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Heed new disability-access rules on building remodeling

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Issue: New federal rules say how far your organization must go to make its property accessible to disabled staff and customers.

Risk: Ignoring the rules could spark lawsuits and costly repairs.

Action: If your organization is planning remodeling or new construction, earn kudos from your boss by raising the disability-access issue. Make sure design firms are up on these new changes.

If your organization is planning to build or remodel its stores, offices or facilities that serve the public, review new construction guidelines published last month. The rules explain how far your organization must go to make your building and facilities accessible to people with disabilities.

The revisions update Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access requirements for a wide range of facilities in the public and private sectors.

They detail how accessibility should be handled in new construction and alterations, plus provide specifications for entrances, ramps, parking lots, restrooms, phones and other building components.

Good news: This update makes the ADA access rules more consistent with model building codes and industry standards. It also switches some formerly mandatory guidelines, such as acoustic standards for classrooms and handrails for stairs that don't lead to exits, into nonbinding "advisories."

The new rules also reject requests by people with allergies for standards covering office ventilation or the chemical makeup of construction materials.

Bad news: Analysts say 14 of the 27 most substantial changes in the guidelines impose higher costs not found in the old guidelines.

Example: Hotels would have to install at least one operable window in rooms classified as "accessible."

Final note: These guidelines now serve as the baseline for standards used to enforce both the ADA and the Architectural Barriers Act (which covers facilities leased by federal agencies or designed, built or altered with federal funds).

Read a summary of the rules at www.access-board.gov/ada-aba/summary.htm.

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