American with Disabilities Act
The American With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law which prohibits discrimination of individuals with disabilities. The law is divided into four major sections: employment, public accommodation, public services and transportation and telecommunications. All ACM events including ACM SIG, ACM Chapter and ACM Local SIG meetings must be in full compliance with this law and the purpose of this memo is to assist event organizers with this compliance.
Key points to address are:
- Language must appear in all contracts to assure compliance.
- Obtaining information or needs in advance from attendees will allow better planning and the resulting effect will probably be a savings of significant money.
- It is important to obtain resource information in advance of your meeting.
On July 26, 1990 the American with Disabilities Act was signed into law in the United States. Its aim is to draw disabled persons into the mainstream of public life, to welcome them into full participation in society so that they not live isolated dependent lives. The new law is actually an extension of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits all recipients of federal funds from discriminating in services and employment on the basis of disability. Under the provisions of the ADA, discrimination against the disabled is prohibited in public and private sectors alike, regardless of funding sources. Of special importance to the meetings industry is Title III of the law, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled by those who operate places of "public accommodation," such as hotels, restaurants, retail stores, arenas, and other public gathering places which include most, if not all facilities used by meeting planners. The law states that associations and companies become public accommodations" when they lease space for a meeting, convention, or trade show. The sponsoring organization then assumes responsibility for accessibility. Practically speaking, however, both parties are responsible. The hotel or convention center has the primary obligation to ensure that the facility is physically accessible to the disabled but the act leaves it up to the parties to determine who should provide auxiliary aids, such as assistive listening systems, when they are necessary at a meeting. The law only sets out a performance standard, a goal to be achieved. In the case of a meeting, the program, as well as the building in which the meeting is held must be accessible to disabled individuals.
As mentioned above, public facilities are also required to provide auxiliary aids to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing and vision impairments. These might include assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters, or material in braille. However, personal items like hearing aids or wheelchairs need not be provided. Auxiliary aids and services must be made available to the disabled at no cost. The act states that an auxiliary aid that would result in "undue burden or fundamental alteration" in the nature of the goods or services provided by the public accommodation is not required.
The effective date of this Act's provision for "public accommodation" is January 26, 1992.
Penalties for noncompliance in existing or new buildings (or public accommodations) start at $50,000 where best effort proof cannot be shown.
Making Meetings Available to Individuals with Disabilities
It is important that all meeting planners (including volunteers) be aware of the provisions of this Act and all accommodations that are possible be made to individuals with disabilities. The Act recognizes that changes will take time, but compliance should not be taken lightly. ACM wishes to make all accommodations possible to make its valuable programs accessible to all.
There are several things that will assist you in being prepared to comply with this Act. They are:
- Include a question on your registration form about "special needs." It is not necessary or advisable to make special reference to the word "disabled," rather the question could read "Do you have any special needs?" This will allow you to better plan to make the facilities and program accessible to all. Be sure to stress the importance of this information to whoever is collecting/receiving registration forms so plans can be made in advance.
- Include a barrier-free room category on your hotel reservation form. Insist that hotels guarantee reservations for persons requiring such rooms.
- Hotel specification sheets and request for proposals should address the disability issue. A planner should ask whether or not facilities and services are accessible. Be sure to distinguish between mobility, accessibility, visual accessibility, or hearing accessibility.
- Make sure hotel and meeting contracts contain a clause indicating that the facility or company meets ADA requirements. An example would be: "The Hotel/Facility ensures that the meeting facility meets with the accessibility requirements as outlined by the Amereicans with Disabilities Act (90/7/26)."
- If you are providing transportation for attendees be sure to consider if special transportation facilities are needed for the movement of attendees with wheelchairs.
- In the planning of your meeting consider if the meeting room floors have nonslip surfaces negotiable by persons in wheelchairs. Also, be sure there is adequate space for wheelchairs to be dispersed throughout the room, within easy viewing of safe and accessible exits.
- If hearing-impaired persons are attending your meeting be sure to consider what kind of assistive listening devices you will need to provide. Possibly plan to have a sign interpreter. Consider if they will need any special in-room amenities, such as a vibrating alarm clock or a TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) telephone system.
- If visually-impaired persons are attending your meeting, consider what assistance they will need.
- Be sure to ask your Convention Services Manager, or a member of the hotel staff, if they will provide a list of local contacts who can provide auxiliary aids and services required by ADA. This will save you valuable time in providing an attendee with the necessary services should you encounter a walk-in (not preregistered) attendee who requires assistance.
It is the hallmark of the ADA that reasonable solutions be found to address the needs of the disabled, whether it be through "readily achievable" architectural modifications, or through auxiliary aids that do not put an "undue burden" on the meeting sponsor or public accommodation. For example, if someone is present to read a menu to a blind attendee, a braille menu will not be necessary. If a planner must use a room with fixed or tiered seating that cannot accommodate attendees in wheelchairs, then an alternative method -- such as closed circuit television presentation of the meeting in another room -- is an acceptable solution.
Opening meetings up to Americans with disabilities cannot be narrowly defined as wheelchair users. Physical access is only half the problem.
ADA's definition of disability includes everything from visual and hearing impairments to epilepsy, HIV disease, and diabetes.
For More Information
The Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act provides an information telephone line, speakers for workshops and conferences, audiovisual material, and pamphlets. They can be reached by writing ADA, Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, P. O. Box 66118, Washington, D.C. 20035-6118, or calling (202) 514-0301.
Americans with Disabilities Act Document Center page is available at. It contains links to the full ADA documents and answers to commonly asked questions. It also has many links to other information sources.
The National Easter Seal Society provides two brochures: "Tips for Disability Awareness" and "Tips for Portraying People with Disabilities in the Media" for 25 cents each. There is also a 14-page booklet called "ADA Checklist" for $1.40. They can be reached by writing them at 70 East Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60601, or calling (312) 726-6200.
The Opening Door Inc. provides etiquette training for dealing with the disabled. They can be contacted by writing them at 8049 Ormesby Lane, Woodford, VA 22580, or calling them at (804) 633-6752. You can also check their web site at
Compliance with the American with Disabilities Act is important and all ACM events should be concerned with compliance. Providing accessibility to the valuable programs of ACM to a wider audience will ultimately benefit society. Meeting planners, both volunteers and professionals, should be aware of providing this accessibility as they plan meetings with their committees. This is an issue that everyone involved in planning meetings should be involved and are encouraged to actively plan to provide barrier-free meetings. It is important all conference committees be aware of the provisions and objectives of this Act.
If you have specific questions please contact your Program Coordinator for Conference Operations at ACM. They will work with the appropriate vendors to provide sign language interpreters, captioners, Braille production, accessible web design and personal care services. In addition they can help determine if a request is reasonable.
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