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Title III Technical Assistance Manual (with 1994 supplement)


Regulatory references: 28 CFR 36.402-36.406; Appendix A.

III-6.1000 General.

III−6.1000 General. If an alteration in a place of public accommodation or commercial facility is begun after January 26, 1992, that alteration must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities in accordance with ADAAG to the maximum extent feasible.

What is an alteration? An alteration is any change that affects usability. It includes remodeling, renovation, rearrangements in structural parts, and changes or rearrangement of walls and full-height partitions. Normal maintenance, reroofing, painting, wallpapering, asbestos removal, and changes to electrical and mechanical systems are not "alterations," unless they affect usability.

ILLUSTRATION 1: Flooring in a store is being replaced. This is an alteration because it can affect whether or not an individual in a wheelchair can travel in the store. The new floor must comply with, for example, ADAAG requirements for a nonslip surface or with the ADAAG carpeting requirements, if applicable.

ILLUSTRATION 2: A doorway is being relocated and a new door will be installed. The new doorway must be wide enough to meet ADAAG. The new door must have appropriate hardware that can be used without grasping, twisting, or pinching of the wrist.

ILLUSTRATION 3: An electrical outlet is being relocated. The location of the new outlet can affect usability by an individual who uses a wheelchair because, if the outlet is placed too low, the individual will be unable to reach it. This, then, is an alteration that must be done in accordance with ADAAG reach requirements.

BUT: If the electrical wiring inside the wall is being changed, usability by an individual with disabilities is not affected. Thus, the wiring need not be done in compliance with ADAAG because it is not an "alteration. "

ILLUSTRATION 4: A parking lot is restriped. Because the restriping may affect the ability of individuals with disabilities to gain access to the facility, the restriping project would be considered an alteration and therefore must include accessible spaces and access aisles in the number required by ADAAG.

What does "maximum extent feasible" mean? Occasionally, the nature of a facility makes it impossible to comply with all of the alterations standards. In such a case, features must only be made accessible to the extent that it is technically feasible to do so. The fact that adding accessibility features during an alteration may increase costs does not mean compliance is technically infeasible. Cost is not to be considered. Moreover, even when it may be technically infeasible to comply with standards for individuals with certain disabilities (for instance, those who use wheelchairs), the alteration must still comply with standards for individuals with other impairments.

ILLUSTRATION 1: A restaurant is undergoing a major renovation. Widening the entrance would affect the building structure because removal of an essential part of the structural frame would be required. In this case, it is "technically infeasible" to widen the entrance, and the action is not required. However, all other ADAAG alterations requirements apply to the renovation.

BUT: If the only problem with widening the entrance is that it would increase the cost of the renovation, the "technically infeasible" exception does not apply, and the entrance must be widened.

III−6.2000 Alterations: Path of travel. When an alteration is made to a "primary function area," not only must that alteration be done in compliance with ADAAG, but there must also be an accessible path of travel from the altered area to the entrance. The "path of travel" requirement includes an accessible route to the altered area and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving the area. Alterations to provide an accessible path of travel are required to the extent that they are not "disproportionate" to the original alteration, that is, to the extent that the added accessibility costs do not exceed 20 percent of the cost of the original alteration to the primary function area.

What is a primary function area? It is any area where a major activity takes place. It includes both the customer services areas and work areas in places of public accommodation. It includes all offices and work areas in commercial facilities. It does not include mechanical rooms, boiler rooms, supply storage rooms, employee lounges or locker rooms, janitorial closets, entrances, corridors, or restrooms.

ILLUSTRATION 1: The customer service area of a dry cleaning store and the employee area behind the counter are both primary function areas.

ILLUSTRATION 2: Remodeling an office is an alteration to a primary function area. But remodeling the employee restrooms is not an alteration to a primary function area.

ILLUSTRATION 3: Installing a new floor surface in a factory work room is an alteration to a primary function area, but installing a new floor surface in the corridor leading to the work room is not.

What is a "path of travel"? It is a continuous route connecting the altered area to the entrance. It can include sidewalks, lobbies, corridors, rooms, and elevators. It also includes phones, restrooms, and drinking fountains serving the altered area.

