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36 CFR Parts 1190 and 1191 ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines - Preamble (Discussion of Comments and Changes)

203 General Exceptions

Certain spaces are generally exempt from the guidelines, including construction sites (203.2), raised areas (203.3), limited access spaces (203.4), machinery spaces (203.5), single occupant structures (203.6), certain areas within detention and correctional facilities (203.7) and residential facilities (203.8), employee work areas (203.9), and various spaces within recreation and sports facilities (203.10 through 203.14). These provisions have been editorially revised and renumbered in the final rule. Specifically, clarification has been added that exempt spaces "are not required to comply with these requirements or to be served by an accessible route," which is more precise than the phrase in the proposed rule that such spaces "are not required to be accessible." This is part of a global editorial revision to replace the term "accessible" throughout the text with more specific language. In addition, the reference in the exception at 203.5 to spaces frequented only by service personnel has been changed from "equipment spaces" to "machinery spaces," which was considered a more specific and accurate reference to the type of spaces covered by this exception. The Board’s guidelines for recreation facilities contain exceptions for certain limited spaces within recreation and sports facilities that have been incorporated into the final rule. These exceptions address raised refereeing, judging, and scoring areas (203.10), water slides (203.11), animal containment areas (203.12), raised boxing and wrestling rings (203.13), and diving boards and platforms (203.14).

Substantive changes are made to the exceptions for limited access spaces and employee work areas. The exception at 203.4 covers limited access spaces, such as those accessed by ladders, catwalks, crawl spaces, or very narrow passageways. A reference to "tunnels" has been removed from this list, as this term could apply to spaces intended for coverage, such as underground connections between buildings and pedestrian connections required to be accessible in provisions for accessible routes (206.4.3).

203.9 Employee Work Areas

Provisions for employee work areas in 203.9 require that accessible routes and accessible means of egress connect with employee work areas so that persons with disabilities can approach, enter, and exit the work area. Employee work areas are also subject to requirements that facilitate the provision of visual alarms. Specifically, employee work areas must meet accessibility requirements for:

  • circulation paths for common use within the area, except for those that are an integral part of equipment or that are located in work areas that are relatively small (i.e., less than 1,000 square feet) or fully exposed to the weather (206.2.8)
  • means of egress (207.1)
  • wiring systems to support later installation of visual alarms as needed where work areas have audible fire alarm coverage (215.2)

There are limitations on the application of these requirements. Small work areas (i.e., less than 300 square feet in area) that need to be elevated at least seven inches due to the function of the space are not required to comply with any of these requirements. In addition, other provisions in section 203 exempt spaces or structures that may function as work areas, such as raised areas, limited access spaces, machinery spaces, and single occupant structures (203.3 to 203.6). Circulation paths within work areas that are not fully exempt from compliance are required to comply with specifications for accessible routes, but exceptions are provided for route widths and handrails in certain instances.

This section differs from the proposed rule, which required a connecting accessible route to work areas for approach, entry, and exit, but which did not specifically address circulation paths within them or requirements for accessible means of egress. In addition, the proposed rule required visual alarms in employee work areas served by audible alarms.

Access to employee work areas was the subject of considerable discussion and a host of questions posed by the Board in the proposed rule. The issues centered on whether, and to what degree, access should be expanded within such areas. The original ADAAG required access to, but not fully within, employee work areas since title I of the ADA generally treats access for employees with disabilities as an individual accommodation handled on a case-by-case basis. Consequently, the original guidelines distinguished spaces used only as employee work areas from public use and common use spaces, which are fully subject to access requirements. In effect, requirements in ADAAG stopped at the entry to work areas by requiring only that such spaces be on an accessible route so that persons with disabilities could approach, enter, and exit the space. Maneuvering space, including wheelchair turning space, was not required within the work area, and elements within used only by employees as part of their job responsibilities were not required to be accessible. Nor was access required to individual work stations within a work area.

The ADAAG Review Advisory Committee recommended that ADAAG be changed to require an accessible route to each "individual work station" instead of to "work areas." Other than the connecting route, work stations would not be required to be accessible. The advisory committee recommended this change for consistency with model building codes which, unlike ADAAG, do not provide a similar exception for work areas. Building and fire codes already require connecting paths of travel to work stations for purposes of emergency egress. In the advisory committee’s view, this aspect of the model building codes, as well as general exceptions for equipment and other spaces in section 203, would serve to limit the overall impact of this change. Further, the requirement for an "accessible route" to individual work stations, as opposed to access for "approach, entry, and exit" to work areas, was considered clearer and more easily interpreted.

