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New ADA Design Standards Take Effect March 15

Employers covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must make sure any new building projects are in compliance with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design by March 15.

The new standards replace the 1991 standards devised when the ADA became law. The 2010 standards set minimum requirements for new construction and alterations of more than seven million businesses and 80,000 state and local governments, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The regulations provide a safe harbor so that facilities in compliance with the 1991 standards don’t have to meet the new standards until renovations are made. However, if an employee or applicant makes an accommodation request, the new standards may be used to determine a reasonable accommodation.

The Justice Department has posted the 2010 standards online at www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm. Here are examples of a few of the new requirements:

  • The new standards lower the required height for elements such as light switches from 54 to 48 inches.
  • More van-accessible spaces are required in parking lots.
  • New or altered work areas must “include accessible common use circulation paths within employee work areas, subject to certain specified exceptions.” That differs from the old standards, which required work areas “to permit an employee using a wheelchair to approach, enter, and exit the area.”
  • In single-user toilet rooms, the new standards require that the water closet “provide clearance for both a forward and a parallel approach and, in most situations, the lavatory cannot overlap the water closet clearance.” In addition, a door swinging inside a single-use toilet room “may swing into the clearance around any fixture if clear floor space is provided within the toilet room beyond the door’s arc.”