ACRL

College & Research Libraries News

Washington Hotline

Carol C. Henderson

Deputy Director, ALA Washington Office

(202) 547-4440; (ALA0025)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides major new civil rights protections for disabled persons, was signed into law by President Bush on July 26, 1990. Many of the provisions take effect on January 26, 1992, eighteen months after enactment, and college and research librarians should be aware of the Act’s requirements.

The new law (PL 101-336) prohibits discrimination against the disabled in employment, public accommodations, public services, and transportation. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against a disabled person who can perform the essential functions of the job. Unless it would create an undue hardship requiring significant difficulty or expense in light of several factors listed in the statute, employers must make reasonable accommodation for the disabled.

Private entities such as libraries are generally considered public accommodations and are prohibited from discriminating against the disabled. Such entities must remove architectural barriers if readily achievable, or use alternative methods to provide services. New construction and renovation of public accommodations are required to be accessible.

Many of the provisions of the law are based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination against disabled persons by recipients of federal funds. Virtually all campus libraries were already covered by those provisions. Nevertheless, libraries should review policies for compliance.

Regulations or guidelines to implement the ADA were published in the July 26, 1991, Federal Register:

• The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board issued final guidelines (56 FR 35409-542) to assist the Department of Justice to establish accessibility standards for new construction and alterations in places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. Section 8 of the guidelines applies specifically to libraries and is generally taken from the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards.

Several commenters reacting to the earlier proposed guidelines expressed concern about the lack of requirements for braille and voice input/output terminals for catalogs. The Board did not address this matter, saying that it was under the purview of the Department of Justice. However, the Justice Department did not address the issue in its rules listed below.

• The Department of Justice published rules implementing ADA title III relating to public accommodations (56 FR 35544-604), and on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services under the ADA (56 FR 35694-723).

• The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published rules on Equal Employment for Individuals With Disabilities under the ADA (56 FR 35726-56).

The American Council on Education has assembled a packet of information on the ADA by the legal firm Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn. The ACE packet or further information may be available locally through your campus disability service director or coordinator. You may also contact ACE’s Project HEATH (Higher Education and Adult Training for people with Handicaps). The director of HEATH is Rhona C. Hartman, HEATH Resource Center, One Dupont Circle, Washington, DC 20036-1193; phone (202) 939-9320 or (800) 544-3284 (voice/ TDD on both lines) or fax (202) 833-4760. The ACE materials are quite helpful but are not geared to specific library situations.

From these materials it appears that most campuses have been complying with the spirit and letter of the ADA. However, additional accommodations may be required on some campuses. The ADA is expected to be enforced more aggressively than the Rehabilitation Act. Finally, and most importantly, the ADA will significantly increase opportunitiesfor disabled persons. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 10.5 percent of students enrolled at all levels of postsecondary education have one or more handicapping conditions.

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