Innovate, Develop, and Maintain Accessibility Requirements

The Board will continue to develop and update accessibility guidelines and standards and work cooperatively with organizations that develop codes and standards affecting accessibility.  We have the following two objectives for this program area:

  • Complete pending rulemakings: Emergency Transportable Housing; Transportation Vehicles; Passenger Vessels; Public Rights-of-Way and Shared Use Paths; Medical Diagnostic Equipment; Information and Communication Technology; Self-Service Transaction Machines; and Classroom Acoustics.
  • Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the rulemaking process to ensure “state-of-the-art” accessibility guidelines and standards.

FY 2013 Results – Rulemaking

The status of current guidelines and standards efforts is presented below.

Outdoor Developed Areas

On September 26, 2013, we issued new accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas developed by the federal government.  The guidelines provide detailed specifications for accessible trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, beach access routes and other components of outdoor developed areas when newly built or altered.  They also provide exceptions for situations where terrain and other factors make compliance impracticable.  The guidelines apply to sites developed or altered by federal land management agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Army Corps of Engineers, among others.  Proposed guidelines for non-federal sites will be published for comment at a future date.

Emergency Transportable Housing

An advisory committee on emergency transportable housing was created in September 2007.  The Board organized the committee, which included representation from disability groups, industry and code groups, and government agencies, to provide recommendations on supplementing its guidelines to cover emergency transportable housing.  Access to such housing proved problematic in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  After verifying and examining the issues involved, the Board determined that supplementary guidelines were needed.  The committee completed its work and presented its report to the Board in November 2008.  The Board published a proposed rule in June 2012. The comment period closed in August 2012; one public hearing was held and 45 comments were received, including those from the public hearing. The Board approved a final rule in January 2014; it will be sent soon to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.

Transportation Vehicles Guidelines Update

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to revise and update the accessibility guidelines for buses, over-the-road buses, and vans covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was published in July 2010.  Two public hearings were held during the comment period that closed in November 2010.  One important issue was raised after the close of the comment period.  As a result, the Board re-opened the comment period for additional public input related to the late comments.  The commenters raised issues about the 1:6 ramp slope requirements and a new design that locates the shallower ramp partially inside the vehicle.  This design constrains the maneuvering space within the vehicle at the top of the ramp and at the fare box and creates a grade break within the ramp run.

During the extended comment period which ended in October 2012, the Board held two information meetings to gather input on these issues.  Because we do not want to delay rulemaking for subjects that do not require further development, we plan to move forward with the sections that have been vetted through public comment and that will result in better accessibility e.g., automated stop announcements.  Additional research needs will be identified along with a time schedule for completion of the remaining issues.

In May 2013, the Board formed a new 27-member federal advisory committee as part of its review and update of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles. The Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee will develop consensus recommendations for the Board's use in updating sections of the guidelines that cover vehicles of fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, intercity, and high speed rail. These guidelines, which were originally published in 1991, serve as the basis for standards that apply to new or remanufactured vehicles required to be accessible under the ADA. The committee's work will not extend to portions of the guidelines that address buses and vans, which the Board is already in the process of updating.

Passenger Vessels

On June 25, 2013, the Board released for public comment proposed guidelines for passenger vessels. Developed under the ADA, the guidelines provide design criteria for large vessels when newly constructed or altered to ensure that they are accessible to people with disabilities.  The guidelines address various features of vessel accessibility and include provisions for onboard routes, vertical access between decks, doorways and coamings, toilet rooms, guest rooms, alarm systems, and other spaces and elements used by passengers.  The Board’s guidelines apply to passenger vessels that are permitted to carry more than 150 passengers or more than 49 overnight passengers, all ferries, and certain tenders that carry 60 or more passengers.  On July 15, 2013, the Cruise Lines International Association requested that the 90-day comment period be extended by an additional 120 days to review and more fully assess the proposed rule. We extended the comment period to January 24, 2014.

Public Rights-of-Way and Shared Use Paths

In 2009, we contracted with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to assist the Board in finalizing a regulatory assessment for the public rights-of-way rulemaking.  An NPRM was published for public comment in July 2011. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

When the Board approved the draft final accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas, coverage of shared use paths was deferred to a future rulemaking.  Commenters on the outdoor developed areas rule had previously raised concerns about the need for differing guidelines for shared use paths.  Commenters noted that shared use paths differ from trails and typically are located in more developed outdoor areas, as opposed to the more primitive trail settings.  Unlike trails, they are designed to serve both bicyclists and pedestrians and are used for transportation and recreation purposes.  In September 2010, the Board held a public information meeting in conjunction with the ProWalk/ProBike 2010 Conference.  This meeting provided an opportunity for individuals with disabilities, designers of shared use paths, and others with expertise in this area to share information with the Board to assist in the development of new accessibility guidelines.  The Board then published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for shared use paths in March 2011.  In February 2013, the Board published a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to include requirements for shared use paths as part of the public rights-of-way rule.

