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Americans with Disabilities Act updates go into effect in March, 2012

Updates to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act could affect local businesses that plan to renovate their buildings or construct new facilities in the next couple years.

The law, which took effect in 1991, was to ensure that people with disabilities have access to public facilities. The U.S. Department of Justice approved new ADA standards in September that update the 20-year old legislation.

Changes include providing access for disabled people who use Segway stand-up scooters, and requiring hotels and entertainment venues to provide detailed information about their accessibility accommodations. New requirements also have been created for gyms, golf courses, swimming pools, and other recreational facilities.

While the new rules took effect last month, changes that affect building construction won't be enforced until next year. Companies doing new or updated construction before March 15, 2012, are required to adhere only to the 1991 standards. Businesses that change their buildings on or after that date will be required to implement the new rules.

The guidelines, which are detailed in a 250-page document, could be tricky to navigate for many businesses, said Janis Reyes, assistant chief counsel with the U.S. Small Business Administration's advocacy office.

"I would definitely call an ADA specialist or an ADA attorney, because you want to make sure you're doing the right thing," she said.

The Ability Center of Greater Toledo hosts monthly teleconferences for businesses that want to know how they can comply with federal rules.

An April 19 conference call will detail the new guidelines for recreation businesses.

Ash Lemons, director of housing and advocacy for the center, said he expects the center will hold workshops later this year for companies that are trying to grasp recent changes to the law.

"It's going to be a learning curve for everyone," he said.

Patrick Andrews, president and CEO of Accessible Renovations Inc. in Rossford, expects that his construction company will receive more business as firms update their buildings to comply with new standards.

His business, which has two employees, specializes in projects that improve accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities.

"With this new mandate, I'm sure they'll be looking for help to bring them into compliance," said Mr. Andrews, who said retailers, medical facilities, government buildings, and other public facilities could need assistance with ADA updates.

Information about ADA changes, including a guide for small businesses, is available at 800-514-0301 or ada.gov.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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