The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.) is a comprehensive civil rights law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Titles II and III of the ADA require, among other things, that newly constructed and altered State and local government buildings, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The Access Board is responsible for developing accessibility guidelines for the construction and alteration of such facilities so that they are accessible as required by the ADA. The Access Board initially issued the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) in 1991 (36 CFR part 1191, appendix A).

Under the ADA the Department of Justice is responsible for issuing regulations to implement titles II and III of the Act. The regulations issued by the Department of Justice include accessibility standards for newly constructed and altered facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA. These standards must be consistent with the accessibility guidelines issued by the Access Board. The Department of Justice has adopted ADAAG as its Standards for Accessible Design, published as appendix A to 28 CFR part 36 and intends to amend those standards by adding the alternate specifications adopted by the Access Board for building elements designed for use by children. Until such time as the Department of Justice adopts these guidelines as standards, the guidelines are advisory only and are not to be construed as requirements.

In 1986 the Access Board issued "Recommendations for Accessibility Guidelines to Serve Physically Handicapped Children in Elementary Schools." The report included recommended modifications or additions based on children's sizes to certain sections of an earlier accessibility rule, the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). The recommendations were developed to assist states in designing and constructing accessible elementary schools. Many states and localities have applied these recommendations to newly constructed schools serving grades one through six.

ADAAG as published in 1991 did not provide requirements based on children's dimensions. ADAAG includes a provision, 2.2 (Equivalent Facilitation), which permits departures from ADAAG requirements that provide equal or greater access. While this provision may serve as the basis for departures from ADAAG in designing for access according to children's dimensions, designers and others have sought specific guidance and technical criteria in this area.

In 1992, new recommendations were developed through a research project sponsored by the Access Board. The project studied accessibility requirements for children with disabilities at a variety of facilities. The Center for Accessible Housing (CAH) at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina conducted this study, which included a review of codes, standards, and guidelines, ergonomic studies and evaluation literature, and post-occupancy evaluations of children's facilities. This study focused on facilities serving pre-kindergarten and elementary school-aged children and, to a lesser extent, facilities serving infants and toddlers. The recommended guidelines developed from this study are known as "Recommendations for Accessibility Standards for Children's Environments," (referred to as the "CAH study" in the preamble to this rule).1

On February 3, 1993, the Access Board published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register (58 FR 6924). The ANPRM sought comment on general issues, such as the recommended scope of these guidelines and the ages or grades that should be covered. The ANPRM also requested information on standards or guidelines for children's environments currently in use, building products and technologies currently available that specifically serve children, and elements and features unique to children's environments that may merit specific attention. Approximately 75 comments were received in response to the ANPRM. Commenters included state and local departments of education, groups representing children with disabilities, plumbing fixture manufacturers, individuals, and design professionals. These comments were analyzed and used in the development of proposed guidelines.

On July 22, 1996, the Access Board issued jointly with the Department of Justice a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for children's facilities in the Federal Register (61 FR 37964). This rule proposed adding a special occupancy section to ADAAG entitled "15. Children's Facilities." The proposed rule modified ADAAG requirements for application to facilities or portions of facilities constructed primarily for use by children ages 2 through 12. Section 15 applied ADAAG 4.1 through 4.35 but modified various requirements. Requirements addressed reach ranges (15.2), protruding objects (15.3), handrails at ramps and stairs (15.4), drinking fountains and water coolers (15.5), water closets (15.6), toilet stalls (15.7), lavatories and mirrors (15.8), storage (15.9), and fixed or built-in seating and tables (15.10). The proposed rule asked questions about these elements and other design considerations concerning clear floor space, knee clearance, accessible routes, door hardware, urinals, sinks, and signage. The proposed rule did not address play settings or fixed play equipment which will be addressed in a separate rulemaking on recreational facilities. The Access Board and the Department of Justice distributed the proposed rule to state departments of education and education associations, the state building code authorities, and other responsible agencies of the 50 states to seek their input and comment.

Over 80 comments were received in response to the proposed rule. The following three groups each represented approximately a quarter of the commenters: parents of children with disabilities, most addressing the needs of children with dwarfism; accessibility consultants and designers, including several that specialize in the design of children's environments; and government entities, such as state departments of education and commissions on disability, local school districts, and several Federal agencies. The remainder of the comments were from local and national disability groups, manufacturers, various trade associations, a code organization, companies that provide child care services, and others. A summary of comments received may be found in the following General Issues section, the Section-by-Section Analysis, and the Other Issues section.