Medical Diagnostic Equipment

We are developing accessibility standards for medical diagnostic equipment, including examination tables and chairs, weight scales, radiological equipment, and mammography equipment.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the Board to issue these standards in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration.  The standards are to address independent access to, and use of, equipment by people with disabilities to the maximum extent possible.

In July 2010, the Board held a public information meeting on this rulemaking to gather information from stakeholders, including consumers, equipment manufacturers, the health care industry, government agencies, and others with an interest in the new standards. 

A proposed rule was published in February 2012 and two public hearings were held. The comment period closed in June 2012 and 53 comments were received. In March 2012, the Board created a 24-member Medical Diagnostic Equipment Accessibility Standards federal advisory committee to advise the Board on matters associated with the comments the Board received and information it requested in proposing the standards.  The committee submitted its report to the Board in December 2013.  An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Information and Communications Technologies Update

In July 2006, the Board created an advisory committee to update and revise the Section 508 standards and the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines.  Forty-one organizations served on the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee.  The committee’s membership included representatives from industry, disability groups, standard-setting bodies in the U.S. and abroad, and government agencies, among others.  The committee completed its work and presented its report to the Board in April 2008.  In March 2010, the Board published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to update the Board’s Information and Communication Technology guidelines and standards based on the committee’s report.  A second ANPRM was published in December 2011.  The public comment period ended in March 2012 and two public hearings were held.  Ninety-one separate commenters filed comments or spoke at the hearings. We have contracted with Econometrica to assist the Board in preparing a regulatory assessment for this rulemaking.  The Board approved a proposed rule in February 2014; it will be sent soon to OMB for review.

Self-Service Transaction Machines

The Departments of Justice and Transportation (DOT) have related rulemakings on self-service transaction machines.  As a result, we have worked collaboratively with them to develop a single set of technical requirements that can be referenced and scoped by each participating agency.  On November 12, 2013 DOT published its rule on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Accessibility of Web Sites and Automated Kiosks at U.S. Airports.  The DOT requirements for automated kiosks at U.S. airports are derived from the technical requirements we helped develop and are consistent with our requirements for automatic teller machines and fare machines, as well as the current requirements of section 508 for self-contained, closed products.  In 2010, DOJ published an ANPRM on Equipment and Furniture that would cover kiosks, interactive transaction machines, and point-of-sale devices, among other things.

We have contracted with Econometrica to assist the Board in preparing a preliminary regulatory assessment which will be structured as an environmental scan that will assist us to develop a better sense of the types and numbers of machines potentially covered by this rule. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a proposed rule.

Classroom Acoustics

The Board was petitioned in 1997 to include classroom acoustics provisions in revisions then underway to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines; lack of notice precluded this.  Instead, in 1998 the Board published a Request for Information that was strongly supported in comment by parents and by audiology and acoustics professionals.  Opposition was largely based upon assumed cost increases when weighed against undemonstrated efficacy.  The Board has worked hard to resolve these issues.

Instead of pursuing rulemaking at the time, the Board participated in the development of a voluntary consensus standard on the topic.  In 2002, the ANSI/ASA S12.60 Classroom Acoustics Standard was finalized.  However, the standard is voluntary until it is required to be complied with.  In 2009, the Board worked to revise the standard to make it easier to reference in the International Building Code to make the voluntary standard mandatory. Revisions to the standard were finalized in April 2010.  The Board then sought to have the new standard adopted by the International Code Council (ICC) so that it would be a required part of the International Building Code.  However, the Board’s proposal was defeated.  Therefore, at its July 2010 meeting, the Board approved a motion to go forward with rulemaking to reference the ANSI/ASA standard for new classroom construction and for alterations of significant scope.

We have contracted with the National Institute for Building Sciences to complete the regulatory assessment for a proposed rule.  Phase 1 of the draft assessment has been completed; phase 2, a case study model will be funded in FY 2014.

