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Accessibility will be a Required Part of Recovery Act Projects

From the Access Board

The recent stimulus bill, also known as the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” funds a wide array of projects and programs to jump start the economy and create jobs. The $787 billion measure provides aid to cities and states, supports tax cuts, and funds initiatives to improve infrastructure, transportation, energy efficiency, education, and health care. Various Federal agencies are responsible for spending and distributing stimulus funds. It is important that these agencies and funding recipients comply with all applicable laws, including those protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

Relevant laws include the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and the Rehabilitation Act which make accessibility a condition of federal funding. The ABA requires access to facilities designed, built, altered or leased with federal funds. The Rehabilitation Act covers access to federally funded programs, federal employment, and electronic and information technology in the federal sector. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is modeled in part on these earlier laws, applies similar requirements to the state and local government sector and private sector entities whether or not federal funding is involved. The ADA bans discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services, transportation, and the built environment.

Standards issued under these laws include ADA standards for facilities and transportation vehicles, ABA standards for federally funded facilities, and standards for electronic and information technology issued under the Rehabilitation Act (Section 508). The Access Board, which leads the development and upkeep of these standards and provides technical assistance and training on them to the public, is available to provide further guidance on their use in Recovery Act projects. The Board also offers supplementary resources that address how access can be achieved in certain areas, such as streetscapes and outdoor sites. The nature and scope of projects and the funding involved determine which standards and available references to follow.

Facility Construction and Renovation

The Recovery Act funds the construction and renovation of federal buildings, including U.S. courthouses, customs and border protection facilities, and other facilities operated by federal agencies. These and most other construction or renovation projects undertaken with federal dollars must meet the ABA accessibility standards. State and local government facilities, as well as places of public accommodation and commercial facilities, must comply with ADA standards in new construction and alterations (whether or not federal funds are used).

Transportation Systems

The Recovery Act supports projects to improve and expand public transportation throughout the nation. The ADA comprehensively covers access to public transportation. New and altered facilities, including rail stations, bus stops, and airports, are subject to ADA standards for transportation facilities. New or remanufactured buses, vans, rail cars, and other modes of public transit must meet ADA standards for transportation vehicles. Compliance with the ADA transportation standards will also help entities fulfill obligations of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) that apply to transportation systems receiving federal funds.

Streetscapes, Outdoor Sites, and Recreation Facilities

It is important that accessibility is integrated into Recovery Act projects involving public streets and sidewalks, parks and other outdoor sites, and recreation facilities. The Board is currently developing new guidelines for public rights-of-ways, which focus on access to sidewalks and streets, and guidelines for outdoor developed areas that cover trails, camp sites, picnic areas, and beach access routes. Both guidelines will ultimately supplement ADA and ABA standards by providing further detail on achieving access in these areas. Draft or proposed versions of the guidelines released by the Board can be used at this time as an interim resource until guidelines are finalized. In addition, final guidelines for play areas and other recreation facilities are available and included in updated versions of the ABA and ADA standards.

Information Technology

It is likely that Recovery Act money will be used to acquire or upgrade IT systems and infrastructure. Electronic and information technologies procured by federal agencies must be accessible under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and meet the Board’s 508 standards. These standards cover computer hardware and software, websites, phone systems, videos, copiers, and similar technologies. Non-federal entities can follow these standards voluntarily to make sure acquired technology is accessible.

Technical assistance and training on the standards and accessible design is available from the Board through its toll-free help line at (800) 872-2253 (voice) or (800) 993-2822 (TTY), or by email at (technical assistance) or (training).

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