The Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the city of Flint, Michigan, to make all of its polling places accessible to people with disabilities by the November 2012 election. The city has 61 voting precincts housed in 35 polling locations. DOJ found that many of the locations were not accessible to people with disabilities. The city agreed to remove all barriers to access at polling places or to relocate polling places to alternative, accessible locations by Election Day. After the election, the city agreed to make accessibility a major criterion when selecting new locations for polling places.
The House passed H.R. 5326, The Commerce/Justice/Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013 on May 10. The bill would fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) among other agencies. Two amendments that threaten the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also passed. One amendment would prohibit the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using any appropriated funds to enforce the existing requirement for public entities, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities to provide a permanent means of accessible entry to pools and spas under Titles II and III of the ADA, even when it is readily achievable to do so. The other would prohibit DOJ from using funds to implement a section of the ADA which allows miniature horses to be used as service animals. As troubling as these amendments are, the real threat is picking apart the ADA piece by piece by taking away DOJ’s enforcement ability. Several Members made strong statements in support of the ADA during House floor debate on the bill, including Representatives Hoyer (D-MD), Nadler (D-NY), Farr (D-CA), Holt (D-NJ), Langevin (D-RI), Miller (D-CA), Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Rothman (D-NJ).
During the deliberations on the bill, an amendment was introduced that would have limited DOJ’s ability to enforce a portion of the Voting Rights Act. The portion in question was Section 5 which requires certain states to obtain permission from DOJ prior to implementing or changing voting practices. The purpose of Section 5 is to ensure that proposed changes do not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. After an impassioned defense of the Act by Representative John Lewis, in which he called the amendment “shameful,” the sponsor withdrew the amendment. The Arc is concerned that there may be an attempt by some members of Congress to erode important civil rights that afford citizens with disabilities and other minorities the ability to participate in society as full citizens of this country. The Arc is working to ensure that similar language does not pass in the Senate when it considers its version of the CJS Appropriations bill.
The Access Board will host a free webinar on Thursday, May 3 from 2:30 – 4:00 (ET) to review requirements for communication features in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Standards. The session will cover fire alarm systems, signs, telephones, detectable warnings, assistive listening systems, automatic teller machines, and two-way communication systems, and highlight updated provisions in the latest editions of the standards. To register for this free webinar, visit www.accessibilityonline.org. Questions for the webinar can be submitted in advance through the website.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) extended the date for compliance with accessibility requirements for existing swimming pools and spas for 60 days due to misunderstandings among a substantial number of pool owners. The original compliance date was March 15, 2012. DOJ has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to grant an additional extension of six months and is seeking comments on its proposal. The Arc plans to submit comments urging DOJ not to further delay compliance with its accessibility rules. These rules were made final in September 2010 and were based on standards developed by the US Access Board in 2004. The Arc is concerned that by delaying implementation of the access rule for one industry, other businesses might believe that they too can avoid making their businesses accessible if they do not like the rule. Comments are due on or before April 4 and may be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=DOJ-CRT-2012-0006-0001.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that all of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design became effective on March 15 with one exception. DOJ has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (the details had not been published in the Federal Register at the time of this Capitol Insider) asking for comments about extending the timeline for compliance with the portion of the standards that pertain to existing swimming pools. The Administration indicated that there were “misunderstandings” by the hotel and lodging industry about the portion of the standards dealing with swimming pools, lifts, and access. The standards are part of the revised regulations for Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The new standards will make buildings and facilities accessible to more than 54 million Americans with disabilities. The accessibility requirements apply to many kinds of facilities, including sports stadiums, court rooms, amusement rides, and play areas.
The Access Board is looking for a cross section of stakeholders, including medical device manufacturers, health care providers, disability groups, and standard-setting organizations to participate on an advisory committee to assist in finalizing standards for diagnostic equipment that were released in February. The proposed standards, which remain available for comment until June 8, include design criteria for independent access to diagnostic equipment, including types that require transfer from wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
A notice published by the Board provides further details, including application instructions. The deadline for applications is April 27. The committee is expected to meet at least four times over the course of two months beginning in September. Participation will be voluntary and members will not be reimbursed for their services.
The House and Senate are moving forward on bills to reauthorize the nation’s surface transportation law. A series of short term extensions have kept the highway and transit programs going while Congress debates a longer reauthorization. The House and Senate proposals differ in scope and costs, and have significant policy differences, making it unlikely that the bills could both be passed and reconciled before the short term extension expires at the end of the month.
After a very contentious mark up last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a 5 year, $260 billion bill that consolidates a number of programs, including the small disability programs that support nonprofits which provide transportation and the programs to improve accessibility. The House approach also makes financing changes that will de-link mass transit from a guaranteed funding stream, which is of great concern to people who use public transportation. The Senate is expected to consider its bipartisan, two year, $109 billion proposal this week. The full House of Representatives may also consider its proposal, though it faces opposition from the Democrats and conservatives in the Republican Party who oppose the spending level.