Best Practices for Making Prescription Drug Container Label Information Accessible to Persons Who are Blind or Visually-Impaired or Who are Elderly

The Board led an effort to develop advisory guidance on making prescription drug container labels accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired or who are elderly. This initiative is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.  A provision of the Act (section 904) authorized the Board to convene a working group to develop best practices for making information on prescription drug container labels accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Shortly after the law was enacted, the Board formed a Working Group on Accessible Prescription Drug Container Labels, an 18-member stakeholder panel comprised of representatives from advocacy organizations and industry. The working group explored various access alternatives, including braille, large print labels, and auditory technologies such as “talking bottles” and radio frequency identification tags. On July 10, 2013, the working group submitted to the Board best practices for pharmacies on providing independent access to prescription drug container labels.  These recommendations are advisory only, not mandatory, and will not have the force of guidelines or standards.  The law also calls upon the National Council on Disability to conduct an informational and educational campaign in cooperation with the stakeholder working group to inform the public, including people with disabilities and pharmacists, of the best practices. The Comptroller General will undertake a review at a later date to assess the extent to which pharmacies are following the best practices and to what extent barriers to information on prescription drug container labels remain.

FY 2014 Planned Activities – Rulemaking

In FY 2013, it is our objective to issue two final guidelines and one proposed rules:

  • Final rule on emergency transportable housing
  • Final rule on transportation vehicles (buses, vans, and over-the-road buses)
  • NPRM on information and communications technology

FY 2015 Objectives – Rulemaking

In FY 2015, it is our objective to issue four final rules:

  • Final rule on medical diagnostic equipment
  • Final rule on public rights-of-way and shared use paths
  • Final rule on information and communications technology
  • Final rule on passenger vessels

FY 2013 Results – Codes and Standards

Adoption of Board Guidelines as Enforceable Standards

In order for the Board’s accessibility guidelines to become enforceable, other federal agencies must generally complete rulemaking to adopt the guidelines as standards.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service use the Board’s guidelines to develop enforceable standards under the Architectural Barriers Act.  The Departments of Justice and Transportation use the Board’s guidelines to develop enforceable standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  To date, all standard-setting agencies except the Department of Housing and Urban Development have adopted the Board’s guidelines.

Voluntary Consensus Standards

Our long-range goal is to take a leadership role in the development of codes and standards for accessibility.  The Board works with model codes organizations and voluntary consensus standards groups that develop and periodically revise codes and standards affecting accessibility.  We have voting membership in several codes and standards organizations, and monitor or are actively involved in the development or revision of dozens of other codes and standards affecting accessibility.  Some of the codes and standards groups that we work with include the ICC/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117 Committee; American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) A18 Platform Lift and Stairway Chair Lift Committee; National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Disability Access Review Advisory Committee; National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS); World Wide Web Consortium (W3C); Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Academy of Science; National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP); Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Standards Committee on Cognitive Technologies; National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices; and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Committee on Playground Surfacing Systems.

We believe this goal enhances the Board’s credibility as a knowledgeable source of information regarding technical aspects of accessibility.  Additionally, by working cooperatively with model codes organizations and standards-setting organizations, federal and private codes and standards will be more similar, or harmonized, and the Board will be more alert to non-federal influences affecting its constituencies.  Harmonization between federal and private requirements will make it more likely that buildings and facilities will be accessible, thus reducing the necessity for complaints and litigation.

Two Access Board members serve as members of the Technical Guidelines Development Committee and the Board of Advisors, which provide recommendations to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) under the Help America Vote Act.  We are also a member of the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy, which is the body that is responsible for overseeing the use of standards by federal agencies in accordance with the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act.

FY 2014 Planned Activities – Codes and Standards

We will continue to work with the private sector codes and standards organizations to harmonize the Board’s guidelines with model codes and standards and with the EAC in the development of updated voluntary voting system guidelines under the Help America Vote Act.

The EAC adopted the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) in December 2005.  The EAC is working on the next version of the VVSG based on draft guidelines from the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC).  The TGDC draft guidelines were delivered to the EAC in August 2007.  The TGDC’s draft is a complete rewrite of the 2005 guidelines and is intended to address the next generation of voting systems.  The guidelines contain new and expanded material in the areas of reliability and quality, usability and accessibility, security, and testing.  They have not yet been adopted by the EAC and work remains in progress to refine these guidelines.

FY 2015 Objectives – Codes and Standards

We will continue to collaborate with the EAC and will continue our efforts to harmonize the Board’s guidelines with model codes and standards, including the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.