Day in and day out, state and local governments are challenged to increase their services to more diverse populations. Expectations rise. Resources shrink.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require that you ensure equal access to your services and programs – whatever those services and programs are – to people with disabilities.

You probably know that major changes to the ADA regulations and accessibility standards — the first since the original ones issued in 1991 — were made final in September 2010 by the Department of Justice (DOJ). (Learn about managing ADA changes.)

You may know that the 2010 regulations don’t require new self-evaluations and transition plans. But did you know?…

By March 15, 2011, you were required to make changes to reflect many of the 2010 policy-related mandates.

These include standards for Video Remote Interpreting and a requirement that, if you use an automated-attendant phone system (including voice mail and messaging, or an interactive voice response system), the system must provide effective real-time communication with individuals using auxiliary aids and services, including TTYs and all forms of FCC-approved telecommunications relay systems. You should have in place a policy about when and under what conditions you will allow individuals with disabilities who use Segways and similar devices to access your facilities. And you must be prepared to admit individuals with disabilities who use miniature horses as service animals, in some situations.

If you offer examinations or courses, you face more specific limitations on the types of documentation you can require in order to decide whether individuals should be granted disability-related modifications, such as extended time. And if you sell tickets to events such as performances and sporting events, you must modify your policies to ensure equitable opportunities to purchase accessible seating, according to detailed provisions in the new regulations.

You had until March 15, 2012, to bring reservation policies for hotel rooms (such as those in conference centers) into compliance with new requirements.

You may need to consider a do-over of self-evaluations (of policies and practices) and transition plans (of how to make your programs and buildings physically accessible). Yours are probably out of date if they were done “on time” in 1992.

And it will be difficult to comply with the new requirements unless you do some type of planning and assessment.

You probably know that the Department of Justice has conducted compliance reviews or investigations of state and local facilities and services through its Project Civic Access (PCA).

But did you know?…

Through PCA, DOJ has literally gone to every state. It has reached agreements with more than 200 counties, towns, and cities, large and small.

You can learn how to assess – and probably change – your facilities and programs by seeing what others have done under PCA and using the Tool Kit for State and Local Governments, which DOJ developed from its PCA experience.

You probably know that program access and ensuring effective communication with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities can cost money, and you have competing demands on your funds. (Learn about managing ADA changes.)

But did you know …?

Equal access doesn’t require exorbitant spending. Cost, reasonableness, and administrative burden are all taken into account by the laws and regulations. It’s important for you to know what’s required and what isn’t required, so that you can spend your financial and human resources in the most effective way.

Irene Bowen has one-of-a-kind insights and experience with title II

  • Co-authored 1991 DOJ regulations and accessibility standards
  • Developed and settled comprehensive review of Toledo, Ohio’s facilities and programs, which became model for Project Civic Access
  • Actively involved in development of DOJ’s proposed ADA regulations (June 2008), precursors to the 2010 final regulations
  • Hands-on experience with towns’ and universities’ plans for access and emergency preparedness, effective communication, health care, law enforcement and corrections, and policy issues
  • Up-to-date understanding of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
  • Ability to apply Fair Housing Act and various section 504 rules (including DOT’s and HUD’s), having negotiated many of them while at DOJ
  • Regularly trains – and learns from – state and local government officials and ADA coordinators, including as a Board member and presenter for the National Association of ADA Coordinators