Does this mean that every single time any minor alteration is made in a primary function area, the "path of travel" requirement is triggered? In other words, does a simple thing like changing door hardware trigger the path of travel requirement? No. There are some alterations that will never trigger the path of travel requirement. The Department's regulation states that alterations to windows, hardware, controls, electrical outlets, and signs do not trigger path of travel requirements. (If they affect usability, however, they are still considered to be "alterations" and must be done accessibly.) ADAAG gives some additional exceptions: the path of travel requirement is not triggered if alteration work is limited solely to the electrical, mechanical, or plumbing system, hazardous material abatement, or automatic sprinkler retrofitting, unless the project involves alteration to elements required to be accessible.

ILLUSTRATION 1: An office building manager is replacing all of the room number signs. This is an "alteration" because it can affect usability by an individual who is blind. Thus, the new signs must comply with ADAAG requirements for permanent signs. However, the path of travel requirement is not triggered. Even though an alteration is being made in a primary function area, alterations to "signs" are in the list of alterations that will never trigger the path of travel requirement.

ILLUSTRATION 2: The building manager now replaces the men's and women's room signs. Again this is an alteration because it can affect usability, and the new signs must comply with ADAAG. Here, the path of travel requirements are not triggered for two separate reasons. First, as in the above case, the alteration is to "signs" and thus will never trigger the path of travel requirement. In addition, in this case, the alteration is to the restroom. Restrooms are not primary function areas except in limited circumstances, such as highway rest stops.

What if a tenant remodels his store in a manner that would trigger the path of travel obligation, but the tenant has no authority to create an accessible path of travel because the common areas are under the control of the landlord? Does this mean the landlord must now make an accessible path of travel to the remodeled store? No. Alterations by a tenant do not trigger a path of travel obligation for the landlord. Nor is the tenant required to make changes in areas not under his control.

What costs can be included in determining whether the 20 percent disproportionality limitation has been met? Widening doorways, installing ramps, making bathrooms accessible, lowering telephones, relocating water fountains -- as well as any other costs associated with making the path of travel accessible -- can be included.

What if the cost of making an accessible path of travel would exceed the cost of the original alteration by much more than 20 percent? In such a case, is the entity exempt from the path of travel requirement? No. The entity must still make the path of travel accessible to the extent possible without going over 20 percent, giving priority to those elements that provide the greatest degree of access. Changes should be made in the following order: accessible entrance, accessible route to the altered area, at least one accessible restroom for each sex or single unisex restroom, phones, drinking fountains, and then other elements such as parking, storage, and alarms.

ILLUSTRATION: A library is remodeling its reading area for a total cost of $20,000. The library must spend, if necessary, up to an additional $4,000 (20 percent of $20,000) on "path of travel" costs. For $4,000 the library can install a ramp leading to the reading area, and it can lower telephones and drinking fountains. For $3,500 the library can create an accessible restroom. Because the most important path of travel element is the entrance and route to the area, the library should spend the money on the ramp, telephones, and drinking fountains.

Can an entity limit its path of travel obligation by engaging in a series of small alterations? No. An entity cannot evade the path of travel requirement by doing several small alterations (each of which, if considered by itself, would be so inexpensive that adding 20 percent would not result in addition of any path of travel features). Whenever an area containing a primary function is altered, other alterations to that area (or to other areas on the same path of travel) made within the preceding three years are considered together in determining disproportionality. Only alterations after January 26, 1992, are counted. In other words, all of the alterations to the same path of travel taken within the preceding three years are considered together in deciding whether the 20 percent has been reached.

ILLUSTRATION: On February 1, 1992, a nursery school with several steps at its entrance renovates one of its classrooms. The renovations total $500, triggering up to $100 worth of path of travel obligations (20 percent of $500). Because $100 will not buy a ramp and because no other accessible features needed in that particular nursery school can be added for $100, no path of travel features are added. On October 1, 1992, more renovations are done at a cost of $1,000, this time triggering path of travel obligations of up to $200. As before, no path of travel features are added. Then, on March 1, 1993, another minor renovation ($2,000) is made to the same area, this time triggering path of travel obligations of up to $400. Had the nursery school done all three small renovations at the same time, the cost would have been $3,500, triggering a path of travel obligation of up to $700. For $700, an accessible ramp could have been installed.

