Where are APS Required?
Currently in the U.S., APS are typically installed upon request along a specific route of travel for a particular individual, or group of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Various states and municipalities have established policies on installation of APS, some of which may not be in accordance with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requirements.
Section 504 and ADA requirements
As discussed in Chapter 1, since 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has required nondiscrimination in all programs, services, and activities receiving federal financial assistance. The ADA requirements for state and local governments extend and increase the requirements in the Rehabilitation Act, requiring newly constructed or altered public facilities to be accessible, regardless of the funding source.
The specific requirement in ADA for effective communication was discussed in Chapter 1. A recent publication by the Federal Highway Administration specifically mentions accessible pedestrian signals as a means to communicate information:
"Implementing regulations for Title II of the ADA, which covers State and local governments, also address "communications and information access," requiring 'effective communications' with persons with disabilities. In the sidewalk/street crossing environment, this would include accessible pedestrian signals, markings and signage." (FHWA, 2004).
Where there are pedestrian signals, this may require the installation of accessible pedestrians signals to provide access to signal information for pedestrians who are blind or who have low vision.
ADA standards for Public Rights of Way
As discussed in Chapter 1, ADA standards that specifically address the public rights-of-way have not yet been finalized. Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way (proposed PROWAG) were published July 26, 2011. These minimum technical standards would require APS at all newly constructed or reconstructed intersections where visual pedestrian signals are installed.
Accessibility still required
ADA Accessibility Guidelines are minimum guidelines for new construction or reconstruction, and must be applied to the maximum extent feasible in alterations, renovations, or additions.
While the ADA does not require going back and reconstructing all intersections and locations, it does require improving accessibility when work is performed at a location. When an intersection is being completely reconstructed, the expectation is that new construction guidelines can and will be met. See the section in Chapter 6 on new construction for a description of the elements covered by the proposed PROWAG.
When certain elements of an intersection are being upgraded, the accessibility features should also be upgraded to new construction standards to "the maximum extent feasible." The "maximum extent feasible" is explained in the Title II regulations issued by the Department of Justice.
Self-evaluation and Transition plans
When the ADA regulations were published in 1992, the Department of Justice extended the Section 504 requirement for transition plans and required a 'self-evaluation' by all public entities (28 CFR, Part 35.105 Self-evaluation). The goal was that eventually each service, facility and activity of the state or local government, when viewed in its entirety, would be accessible to individuals with disabilities. If structural changes are required to existing facilities to provide program accessibility, a transition plan is required, and 28 CFR, Part 35.150 d discusses the elements of a transition plan. A summary from FHWA Office of Civil Rights provides a short description of requirements:
"A public entity may not deny the benefits of its programs, activities, and services to persons with disabilities because existing facilities are inaccessible.
- State and local governments of 50 employees or more were required to prepare a self-evaluation plan to identify program access issues (Rehabilitation Act (1973), section 504).
- From this, a transition plan was to be developed to modify inaccessible services, policies and practices. This includes removing barriers and inaccessible features.
- Transition plan work was to have been completed by January 1995.
- If work was not completed by that date, those entities are out of compliance.
- Many states and localities are out of compliance and this makes them more susceptible to lawsuits.
- Ways of complying with the law are to have an ongoing transition plan for improving existing facilities and providing a citizen's request program for accessible parking, curb ramps, Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) and removing sidewalk and street crossing barriers." (McMillen, 2002)
APS in transition plans
Some municipalities have considered the addition of APS at intersections as part of their ADA transition plan, but many have not. As part of their compliance with ADA, municipalities may need to establish a plan to prioritize and make decisions about installation of APS at "unaltered" intersections:
- Where a request for APS is received
- Where there is insufficient information for street crossing using non-visual clues
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