Commenters were split as to whether the Department should exempt owners and operators of public accommodations from compliance with the supplemental requirements for play areas and recreation facilities and instead continue to determine accessibility in these facilities on a case-by-case basis under existing law. Many commenters were of the view that the exemption was not necessary because concerns of financial burden are addressed adequately by the defenses inherent in the standard for what constitutes readily achievable barrier removal. A number of commenters found the exemption inappropriate because no standards for play areas previously existed. Commenters also were concerned that a safe harbor applicable only to play areas and recreation facilities (but not to other facilities operated by a public accommodation) would create confusion, significantly limit access for children and parents with disabilities, and perpetuate the discrimination and segregation individuals with disabilities face in the important social arenas of play and recreation—areas where little access has been provided in the absence of specific standards. Many commenters suggested that instead of an exemption, the Department should provide guidance on barrier removal with respect to play areas and other recreation facilities.
The NPRM also asked for comment about the potential effect of exempting existing play areas of less than 1,000 square feet in size from the requirements applicable to play areas. Many trade and business associations favored exempting these small play areas, with some arguing that where the play areas are only ancillary amenities, the cost of barrier removal may dictate that they be closed down. Some commenters sought guidance on the definition of a 1,000-square-foot play area, seeking clarification that seating and bathroom spaces associated with a play area are not included in the size definition. Disability rights advocates, by contrast, overwhelmingly opposed this exemption, arguing that these play areas may be some of the few available in a community; that restaurants and day care facilities are important places for socialization between children with disabilities and those without disabilities; that integrated play is important to the mission of day care centers and that many day care centers and play areas in large cities, such as New York City, have play areas that are less than 1,000 square feet in size; and that 1,000 square feet was an arbitrary size requirement.
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General Safe Harbor. Advocacy expressed support for the Department’s proposal to allow an element-by-element safe harbor for elements that now comply with the 1991 Standards and encouraged the Department to include specific technical assistance in the Small Business Compliance Guide that the Department is required to publish pursuant to section 212 of the SBREFA, 5 U.S.C. 610 et seq. Advocacy requested that technical assistance outlining which standards are subject to the safe harbor be included in the Department’s guidance. The Department has provided a list of the new requirements in the 2010 Standards that are not eligible for the safe harbor in § 36.304(d)(2)(iii)(A)–(L) of the final rule and plans to include additional information about the application of the safe harbor in the Department’s Small Business Compliance Guide. Advocacy also requested that guidance regarding the two effective dates for regulations also be provided, and the Department plans to include such guidance in its Small Business Compliance Guide.
The 1991 title III regulation did not contain specific regulatory language on ticketing. The ticketing policies and practices of public accommodations, however, are subject to title III's nondiscrimination provisions. Through the investigation of complaints, enforcement actions, and public comments related to ticketing, the Department became aware that some venue operators, ticket sellers, and distributors were violating title III's nondiscrimination mandate by not providing individuals with disabilities the same opportunities to purchase tickets for accessible seating as provided to spectators purchasing conventional seats. In the NPRM, the Department proposed § 36.302(f) to provide explicit direction and guidance on discriminatory practices for entities involved in the sale or distribution of tickets.
The Department's NPRM asked ‘‘whether additional regulatory guidance is required or appropriate in terms of a more detailed or set schedule for the release of tickets in conjunction with the three approaches described above. For example, does the proposed regulation address the variable needs of assembly areas covered by the ADA? Is additional regulatory guidance required to eliminate discriminatory policies, practices and procedures related to the sale, hold, and release of accessible seating? What considerations should appropriately inform the determination of when unsold accessible seating can be released to the general public?'' 73 FR 34508, 34527 (June 17, 2008).
Safe harbor for qualified small businesses. Section 36.304(d)(5) of the NPRM would have provided that a qualified small business would meet its obligation to remove architectural barriers where readily achievable for a given year if, during that tax year, the entity spent at least 1 percent of its gross revenue in the preceding tax year on measures undertaken in compliance with barrier removal requirements. Proposed § 36.304(d)(5) has been omitted from the final rule. The qualified small business safe harbor was proposed in response to small business advocates' requests for clearer guidance on when barrier removal is, and is not, readily achievable. According to these groups, the Department's approach to readily achievable barrier removal disproportionately affects small business for the following reasons: (1) Small businesses are more likely to operate in older buildings and facilities; (2) the 1991 Standards are too numerous and technical for most small business owners to understand and determine how they relate to State and local building or accessibility codes; and (3) small businesses are vulnerable to title III litigation and often are compelled to settle because they cannot afford the litigation costs involved in proving that an action is not readily achievable.
Prohibition against surcharges for use of a service animal. In the NPRM, the Department proposed to incorporate the previously mentioned policy guidance, which prohibits the assessment of a surcharge for the use of a service animal, into proposed § 36.302(c)(8). Several commenters agreed that this provision makes clear the obligation of a place of public accommodation to admit an individual with a service animal without surcharges, and that any additional costs imposed should be factored into the overall cost of doing business and passed on as a charge to all participants, rather than an individualized surcharge to the service animal user. Commenters also noted that service animal users cannot be required to comply with other requirements that are not generally applicable to other persons. If a public accommodation normally charges individuals for the damage they cause, an individual with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animals. The Department has retained this language, with minor modifications, in the final rule at § 36.302(c)(8).
Because there was little to no support for the Department's proposed use of gross revenue and no workable alternatives are available at this time, the Department will not adopt a small business safe harbor in this final rule. Small business public accommodations are subject to the barrier removal requirements set out in § 36.304 of the final rule. In addition, the Department plans to provide small businesses with more detailed guidance on assessing and meeting their barrier removal obligations in a small business compliance guide.
The 2010 Standards now establish detailed guidance for newly constructed and altered assembly areas, which is provided in § 36.406(f), and these Standards will serve as a new guide for barrier removal. Accordingly, the former § 36.308(a) has been replaced in the final rule. Assembly areas will benefit from the same safe harbor provisions applicable to barrier removal in all places of public accommodations as provided in § 36.304(d)(2) of the final rule.