Companies seek more time for ADA comments

Industry groups are lobbying for more time to study how new rules that implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would affect their businesses.Industry groups are lobbying for more time to study how new rules that implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would affect their businesses.

The changes could touch a wide spectrum of companies, from banks to golf courses to hotels.

Banks may be asked to purchase automated teller machines (ATMs) that are easier for disabled users to operate. Hotel chains could have to build more handicapped-accessible doorways, and golf courses may have to provide specially designed carts to disabled golfers.

Final rules are still two years away, but some groups are already asking Justice Department officials to extend the comment period set to expire at the end of this month on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking.

The early interest is indicative of both the complexity of implementing the ADA and the impact that rule changes could have on the industries’ bottom lines, said Andrew Langer, who handles regulatory affairs for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

“It’s going to get tenacious,” said Langer, who credited government officials for seeking out comments early in the process.

Langer said the NFIB has asked for an extension of the comment period to give the group additional time to poll its members about the impact of the proposed rules.

A proposal to extend customer accessibility requirements to employee-only work areas was of particular concern for small businesses, Langer said. Small retailers with cramped storerooms won’t easily be able to comply with such a requirement, he said.

Langer said businesses want to provide access but not be burdened by what they see as unnecessary regulations.

The Access Board, an independent federal agency that makes ADA compliance rules, released new compliance guidelines last year. The Justice Department then issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking based on those guidelines.

After reviewing comments, Justice then will issue a new notice of proposed rulemaking. That will be followed by a second comment period before the new rules are implemented.

As now proposed, bank ATMs would have to include “speech-enabled features.” That is, an ATM’s operating instructions would have to be audible. A user would have to be able to adjust the volume as well as interrupt the machine or have it repeat a particular instruction.

The guidelines as developed by the Access Board would apply only to new machines, but some bankers are worried that Justice might require some terminals to be modified.

Krista Shonk, regulatory counsel for America’s Community Bankers, said modifying existing ATMs would be “very, very costly.”

“The issue is going to be very important for us,” Shonk said.

Jim Raggio, general counsel at the Access Board, said the new bank rules grew out of a series of court settlements between banks and disabled consumers, who argued that ATMs weren’t in compliance with the original ADA standard that the machines be independently operable by visually impaired users.

The ADA, which Congress passed in 1990, did not spell out specific requirements for ATMs at the behest of banking lobbyists. They argued that explicit rules would be impractical at a time when ATM technology had not yet matured.

But now, most new machines are built with speech features, Raggio said.

Meanwhile, Kevin Maher, a lobbyist for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said his group has asked Justice for more time to study the effects of the proposed rules.

One change that hotels worry about, Maher said, increases the percentage of entryways and exits that have to be accessible from 50 percent to 60 percent. That could be a significant burden for smaller hotel operators, he said.

Other potentially burdensome changes affect elevators and employee work areas that now don’t need to be accessible.

“For the lodging industry, this is very significant,” Maher said.