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Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Section 35.151(b)(4)(ii)(C) Path of travel--safe harbor

In Sec. 35.151(b)(4)(ii)(C) of the NPRM, the Department included a provision that stated that public entities that have brought required elements of path of travel into compliance with the 1991 Standards are not required to retrofit those elements in order to reflect incremental changes in the 2010 Standards solely because of an alteration to a primary function area that is served by that path of travel. In these circumstances, the public entity is entitled to a safe harbor and is only required to modify elements to comply with the 2010 Standards if the public entity is planning an alteration to the element.

A substantial number of commenters objected to the Department’s imposition of a safe harbor for alterations to facilities of public entities that comply with the 1991 Standards. These commenters argued that if a public entity is already in the process of altering its facility, there should be a legal requirement that individuals with disabilities be entitled to increased accessibility by using the 2010 Standards for path of travel work. They also stated that they did not believe there was a statutory basis for “grandfathering’’ facilities that comply with the 1991 Standards.

The ADA is silent on the issue of "grandfathering’’ or establishing a safe harbor for measuring compliance in situations where the covered entity is not undertaking a planned alteration to specific building elements. The ADA delegates to the Attorney General the responsibility for issuing regulations that define the parameters of covered entities’ obligations when the statute does not directly address an issue. This regulation implements that delegation of authority. One commenter proposed that a previous record of barrier removal be one of the factors in determining, prospectively, what renders a facility, when viewed in its entirety, usable and accessible to persons with disabilities. Another commenter asked the Department to clarify, at a minimum, that to the extent compliance with the 1991 Standards does not provide program access, particularly with regard to areas not specifically addressed in the 1991 Standards, the safe harbor will not operate to relieve an entity of its obligations to provide program access.

One commenter supported the proposal to add a safe harbor for path of travel.

The final rule retains the safe harbor for required elements of a path of travel to altered primary function areas for public entities that have already complied with the 1991 Standards with respect to those required elements. The Department believes that this safe harbor strikes an appropriate balance between ensuring that individuals with disabilities are provided access to buildings and facilities and potential financial burdens on existing public entities that are undertaking alterations subject to the 2010 Standards. This safe harbor is not a blanket exemption for facilities. If a public entity undertakes an alteration to a primary function area, only the required elements of a path of travel to that area that already comply with the 1991 Standards are subject to the safe harbor. If a public entity undertakes an alteration to a primary function area and the required elements of a path of travel to the altered area do not comply with the 1991 Standards, then the public entity must bring those elements into compliance with the 2010 Standards.


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