Tuesday, October 28, 2014

U.S. Access Board Update with Sachin Pavithran

Sachin Pavithran, UATP director, is also vice chair of the U.S. Access Board, appointed by Pres. Obama. The Board is a federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostic equipment, and information technology. This is an update from Sachin on current issues the board is working on:
UATP director, and US Access Board vice chair, Sachin Pavithran.

We currently have 5 active rulemakings and two that are planned. The five active rules are:

1. Transportation Vehicles (buses) - the final rule is at the Office of Management and Budget under review (it was sent on September 9, 2014).

2. Public Rights-of-Way and Shared Use Paths - this will be a final rule; we expect to ask for a Board vote in January 2015 and will then send it to OMB for review.

3. Medical Diagnostic Equipment - this will be a final rule; we expect to ask for a Board vote in January 2015 and will then send it to OMB for review.

4. Passenger Vessels - this will be a final rule; we expect to ask for a Board vote in March 2015 and will then send it to OMB for review.

5. Information and Communications Technology - this will be a proposed rule; the proposed rule is at OMB under review (we expect to publish the rule in October and hold a public hearing during our November Board meeting).

The two rules that are planned include:

1. Self-Service Transaction Machines - we have not decided on a rulemaking approach yet; we just received the market analysis from Econometrica (staff is reviewing it now and will send it to the ad hoc committee once they finish their review).

2. Transportation Vehicles (rail) - this will be a proposed rule after the advisory committee completes its work; they are scheduled to present their recommendations to the Board at the July 2015 Board meeting.

Here's background information on each of the rules:

Transportation Vehicles (buses):
A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to revise and update the accessibility guidelines for buses, over-the-road buses, and vans covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was published in July 2010. Two public hearings were held during the comment period that closed in November 2010. 

One important issue was raised after the close of the comment period. As a result, the Board re-opened the comment period for additional public input related to the late comments. The commenters raised issues about the 1:6 ramp slope requirements and a new design that locates the shallower ramp partially inside the vehicle. This design constrains the maneuvering space within the vehicle at the top of the ramp and at the farebox and creates a grade break within the ramp run. 

During the extended comment period which ended in October 2012, the Board held two information meetings to gather input on these issues. Because we do not want to delay rulemaking for subjects that do not require further development, we plan to move forward with the sections that have been vetted through public comment and that will result in better accessibility e.g., automated stop announcements. The Board submitted the final rule to OMB for review in September 2014. Additional research needs will be identified along with a time schedule for completion of the remaining issues. 

Public Rights-of-Way and Shared Use Paths:
In 2009, we contracted with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to assist the Board in finalizing a regulatory assessment for the public rights-of-way rulemaking. An NPRM was published for public comment in July 2011. 

When the Board approved the draft final accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas, coverage of shared use paths was deferred to a future rulemaking. Commenters on the outdoor developed areas rule had previously raised concerns about the need for differing guidelines for shared use paths. Commenters noted that shared use paths differ from trails and typically are located in more developed outdoor areas, as opposed to the more primitive trail settings. Unlike trails, they are designed to serve both bicyclists and pedestrians and are used for transportation and recreation purposes. 

In September 2010, the Board held a public information meeting in conjunction with the ProWalk/ProBike 2010 Conference. This meeting provided an opportunity for individuals with disabilities, designers of shared use paths, and others with expertise in this area to share information with the Board to assist in the development of new accessibility guidelines. The Board then published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for shared use paths in March 2011. 

In February 2013, the Board published a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to include requirements for shared use paths as part of the public rights-of-way rule. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Medical Diagnostic Equipment:
We are developing accessibility standards for medical diagnostic equipment, including examination tables and chairs, weight scales, radiological equipment, and mammography equipment. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the Board to issue these standards in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration. The standards are to address independent access to, and use of, equipment by people with disabilities to the maximum extent possible. 

In July 2010, the Board held a public information meeting on this rulemaking to gather information from stakeholders, including consumers, equipment manufacturers, the healthcare industry, government agencies, and others with an interest in the new standards. A proposed rule was published in February 2012 and two public hearings were held. The comment period closed in June 2012 and 53 comments were received. 

In March 2012, the Board created a 24-member Medical Diagnostic Equipment Accessibility Standards federal advisory committee to advise the Board on matters associated with the comments the Board received and information it requested in proposing the standards. The committee submitted its report to the Board in December 2013. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Passenger Vessels:
On June 25, 2013, the Board released for public comment proposed guidelines for passenger vessels. Developed under the ADA, the guidelines provide design criteria for large vessels when newly constructed or altered to ensure that they are accessible to people with disabilities. 

The guidelines address various features of vessel accessibility and include provisions for onboard routes, vertical access between decks, doorways and coamings, toilet rooms, guest rooms, alarm systems, and other spaces and elements used by passengers. The Board's guidelines apply to passenger vessels that are permitted to carry more than 150 passengers or more than 49 overnight passengers, all ferries, and certain tenders that carry 60 or more passengers. 

On July 15, 2013, the Cruise Lines International Association requested that the 90-day comment period be extended by an additional 120 days to review and more fully assess the proposed rule. We extended the comment period to January 24, 2014. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a final rule.

Information and Communication Technology Update:
In July 2006, the Board created an advisory committee to update and revise the Section 508 standards and the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines. Forty-one organizations served on the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee. The committee's membership included representatives from industry, disability groups, standard-setting bodies in the U.S. and abroad, and government agencies, among others. The committee completed its work and presented its report to the Board in April 2008. 

In March 2010, the Board published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to update the Board's Information and Communication Technology guidelines and standards based on the committee's report. A second ANPRM was published in December 2011. The public comment period ended in March 2012 and two public hearings were held. Ninety-one separate commenters filed comments or spoke at the hearings. The Board submitted the proposed rule to OMB for review in February 2014.

Self-Service Transaction Machines:
The Departments of Justice and Transportation (DOT) have related rulemakings on self-service transaction machines. As a result, we have worked collaboratively with them to develop a single set of technical requirements that can be referenced and scoped by each participating agency. 

On November 12, 2013 DOT published its rule on Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Accessibility of Web Sites and Automated Kiosks at U.S. Airports. The DOT requirements for automated kiosks at U.S. airports are derived from the technical requirements we helped develop and are consistent with our requirements for automatic teller machines and fare machines, as well as the current requirements of section 508 for self-contained, closed products. 

In 2010, DOJ published an ANPRM on Equipment and Furniture that would cover kiosks, interactive transaction machines, and point-of-sale devices, among other things. We have contracted with Econometrica to assist the Board in preparing an environmental scan that will assist us to develop a better sense of the types and numbers of machines potentially covered by this rule. An ad hoc committee of Board members and staff are working to develop a proposed rule.

Transportation Vehicles (rail):
In May 2013, the Board formed a 27-member federal advisory committee as part of its review and update of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles. The Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee will develop consensus recommendations for the Board's use in updating sections of the guidelines that cover vehicles of fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, intercity, and high speed rail. 

These guidelines, which were originally published in 1991, serve as the basis for standards that apply to new or remanufactured vehicles required to be accessible under the ADA. The committee's work will not extend to portions of the guidelines that address buses and vans, which the Board is already in the process of updating. The committee is scheduled to present its recommendations to the Board at the July 2015 Board meeting.

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