Since the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) went into effect in 1990, the courts have expanded their interpretation in a number of ways. For retailers, one of the chief concerns remains to ensure that disabled customers in wheelchairs are able to enter and exit stores, access merchandise, and visit all floors and areas of the store.
However, changes to the ADAAG are in the works, including ones that could have an impact on retail stores.
For some time now, the Department of Justice has been collecting information and establishing new standards for consideration. Revisions are in the final stages, and the Department of Justice has published an “Advanced Notice of Public Comment” regarding the proposed new guidelines. Additionally, a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” is under review by other departments in the government.
“At this point, we cannot say when the ‘Notice of Proposed Rulemaking’ will be released to the public for review. But once it is, a 60-day public comment period will commence, plus thousands of public comments already submitted will be reviewed,” said Klaus Reichardt, managing partner, Waterless Co. LLC, Vista, Calif., a manufacturer of waterless urinal systems and related restroom items.
Some of the items under consideration apply specifically to retail stores, while others are more general and apply to all public facilities. Some of these changes include:
• Conformity: Bring all or as many of the guidelines into conformity with industry standards and building codes;
• ATMs: The new proposals would allow greater access to vision- and hearing-impaired individuals, as well as set specifications on height placements of the machines; and
• Restrooms: The key changes here involve reach access or the height limits of washroom features, such as soap and paper dispensers, hand dryers and coat hangers. A particularly big adjustment would apply to the space between the edge of the lavatory and the center line of the water closet. Previous standards called for a minimum of 18 inches between the two points, but the new revisions require 60 inches.
Not all of the proposed changes that would specifically impact retail stores have been clearly identified at this point. But some of the changes under consideration include ensuring that sales counters are of a specific size to make them “workable” and accessible for disabled employees and customers, and providing visual alarms for the hearing impaired. Another change: broadening the accessible circulation-path specifications for employee work areas (this also could have an impact on how equipment is laid out).
According to Reichardt, although these proposed changes would likely be implemented, the process is slow and it could take a while before the new regulations are put into place.
As to what actions retailers should take now, he offered the following advice:
“Be sure that you comply with all present regulations, and put into practice proposed regulations as long as they do not result in significant expense or difficulty.”