Equal access for disabled sought in rule proposals Compliance with '90 Disabilities Act focus of regulations.


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Justice Department is proposing regulations to spell out 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 persons 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 proposed yesterday, theaters and other arenas would not be able to segregate people in wheelchairs from general seating areas, and disabled persons could not be barred from activities, such as museum tours or exhibits, open to the general public, even if a program modified for the disabled is available.

The act was designed to guarantee the nation's 43 million disabled people equal access to nearly 4 million public places, including hotels, retail stores, physicians offices, auditoriums, social service centers, parks, gyms and transportation terminals.

The law also extends to hospitals, homeless shelters, private schools, homes used for offices or day-care centers and rooms in churches and private clubs that are leased to groups for public functions.

The proposed regulations, being published in the Federal Register today, are to be refined after a series of public hearings.

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh called the proposed regulations "a fair and balanced enforcement tool" that balance the rights of disabled people with business-community interests.

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.

Victims of discrimination under the act cannot collect punitive damage awards, but they can receive compensation for their injuries, out-of-pocket expenses and emotional distress.

Patrisha Wright, government affairs director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said her group had yet to study the rules but that they appeared to reflect the negotiations that produced the act.

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