The Access Board Forms Advisory Committee on Medical Diagnostic Equipment

The Access Board has named an advisory committee to provide recommendations on new standards for medical diagnostic equipment that were released for public comment earlier this year. The Medical Diagnostic Equipment Accessibility Standards Advisory Committee will advise the Board on matters associated with the comments the Board received and information it requested in proposing the standards. Members of the committee include representatives from disability and veterans advocacy organizations, universities, and industry.

Representatives from the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and Veterans Affairs will serve as ex officio members of the committee. The committee will hold its first meeting September 27 and 28 at the Board’s Conference Center at 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. Committee meetings are open to the public. The committee is expected to meet several times over the next few months. For further information, visit the Board’s website.

The Department of Justice reaches largest housing settlement agreement under the Fair Housing Act

The Department of Justice (DOJ) reached the largest ever housing settlement agreement under the Fair Housing Act with Texas-based JPI Construction and its six affiliates. JPI has built over 200 multifamily properties in 26 states and the District of Columbia since 1991. DOJ found accessibility problems in 32 of its multifamily housing complexes where JPI failed to include features that would make them accessible to people with disabilities. Under the settlement, JPI will pay over $10 million into an accessibility fund which will be used to retrofit the properties and increase the number of accessible housing units and will pay a civil penalty of $250,000. For more information, see DOJ’s press release.

Department of Justice settlement in Michigan

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.

House passes bill that includes provisions targeting the ADA

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.

Justice Department Extends Deadline for Existing Pools to Comply with 2010 ADA Standards

The Justice Department announced an extension for existing swimming pools to comply with the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design: existing pools now have until January 31, 2013 to comply with the standards. These standards were developed to ensure that buildings and facilities, including swimming pools, are accessible to more than 54 million Americans with disabilities. The department will be issuing a technical assistance document to help pool owners understand and comply with the accessibility requirements.

Access Board Webinar on Accessibility Standards

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.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced S. 2186 and S. 2191, which would prohibit the Attorney General from administering or enforcing certain accessibility regulations relating to pools at public accommodations or provided by public entities. The bills are in response to the Department of Justice (DOJ) rule that requires new swimming pools to be accessible to people with disabilities. The rule was to have become effective on March 15, but DOJ extended the date to May 2012 and has proposed extending the deadline to September 2012. The Arc and other disability organizations are drafting a letter to Senators expressing concern about depriving people with disabilities access to swimming pools and prohibiting an executive branch agency from enforcing its own rules. The Arc also will submit comments to DOJ opposing an additional extension of the compliance deadline.

Civil Rights & Technology

The Administration is seeking input on how the federal government can improve compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires all of the federal government’s websites and electronic information to be accessible to people with disabilities. People can submit ideas, vote on existing ideas, or add comments on the Section 508 website. The comment period has been extended indefinitely while the administration addresses accessibility issues with the website.

Department of Justice extends Compliance Date for Accessibility and Swimming Pools

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.

Announcement Regarding Americans with Disabilities Act and Design Standards

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.