The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has updated its regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. A major part of this update is the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, scheduled to go into effect on March 15, 2012 and designed for small businesses.

These new guidelines mainly apply to businesses that provide goods or services to the public (also known as public accommodations). Contractors with commercial clients need to know what will be expected of them when customers start querying them to bring their businesses up to code.

The ADA has taken into account a smaller business’ financial burden as well as the need for accessibility. To that end, if a business is already adhering to certain 1991 standards it does not have to upgrade to the 2010 revisions next year. Also, many of the upgrades are relatively inexpensive to accomplish.

The Element-by-Element Safe Harbor provision section typically applies to structures built since 1991. For example, the 1991 standard requires a mounting height for light switches and thermostats to 54 inches from the floor while the 2010 standard requires them to be mounted at 48 inches. If a business already has the switches at the 54-inch height, no further adjustment is needed. However, as the provision indicates, these exceptions are on an element-by-element basis.

The deadline for meeting the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design was set for March 15, 2012 to allow businesses sufficient time to plan for implementing the new standards. More details on compliance dates can be found at the ADA website.

—Mark A. Newman, senior editor, REMODELING.