New ADA Regulations DO Affect You!
For those of you who may be asking, “Does the ADA really apply to me?” ask yourself this question: Do you have areas where the public are welcome, such as an office or clubhouse?
We're going to highlight some of the most important changes that have an impact on apartment communities here, but there is a very helpful primer put out by the government you can download from the ADA website- http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/smallbusiness/smallbusprimer2010.pdf .
Service Animals are now defined by a dog that is "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability." The ADA does allow for miniature horses to be defined as a service animal in some cases, but there is no further definition regarding other animals. These animals must be allowed in all areas where their owner may go, so long as they remain under control. Therapy and comfort animals do not meet the definition of a service animal under the ADA.
Mobility devices do not need to be traditional. If someone is using a scooter or a Segway as their mobility device, you should treat it as you would a wheelchair, i.e. you must let them drive their Segway into the fitness center, office or anywhere else you would allow a wheelchair. There is some leeway in this regulation that would allow a business to turn away a Segway during heavy pedestrian traffic times, but you should consult with your supervisor to discuss this.
Communicating with your customers effectively under the new regulations is required already. Most communities already conform in many ways, including fielding TTY calls. However the new regulations permit and encourage use of new technologies such as video remote interpreting (VRI) for communications with the hearing impaired. The regulations are flexible and offer businesses the opportunity to be creative and figure out ways to communicate with disabled customers in a manner that makes sense for them, just as long as you are effectively communicating.
One area that should be noted however, is the regulations covering communicating with low vision or blind customers. The ADA uses an example of a real estate agent negotiating a sale, but we could easily substitute a leasing agent negotiating a lease in this example of what needs to be done to effectively communicate.
"...a client who is blind visits his real estate agent to negotiate the sale of a house, all relevant documents should be provided in a format he can use, such as on a computer disk or audio cassette. It may be effective to e-mail an electronic version of the documents so the client can use his or her screen-reading technology to read them before making a decision or signing a contract."
Communities should consider having all lease documents electronically readily available for blind or low vision prospects and residents.
Most of the structural changes for barrier removal are probably already in place at your community, but looking over the new regulations should be done now, not next year when you must be in compliance. It should also be noted that once renovations are underway you may need to comply with 2010 standards that are updated from the 1991 standards. Many repairs or remodeling projects taken on now, like striping your parking lots, must comply with the new regulations, so take the time to review them. Under the 2010 standards, one of every six spaces in public areas must be van accessible, so if you have 12 parking spaces in front of your clubhouse, you'll need a minimum of two van accessible handicap parking spots, where under 1991 standards it was one in eight.
As in the past, there are reasonable allowances for communities that cannot afford to make certain changes, but the government does expect businesses to comply whenever possible. Section 44 of the IRS code does allow for a tax credit for small businesses complying with ADA and Section 190 covers all businesses, to help offset expenses in renovations and barrier removal.
Take the time to become aware of the new regulations and remember to train your team on your policies and practices which make your community accessible to all.