In determining amounts that must be spent on path of travel features at the time of the March 1, 1993, renovation, the nursery school must spend up to 20 percent not just of the $2,000 renovation taking place on March 1, but, rather, up to 20 percent of all of the renovations in the preceding three years put together. Thus, on March 1, 1993, the nursery school must spend up to 20 percent of $3,500 or $700 (the total cost of the three small renovations) rather than up to 20 percent of $2,000 or $400 (the cost of just the March 1, 1993, renovation).

III−6.3000 Alterations: Elevator exemption. As under new construction, elevators are not required to be installed during alterations in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center or mall; professional office of a health care provider; public transit station; or airport passenger terminal. As discussed below, "shopping center or mall" is defined differently for alterations than it is for new construction.

Does this mean that shopping centers, health care providers, and transit facilities have to install elevators every time they do alterations that would trigger a path of travel obligation involving vertical access? No. The 20 percent disproportionality limit discussed above applies and means that elevators are not required when installing them would exceed 20 percent of the cost of the original alteration (which will most often be the case).

BUT, if escalators or stairs are being planned where none existed before and major structural modifications are necessary, an elevator or platform lift may need to be installed, because ADAAG provides that, in such a situation, an accessible means of vertical access must be provided. However, elevators or lifts are never required to be installed during alterations if it is technically infeasible to do so.

Why is there a different definition of "shopping center or mall" for alterations as opposed to new construction? A "shopping center or mall" is defined in the alterations provisions as a series of existing buildings on a common site connected by a "common pedestrian route" above or below the ground floor. This definition was included to avoid a requirement for several separate elevators in buildings that were initially designed and built independently of one another. The common pedestrian route would allow access to all of the stores to be provided by a single elevator.

If an alteration is planned on the third floor of a building and an elevator is not required, do any other ADAAG requirements apply to the third floor? Yes. All other ADAAG requirements, aside from the requirement for an elevator, apply to the third floor.

III−6.4000 Alterations: Historic preservation. Alterations to historic properties must comply with the historic property provisions of ADAAG, to the maximum extent feasible. Under those provisions, alterations should be done in full compliance with the alterations standards for other types of buildings. However, if following the usual standards would threaten or destroy the historic significance of a feature of the building, alternative standards may be used. The decision to use alternative standards for that feature must be made in consultation with the appropriate advisory board designated in ADAAG, and interested persons should be invited to participate in the decision-making process.

What are "historic properties"? These are properties that are listed or that are eligible for listing in the National Register or Historic Places, or properties designated as historic under State or local law.

What are the alternative requirements? The alternative requirements provide a minimal level of access. For example --

1) An accessible route is only required from one site access point (such as the parking lot).

2) A ramp may be steeper than is ordinarily permitted.

3) The accessible entrance does not need to be the one used by the general public.

4) Only one accessible toilet is required and it may be unisex.

5) Accessible routes are only required on the level of the accessible entrance.

But what if complying with even these minimal alternative requirements will threaten or destroy the historic significance? In such a case, which is rare, structural changes need not be made. Rather, alternative methods can be used to provide access, such as providing auxiliary aids or modifying policies.

ILLUSTRATION: A historic house is being altered to be used as a museum. The architect designing the project concludes that most of the normal standards for alterations can be applied during the renovation process without threatening or destroying historic features. There appears, however, to be a problem if one of the interior doors is widened, because historic decorative features on the door might be destroyed. After consulting ADAAG, the architect determines that the appropriate historic body with jurisdiction over the particular historic home is the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The architect sets up a meeting with the Council, to which a local disability group is invited.

At the meeting the participants agree with the architect's conclusion that the normal alterations standards cannot be applied to the interior door. They then review the special alternative requirements, which require an accessible entrance. The meeting participants determine that application of the alternative minimal requirements is likewise not possible.

In this situation, the museum owner is not required to widen the interior door. Instead, the owner modifies the usual operational policies and provides alternative access to the activities offered in the inaccessible room by making available a video presentation of the items within the inaccessible room. The video can be viewed in a nearby accessible room in the museum.


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