The Noise Over ADA Pool Lifts is a Distraction from the More Time Sensitive Issues
On March 15, 2012, the original (1991) ADA Standards, commonly referred to as the ADAAG (ADA Accessibility Guidelines) will officially expire and be replaced by the 2010 ADA Standards. The ADA regulations provide that elements of places of public accommodation that had requirements in the 1991 Standards, and that complied with to those requirements, will be safe-harbored (effectively grandfathered) from complying with the updated requirements unless or until such elements undergo alteration. Elements of public accommodations that did not have requirements in the 1991 Standards are not subject to the safe harbor and should comply with the 2010 Standards’ requirements as of March 15 (next Thursday). One such non safe-harbored element -- which is grabbing national attention -- is swimming pools and the requirement to provide a lift or other accessible means of entry into pools.
In the clamor to either challenge or timely comply with the requirements for swimming pools, other, arguably more important issues (for some hotels) are being given less attention -- with potentially significant negative results. The requirement for pool lifts to be in place on March 15 will not change from March 14 to March 16. However, the requirements for accessible bars, and accessible hotel front desks will fundamentally change on March 15.
The requirements for food service counters and bars are as follows:
Where food or drink is served at counters exceeding 34 in (865 mm) in height for consumption by customers seated on stools or standing at the counter, a portion of the main counter which is 60 in (1525 mm) in length minimum shall be provided in compliance with [34” maximum counter height and 19” clear depth] or service shall be available at accessible tables within the same area.
§ 5.2, 1991 ADA Standards. On March 15, the allowance to substitute accessible tables in lieu of lowering a section of the bar will go away. Therefore, if a bar does not have an ADA-compliant lowered section and does not have accessible table(s) within the same area before March 15, the exception will no longer be available; in order to comply with the ADA, a section of the bar would have to be lowered. This situation can be avoided if before March 15, 2012, a table or tables with a top height of 28 - 34 inches, knee space height of 27 inches minimum by 30 inches width, and minimum depth of 19 inches, is provided in the same area as the bar. (Note that a 36 inch diameter square table with a pedestal will not meet this requirement).
Similarly, under the 1991 ADA Standards, a hotel registration counter must provide either:
- a portion of the main counter which is a minimum of 36 in (915 mm) in length … with a maximum height of 36 in (915 mm); or
- an auxiliary counter with a maximum height of 36 in (915 mm) in close proximity to the main counter …; or
- equivalent facilitation … (e.g., at a hotel registration counter, equivalent facilitation might consist of: (1) provision of a folding shelf attached to the main counter on which an individual with a disability can write, and (2) use of the space on the side of the counter or at the concierge desk, for handing materials back and forth).
§ 7.2(2), 1991 ADA Standards. Under the 2010 ADA Standards, the allowance of an auxiliary counter or use of a concierge desk in place of a lowered counter goes away. Similar to the situation with bars, in order to safe-harbor a hotel registration desk, there must be an auxiliary counter or concierge desk meeting the requirements described above before March 15, 2012.
Once March 15, 2012 arrives, hotels can still provide a pool lift, but they will not be able to substitute a lowered bar section or hotel registration desk with an accessible table or concierge desk. So check your bars and desks and go furniture shopping if you need to now, because on March 15, it will be too late. Once you have an accessible table or concierge desk in place, take a date-stamped photograph (before March 15, 2012) to document that the table or desk was present and timely, in order to help defend any future challenge.