The Board, while committed to harmonizing the ADAAG requirements with the requirements of the model codes, was concerned about whether such a requirement would be workable in all employment settings. Consequently, the Board posed several questions in the proposed rule on the appropriateness and impact of requiring an accessible route to individual work stations.

Comment. Many comments addressed access to work areas. The majority of comments were from people with disabilities who supported the recommendations of the ADAAG Review Advisory Committee to require an accessible route to all individual work stations. They stated that not providing an accessible route to all work stations would limit employment opportunities, make reasonable accommodation more difficult to implement, and exclude people with disabilities from interacting with other employees while in the workplace. The Board sought comment on what obstacles people with disabilities have encountered as a result of ADAAG requiring access only to work areas and not to individual work stations (Question 1). Responses to this question generally referred to employment or reasonable accommodation of persons with disabilities being made more difficult, although specific cases or instances were not detailed. The majority of comments against providing an accessible route to individual work stations came from organizations representing the business community. These comments considered the original ADAAG requirements to be more consistent with the intent of title I of the ADA and urged that they be retained. Increased costs and design impacts associated with greater access to work areas or individual work stations were generally cited as a concern.

Response. The final rule preserves the general scope of coverage in the proposed rule and current ADAAG by applying requirements to work areas, as opposed to individual work stations. Enhanced specifications for circulation access in work areas will effectively provide access to individual work stations in various types of work areas. However, the Board has limited the requirements for circulation access to interior work areas that are 1,000 square feet or more in size in order to minimize the impact on facilities with small work areas.

Comment. The Board requested comment on the impact of requiring access to "individual work stations" rather than to "employee work areas" (Question 2). Comments provided no clear consensus on this issue. People with disabilities stated that the impact would be minimal due to requirements in the model codes, a consideration shared by the ADAAG Review Advisory Committee. They also felt that not requiring access to individual work stations would limit their employment opportunities. The business community disputed the assertion that compliance with life safety codes would achieve an accessible route in all circumstances and noted that such a requirement would severely impact many small businesses.

Response. The final rule requires that common use circulation paths within work areas satisfy requirements for accessible routes in section 402. This will facilitate accommodation of employees, while recognizing constraints posed by certain work areas, including various types of equipment within. The final rule does not require full accessibility within the work area or to every individual work station but does require that a framework of common use circulation pathways within the work area as a whole be accessible. This provision is generally consistent, but somewhat less stringent, than the requirements in the model building codes. In addition, exceptions to certain technical requirements for route width (403.5) and ramp handrails (405.8) are provided for circulation paths in certain work areas in order to prevent design conflicts.

Comment. Information was requested in the proposed rule on specific types of individual work stations, not otherwise exempt in the guidelines, that could not be served by an accessible route (Question 3). People with disabilities generally noted that all areas of a newly constructed building should be on an accessible route. Comments from industry mentioned various types of work stations that would not easily be served by an accessible route. These included press boxes, service bays, including grease pits in automotive centers, the employee side of check-out counters, compact restaurant kitchens, spot light towers, boom and other camera positions, cocktail bars, and lighting control booths.

Response. The Board has added exceptions at 203.9 and 206.2.8 for work areas that are raised, small, exterior, or an integral part of equipment. Work areas that are less than 300 square feet that have to be elevated seven inches or more because it is essential to the space’s function are exempt from provisions for work areas entirely. Other exceptions in section 203, such as those covering raised areas (203.3), limited access spaces (203.4), machinery spaces (203.5), and single occupant structures (203.6) would apply to some of the mentioned types of work stations. In addition, an exception to accessible route requirements has been provided for press boxes (206.2.7), which is further discussed below in section 206.

Comment. The Board also sought information about whether the phrase "areas used only by employees as work areas" has been misinterpreted or considered unclear, and if it should be clarified in the final rule to prevent misinterpretation (Question 4). People with disabilities wanted clarification that employee common use areas not used as work areas must be fully accessible and do not qualify for the limited level of access permitted for areas used only by employees as work areas. Comments from industry generally supported the interpretation of this phrase. The Board sought information about whether the term "individual employee work stations" is sufficiently specific or if further clarification, qualification, or definition would be needed should a requirement be added to the final guidelines. Comments provided no clear consensus on this question.

Response. "Employee work area" is defined as spaces or portions of spaces used only by employees for work. This definition, which has been retained in the final rule without change, notes that corridors, toilet rooms, kitchenettes, and break rooms are not employee work areas. A definition for individual employee work station has not been included as the term is not used in the final rule.


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