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Section 36.406(e) Housing at a Place of Education (Section-by-Section Analysis)

The Department of Justice and the Department of Education share responsibility for regulation and enforcement of the ADA in postsecondary educational settings, including architectural features. Housing types in educational settings range from traditional residence halls and dormitories to apartment or townhouse-style residences. In addition to title III of the ADA, universities and schools that are recipients of Federal financial assistance also are subject to section 504, which contains its own accessibility requirements currently through the application of UFAS. Residential housing, including housing in an educational setting, is also covered by the FHAct, which requires newly constructed multifamily housing to include certain features of accessible and adaptable design. Covered entities subject to the ADA must always be aware of, and comply with, any other Federal statutes or regulations that govern the operation of residential properties.

Although the 1991 Standards mention dormitories as a form of transient lodging, they do not specifically address how the ADA applies to dormitories and other types of residential housing provided in an educational setting. The 1991 Standards also do not contain any specific provisions for residential facilities, allowing covered entities to elect to follow the residential standards contained in UFAS. Although the 2004 ADAAG contains provisions for both residential facilities and transient lodging, the guidelines do not indicate which requirements apply to housing provided in an educational setting, leaving it to the adopting agencies to make that choice. After evaluating both sets of standards, the Department concluded that the benefits of applying the transient lodging standards outweighed the benefits of applying the residential facilities standards. Consequently, in the NPRM, the Department proposed a new Sec. 36.406(e) that provided that residence halls or dormitories operated by or on behalf of places of education shall comply with the provisions of the proposed standards for transient lodging, including, but not limited to, the provisions in sections 224 and 806 of the 2004 ADAAG.

Private universities and schools covered by title III as public accommodations are required to make their programs and activities accessible to persons with disabilities. The housing facilities that they provide have varied characteristics. College and university housing facilities typically provide housing for up to one academic year, but may be closed during school vacation periods. In the summer, they often are used for short-term stays of one to three days, a week, or several months. Graduate and faculty housing often is provided year-round in the form of apartments, which may serve individuals or families with children. These housing facilities are diverse in their layout. Some are double-occupancy rooms with a shared toilet and bathing room, which may be inside or outside the unit. Others may contain cluster, suite, or group arrangements where several rooms are located inside a defined unit with bathing, kitchen, and similar common facilities. In some cases, these suites are indistinguishable in features from traditional apartments. Universities may build their own housing facilities or enter into agreements with private developers to build, own, or lease housing to the educational institution or to its students. Academic housing may be located on the campus of the university or may be located in nearby neighborhoods.

Throughout the school year and the summer, academic housing can become program areas in which small groups meet, receptions and educational sessions are held, and social activities occur. The ability to move between rooms--both accessible rooms and standard rooms--in order to socialize, to study, and to use all public use and common use areas is an essential part of having access to these educational programs and activities. Academic housing also is used for short-term transient educational programs during the time students are not in regular residence and may be rented out to transient visitors in a manner similar to a hotel for special university functions.

The Department was concerned that applying the new construction requirements for residential facilities to educational housing facilities could hinder access to educational programs for students with disabilities. Elevators generally are not required under the 2004 ADAAG residential facilities standards unless they are needed to provide an accessible route from accessible units to public use and common use areas, while under the 2004 ADAAG as it applies to other types of facilities, multistory private facilities must have elevators unless they meet very specific exceptions. In addition, the residential facilities standards do not require accessible roll-in showers in bathrooms, while the transient lodging requirements require some of the accessible units to be served by bathrooms with roll-in showers. The transient lodging standards also require that a greater number of units have accessible features for persons with communication disabilities. The transient lodging standards provide for installation of the required accessible features so that they are available immediately, but the residential facilities standards allow for certain features of the unit to be adaptable. For example, only reinforcements for grab bars need to be provided in residential dwellings, but the actual grab bars must be installed under the transient lodging standards. By contrast, the residential facilities standards do require certain features that provide greater accessibility within units, such as usable kitchens and an accessible route throughout the dwelling. The residential facilities standards also require 5 percent of the units to be accessible to persons with mobility disabilities, which is a continuation of the same scoping that is currently required under UFAS and is therefore applicable to any educational institution that is covered by section 504. The transient lodging standards require a lower percentage of accessible sleeping rooms for facilities with large numbers of rooms than is required by UFAS. For example, if a dormitory has 150 rooms, the transient lodging standards would require 7 accessible rooms, while the residential standards would require 8. In a large dormitory with 500 rooms, the transient lodging standards would require 13 accessible rooms, and the residential facilities standards would require 25. There are other differences between the two sets of standards, including requirements for accessible windows, alterations, kitchens, an accessible route throughout a unit, and clear floor space in bathrooms allowing for a side transfer.

