Safe Harbor

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Keeping up with Changes to the ADA – “Safe Harbor”

“How do I keep up with constant code changes to the ADA?”

I’ve heard building owners and property managers lament “How do we keep up with accessibility code changes?” The Safe Harbor provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide relief for facility owners that complied with the 1991 Standards for Accessible Design (1991 Standards).

What are the Safe Harbor Provisions of the ADA?

The ADA contains a provision – the Safe Harbor Provision – which exempts building and site elements which were installed in accordance with the 1991 Standards from complying with the more rigorous requirements of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards). This exception is in force unless the facility was altered after the initial construction was completed. Such facilities are not required to  comply with the 2010 Standards until such time as alterations to the premises are planned.

Elements that are ineligible for Safe Harbor

There are some elements that are not eligible for protection under the Safe Harbor rule. Safe Harbor does not apply to elements in existing facilities for which there are neither technical nor scoping specifications in the 1991 Standards. These elements must be modified to the extent readily achievable to comply with the 2010 Standards. Some elements not eligible for safe harbor are:

  • Residential facilities and dwelling units;
  • Amusement rides;
  • Recreational boating facilities;
  • Exercise machines and equipment;
  • Fishing piers and platforms;
  • Golf and Miniature Golf facilities;
  • Play areas;
  • Saunas and steam rooms;
  • Swimming pools, wading pools, and spas.
The information provided in this article is based upon my review of the Americans with Disabilities Act, The 2010 Accessibility Guidelines, the Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Regulations.  And the Title III Technical Assistance Manual. It describes what I have found to be the most common issues encountered during my ADA investigations. For a more complete review of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) please refer to the law, regulations and standards referenced, herein.
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