U.S. proposes rules on access for the disabled


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Justice Department proposed yesterday regulations outlining steps that businesses such as restaurants, stores and theaters would have to take to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

The rules would require businesses that function as public accommodations to remove barriers in existing facilities and make other reasonable changes to give disabled people equal access.

Stricter standards, requiring a "high degree of convenient access" for the disabled, would be imposed for facilities being altered and buildings that open after Jan. 26, 1993.

The changes for existing businesses would include allowing blind people to take their guide dogs into stores and restaurants and providing the hearing-impaired with closed-caption decoders for hotel televisions upon request.

Under the rules, theaters and other arenas would not be able to segregate people in wheelchairs from general seating areas, and people with disabilities could not be barred from activities, such as museum tours or exhibits, open to the public, even if a program modified for the disabled is available.

JTC The hard-fought act was designed to guarantee the nation's 43 million disabled people equal access to nearly 4 million places of public accommodation. The proposed regulations, due to be published in the Federal Register today, will be refined after a series of public hearings.

The law allows the exclusion of customers who "pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others" in the establishment but otherwise bars discrimination against the disabled, including people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

Physical barriers would have to be removed if that is "readily achievable," but businesses would not be expected to take on a "burdensome expense."

The requirements covering new buildings and alterations reach beyond public accommodations, requiring that "commercial facilities," including factories, office buildings and privately operated airports, also be built to accommodate the disabled.

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees and gross receipts of $1 million or less have until July 26, 1992, to comply with the act; companies with 10 or fewer workers and gross receipts of $500,000 or less have until Jan. 26, 1993.

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