A proposal that calls for stricter enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, June 17. The new rules would set more stringent requirements for accessibility in public areas such as hotels, golf courses, stadiums, theaters, courtrooms, and retail stores.

The ADA was passed in 1990 to ensure that, regardless of their capabilities, everyone—including meeting attendees—would be treated fairly and equally. The new rules are intended to clarify some of the broader objectives set in the 1990 law and, if passed, would affect more than 7 million businesses as well as all state and local government agencies, according to The New York Times.

Among the proposed changes that would directly affect the meetings and conventions industry:

  • Updated policies on auxiliary aids, incorporating language on video interpreting services and other advances.
  • A broader “place of lodging” definition that would include accommodations in time shares, condominium hotels, and corporate hotels.
  • A requirement that auditoriums have a lift or a ramp that gives wheelchair users direct access to the stage to participate in events.
  • Lower maximum heights for hotel light switches (48 inches, down from 54 inches.
  • Hotel reservation systems must be able to guarantee accessible guest rooms to the same extent they guarantee rooms that aren’t accessible.
  • A specified number of seats in theaters for wheelchair users (at least five in a 300-seat facility). Viewing angles must be “equivalent to or better than the average viewing angles provided to all other spectators.”

Under the ADA, meeting planners are required to ensure that disabled individuals have the same rights and privileges as those without disabilities, with joint liability shared between the facility and the organization holding the meeting. The new rules, which put the onus on the facility to make sure construction and renovations are in compliance, may help to alleviate some of the ambiguity of the ADA for planners.

The White House approved the proposal in May after a five-month review and will allow 60 days for public comment once it is published in the Federal Register. For more information on the Americans With Disabilities Act, go to www.ada.gov.