The U.S. Department of Justice's amended Final Rule concerning the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) takes effect tomorrow, March 15, 2011, replacing the 1991 act's Standards for Accessible Design with a more vigorous 2010 set of standards.

The 2010 Standards for Accessible Design provide new specifications for a wide range of architectural access features, including public stairwells, elevators, restrooms, parking spaces, signage, and assembly areas.

To give one example of the difference between the 1991 and 2010 standards, the previous specifications called only for a "front" method for someone in a wheelchair to transfer to a toilet. The new standards require both front and side standards, meaning that stalls in many cases will have to be enlarged.

The good news for businesses and building owners is that they will be grandfathered under a safe harbor, provided that they have already met the 1991 standards. All those buildings not now in compliance, along with all new construction, must meet the more exacting 2010 standards.

The Final Rule, however, also introduces many new requirements that are not grandfathered. The rule expands the use of mobility devices beyond wheelchairs to include Segways and other such vehicles. It also forbids businesses from assessing a surcharge on people who rely on service animals, a category it also expands to include trained miniature horses and other animals that are trained to provide security and psychological (but not solely emotional) assistance. Other provisions level the playing field for those with disabilities when it comes to securing reservations for places of lodging, communicating with them when they are guests, and selling tickets to accessible seating.

If you desire more information on the ADA and its ADA Amendments Act as it affects businesses, please procure a copy of Personnel Concepts'  ADA Amendments Act Compliance Kit.