Rules Regarding the ADA
In July, 2008, the Department of Justice proposed new rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Act or ADA) to update the standards originally contained in the 1990 Act and to make the requirements “consistent with the minimum guidelines and requirements issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board,” published in 2004. The DOJ has issued a final rule that will take effect March 15, 2011.
The DOJ proposed several modifications to existing definitions and requirements. A number of these changes could impact race tracks, horse shows, equestrian facilities, convention centers hosting equine events, and parks and wilderness areas.
The ADA is intended to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, in access to state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and other areas. The Act requires that newly-designed and constructed or altered public accommodations and commercial facilities be readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities.
Proposed Rule Changes
The DOJ proposed changes would define a “wheelchair” as “a device designed solely for use by an individual with mobility impairment for the primary purpose of locomotion in typical indoor and outdoor pedestrian areas. A wheelchair may be manually operated or power-driven.” This would include mobility scooters.
Additionally, the DOJ proposed the creation of a new category consisting of “other power-driven mobility devices” that could also be used by disabled individuals. The DOJ suggests, that such devices include “any of a large range of devices powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines—whether or not designed solely for use by individuals with mobility impairments—that are used by individuals with mobility impairments for the purpose of locomotion, including golf cars, bicycles, electronic personal assistance mobility devices (EPAMDs), or any mobility aid designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes.”
The DOJ recommended commercial, state and local public accommodations, including parks, allow persons with disabilities to utilize these “other power-driven mobility devices” when possible and to develop policy’s to accommodate these mobility devices.
The AHC submitted comments to the Department concerning the proposed new rules.
The AHC comments affirmed the equestrian community’s strong support for ensuring an enjoyable experience for disabled individuals when they visit trails and public recreation areas throughout the country and it’s commitment to working with the Department of Justice to achieve this goal.
The AHC noted that not only do many individuals with disabilities recognized by the ADA rely on horses to take them to areas they would not be able to reach otherwise, but that many Americans who have limited mobility due to arthritis, heart disease, lung problems, peripheral vascular disease and other medical problems rely on horses for the same purpose.
The AHC pointed out that while the DOJ focused on “other power-driven mobility devices”, it ignores the role horses currently fill in transporting disabled individuals and those with limited mobility. The DOJ also generally overlooks the fact that many trails simply cannot be negotiated by mechanical means.
The AHC asked that the DOJ recognize that many Americans with various physical impairments regularly visit trails and backcountry on horseback. Indeed, more and more such trail users with these conditions are using horses as a means of access. The horse is by far the most common and most environmentally friendly means of access to trails for physically challenged individuals.
The AHC made clear that it applauds the motivation of the DOJ in seeking to expand the options for disabled individuals by addressing greater access for “other power-driven mobility devices.” However, the AHC expressed concern that the broader definition of such devices could raise serious safety and other concerns for equestrians and other trail users. Specifically, AHC believes the proposed definition of “other power-driven mobility devices” is overly broad and could conceivably include a number of devices which could be hazardous not only to equestrians, but to pedestrians, bicyclists and even wheelchair users of recreational trails.
In particular the AHC asked the DOJ to specifically recognize horses, mules and burros as a vital means of access to trails by physically-challenged individuals and should encourage land managers to consider the role of equines when formulating plans to accommodate physically-impaired individuals. The AHC emphasized the importance of preserving existing equine access to cross country trails to maintain accessibility to physically-impaired individuals and the need for trails, trail heads for the horses, access routes, mounting blocks and ramps, picnic and camping facilities, rest rooms and stables that accommodate their special needs.
The DOJ should do this by making sure the definition for “other power-driven mobility devices,” while broad enough to permit a range of mobility devices for the disabled, limits the size and speed of such devices on trails. Speed, size and weight restrictions are absolutely necessary to ensure that any mobility devices will not imperil other trail users, the AHC noted, while access to trail systems for disabled individuals should be a top priority, it cannot come at the safety of other users.
Additionally, the AHC asked that the Department of Justice carefully consider the reasons Americans seek out recreational trails in its definition of and polices regarding the use of “other power-driven mobility devices.” There is no doubt that the extreme array of such devices suggested in the NPRM could fundamental alter the experience associated with trails that are currently limited to non-motorized users or equestrians alone, this is especially true for designated wilderness areas.
The AHC informed the DOJ that it opposes any rule that would in practice open all recreational trails to a wide variety of motorized vehicles based solely on a user’s attestation of a disability. Any proposed rule must seek to strike a balance between accessibility for the disabled, safety for all users, and a realization that all mobility devices are not appropriate in all trail and recreation settings. A rule should specifically give state authorities the discretion to make determinations based on these considerations.
The Department of Justice has issued a final rule that will take effect March 15, 2011.