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Potential new regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Noting that all of us are, for the most part, merely temporarily "abled", the Federal government has proposed sweeping new regulations pursuant to the ADA.They were published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, allowing 60 days for public comment.  As one might imagine, the Chamber of Commerce has attempted to exercise its muscle to negate the regulations, despite straightforward exemptions and reservations applicable to small businesses.  The Bush Administration has inserted a "safe harbor" provision so that small businesses will be exempted from the improvements if they spent one percent of their gross revenue in the prior year removing obstacles.

Today, the Census Bureau reports that 51 million Americans have a disability, and two-thirds of those are severe impairments.  That number and proportion will increase as the population ages.  By 2010, the government estimates that two percent of the population will be utilizing mobility devices.  As the population continues to age, the number of people who are challenged by hearing problems or mobility limitations will increase significantly.

The rules also confirm access for guide dogs and other service animals in public places, but also define the circumstances under which access may be denied.  They confirm access for mobility devices but also allow malls, amusement parks and shopping centers to impose reasonable restrictions on Segways, golf carts and the like.

The regulations would apply to some seven million businesses and all state and local governments.  Contrary to the arguments of the reactionary and highly partisan Chamber of Commerce, advocates for the disabled say the new regulations do not go far enough (the track record of consumer action by the Bush Administration would seem to justify their concerns and negate the Chamber's).  Among the proposals:

Courts would have to provide acces to elevated witness stands and jury boxes. (It was only a few years ago the Wexford County courthouse provided access to the Circuit Court room--in response to repeated coaxing and threatening by disability advocate, David Clark.)  

Auditoriums would have to provide lifts or ramps to allow "full and equal" wheelchair participation in graduation exercises and other events.

Sports stadiums seating 25,000 or more woudl ahve to provide safety and emergency information for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Theaters would be required to provide at least five "equivalent or better view" handicapped seats per 300- seats in the  facility.

Hotel light switches cannot be mounted higher than 48 inches and handicapped-access rooms must be reserved and guaranteed in the same manner as other rooms.

Fishing piers must include railings at wheelchair (34 inch) height,  including sections composing at least 25 percent of the total railing.

At least one-half of the holes at miniature golf course must be wheelchair accessible.

New swimming pools with a perimeter in excess of 300 feet must provide at least two "accessible means of entry" (i.e., gentle ramps or lifts.)

New playgrounds must provide wheelchair access to slides, swings and play equipment.

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