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National Restaurant Association - New federal accessibility rules take effect March 15

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New federal accessibility rules take effect March 15

Important new rules spelling out the meaning of accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act begin taking effect March 15.

Among the changes: The U.S. Justice Department has adopted a new set of technical specifications -- the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design -- that govern how buildings are constructed or altered, among other things. This is the first major update to the ADA's technical standards for accessible design. The previous ADA Standards were issued in 1991.

The ADA prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating against people with disabilities. The ADA affects new construction and alterations and also requires existing businesses to remove barriers to access to the extent this is "readily achievable."

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design cover technical specifications for a wide range of architectural features, including restrooms, signage, elevators and parking spaces. The 2010 Standards in some cases differ significantly from the 1991 Standards.

Under the new Justice Department rules, restaurants and other places of public accommodation that go through alterations or new construction can follow either the 2010 Standards or the 1991 Standards until March 15, 2012. After that, all alterations and new construction must be done in compliance with the 2010 standards. The same timelines apply when businesses remove barriers to access; starting March 15, 2012, barrier-removal must be done in accordance with the 2010 Standards.

The new ADA regulations also clarify or expand on other parts of the law. For example, new regulations that take effect March 15, 2011, clarify that the rules requiring business owners to allow access to certain service animals cover specially-trained dogs, rather than other kinds of animals. A service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals,” according to the new regulations.

For more information visit the federal government's ADA website.

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