Background

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a comprehensive civil rights law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.(1) Titles II and III of the ADA require, among other things, that newly constructed and altered State and local government facilities, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Recreation facilities, including play areas, are among the types of facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) is responsible for developing accessibility guidelines to ensure that new construction and alterations of facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. (2) The Access Board initially issued the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) in 1991. (3) ADAAG contains general scoping and technical provisions (ADAAG 1 to 4) that apply to all types of facilities, and special application sections (ADAAG 5 to 12) that include additional scoping and technical provisions for certain types of facilities. (4) The technical provisions are generally based on adult dimensions and anthropometrics. In 1998, ADAAG was amended to include technical provisions based on children dimensions and anthropometrics for building elements designed specifically for children ages 12 and younger. (5)

The Department of Justice is responsible for issuing regulations to implement titles II and III of the ADA. The regulations issued by the Department of Justice must include accessibility standards for newly constructed and altered facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA. The standards must be consistent with the accessibility guidelines issued by the Access Board. The Department of Justice has adopted ADAAG as the Standard for Accessible Design for title III of the ADA. (6)

This final rule amends ADAAG by adding a new special application section for play areas (ADAAG 15.6) that includes scoping and technical provisions for ground level and elevated play components, accessible routes, ramps and transfer systems, ground surfaces, and soft contained play structures.(7) The Access Board published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the play area guidelines in the Federal Register in April 1998. (8) The NPRM describes the full history of the rulemaking. The play area guidelines were developed through regulatory negotiation, a supplement to the traditional rulemaking process that allows face-to-face negotiations among representatives of affected interests in order to achieve consensus on the text of a proposed rule. The regulatory negotiation committee represented a variety of interests, including play equipment manufacturers, landscape architects, parks and recreation facilities, city and county governments, schools, child care facilities, and people with disabilities. (9) The regulatory negotiation committee conducted meetings in various cities across the country and sought public participation throughout the process. The regulatory negotiation committee reached consensus on proposed guidelines for play areas and public comment was sought on the proposed guidelines through the NPRM. The Access Board held a public hearing in Denver, Colorado during the comment period. Approximately 100 comments were received on the NPRM.

The Department of Justice must adopt the play area guidelines as standards for them to be enforceable under the ADA.