June 25, 2008

On May 12, the Board held a town meeting in St. Louis at the America's Center in conjunction with the Great Plains ADA Center's National ADA Symposium. The event provided a forum for members of the public to advise the Board on issues of concern to them and to ask questions about accessibility or the work of the Board. The meeting and Symposium drew attendance not only from the St. Louis area, but also from other cities across the country, including Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Boston, and San Diego, among others.

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Board members listen to comments from the public at the St. Louis town meeting.

A number of participants raised concerns about air travel and access at airports and aboard planes. Comments addressed the need for the visual display or captioning of announcements in airports for travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing and adequate accommodations for those who travel with service animals. Attention was also called to airline baggage policies that may impact passengers who travel with assistive devices or medical equipment, frequent reports of damaged wheelchairs and powered mobility devices that cannot be stowed in cabins, and various industry trends, such as the growing use of commuter planes and smaller aircraft that are boarded by stairs instead of jetways. The Board noted that many aspects of access to air travel are governed by the Air Carrier Access Act and that the U.S. Department of Transportation, the enforcing agency, was about to issue updated regulations issued under the law. The Board is also examining access issues related to the design of airports through a focus initiative.

Various questions were posed and recommendations provided concerning specifications for the design of facilities. Several focused on bathroom and hotel room access, including the provision of seats in roll-in showers, questions about how the minimum dimensions of such showers are to be measured, and the need to limit the height of hotel beds to facilitate transfer. Participants also urged the Board to take action or provide guidance on addressing the opening force of exterior doors, accessible traffic signals, the provision of closed captioning in movie theaters, and procuring software that is compliant under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Attendees also sought updates on various rulemaking initiatives and raised enforcement issues. The Board noted the status and next steps of efforts to develop new guidelines for public rights-of-way and outdoor developed areas. Many wanted to know when the U.S. Department of Justice would adopt updated standards under the ADA. In addition, several commenters called attention to common barriers and stressed the need for more rigorous enforcement of the ADA and its design requirements to improve compliance.

In addition to the town meeting, the Board also conducted a series of break-out sessions at the Symposium. These well-attended sessions covered public rights-of-way, recreation facilities, bathroom access, the ADA guidelines and the International Building Code, and information technology and e-government. They provided an opportunity for the Board to address in greater depth many of the technical questions raised in the town meeting.

While in St. Louis, the Board toured Busch Stadium and received a briefing by designers from HOK Sport on how accessibility was integrated into its design. Board members also visited the Central Institute for the Deaf to examine firsthand its pioneering work on quite classrooms, which are designed to promote good acoustics for quality learning environments. During the visit, audiologists and acoustical designers briefed the Board on efforts to promote implementation of acoustical standards developed for classrooms.