the first major revision of ADA regulations in 20 years, according to the Department of Justice.

Fitzgerald said the new standards were actually established back in 2004, but not adopted until now.

Golden said other important changes under the new regulations involve hotel reservations and the sale of tickets to recreational events such as sporting events, concerts and plays.

“For example, let’s say we’re at a sporting event, and there’s an exciting play and everybody stands up,” Golden said. “Can an individual with a disability see over all those heads? It’s much clearer that accessible seating has to provide a clear line of sight, and how that is to be achieved.”

In terms of reserving a hotel room, Golden said before these regulations, it was common for a person with a disability to reserve an accessible room only to arrive and find it did not meet standards.

“This is not just to be considered a luxury,” Golden said. “A disabled person who needs an accessible room may not be able to use an inaccessible bathroom. So you’re in a position where you arrive late to your hotel, you need to get to sleep and get up to fulfill your professional obligations, but you can’t use the hotel bathroom.”


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