In the NPRM, the Department requested public comment on how to scope educational housing facilities, and it asked whether the residential facilities requirements or the transient lodging requirements in the 2004 ADAAG would be more appropriate for housing at places of education and asked how the different requirements would affect the cost of building new dormitories and other student housing. See 73 FR 34508, 34545 (June 17, 2008).

The Department received several comments on this issue under title III. One commenter stated that the Department should adopt the residential facilities standards for housing at a place of education. In the commenter's view, the residential facilities standards are congruent with overlapping requirements imposed by HUD, and the residential facilities requirements would ensure dispersion of accessible features more effectively. This commenter also argued that while the increased number of required accessible units for residential facilities as compared to transient lodging may increase the cost of construction or alteration, this cost would be offset by a reduced need later to adapt rooms if the demand for accessible rooms exceeds the supply. The commenter also encouraged the Department to impose a visitability (accessible doorways and necessary clear floor space for turning radius) requirement for both the residential facilities and transient lodging requirements to allow students with mobility impairments to interact and socialize in a fully integrated fashion. Another commenter stated that while dormitories should be treated like residences as opposed to transient lodging, the Department should ensure that "all floors are accessible,'' thus ensuring community integration and visitability. Another commenter argued that housing at a place of education is comparable to residential housing, and that most of the housing types used by schools do not have the same amenities and services or function like transient lodging and should not be treated as such.

Several commenters focused on the length of stay at this type of housing and suggested that if the facilities are subject to occupancy for greater than 30 days, the residential standards should apply. Another commenter supported the Department's adoption of the transient lodging standards, arguing this will provide greater accessibility and therefore increase opportunities for students with disabilities to participate. One commenter, while supporting the use of transient lodging standards in this area, argued that the Department also should develop regulations relating to the usability of equipment in housing facilities by persons who are blind or visually impaired. Another commenter argued that the Department should not impose the transient lodging requirements on K-12 schools because the cost of adding elevators can be prohibitive, and because there are safety concerns related to evacuating students in wheelchairs living on floors above the ground floor in emergencies causing elevator failures.

The Department has considered the comments recommending the use of the residential facilities standards and acknowledges that they require certain features that are not included in the transient lodging standards and that should be required for housing provided at a place of education. In addition, the Department notes that since educational institutions often use their academic housing facilities as short-term transient lodging in the summers, it is important that accessible features be installed at the outset. It is not realistic to expect that the educational institution will be able to adapt a unit in a timely manner in order to provide accessible accommodations to someone attending a one-week program during the summer.

The Department has determined that the best approach to this type of housing is to continue to require the application of transient lodging standards but, at the same time, to add several requirements drawn from the residential facilities standards related to accessible turning spaces and work surfaces in kitchens, and the accessible route throughout the unit. This will ensure the maintenance of the transient lodging standard requirements related to access to all floors of the facility, roll-in showers in facilities with more than 50 sleeping rooms, and other important accessibility features not found in the residential facilities standards, but also will ensure usable kitchens and access to all the rooms in a suite or apartment.

The Department has added a new definition to Sec. 36.104, "Housing at a Place of Education,'' and has revised Sec. 36.406(e) to reflect the accessible features that now will be required in addition to the requirements set forth under the transient lodging standards. The Department also recognizes that some educational institutions provide some residential housing on a year-round basis to graduate students and staff that is comparable to private rental housing but contains no facilities for educational programming. Section 36.406(e)(3) exempts from the transient lodging standards apartments or townhouse facilities that are provided with a lease on a year-round basis exclusively to graduate students or faculty and that do not contain any public use or common use areas available for educational programming; instead, such housing must comply with the requirements for residential facilities in sections 233 and 809 of the 2010 Standards.

The regulatory text uses the term "sleeping room'' in lieu of the term "guest room,'' which is the term used in the transient lodging standards. The Department is using this term because it believes that for the most part, it provides a better description of the sleeping facilities used in a place of education than "guest room.'' The final rule states in Sec. 36.406(e) that the Department intends the terms to be used interchangeably in the application of the transient lodging standards to housing at a place of education.


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