Churches and Coffee Bars
Q. I am a parishioner at a church in New Jersey. We are constructing a coffee bar in our church. The bar will have a sink on the serving side. What are the ADA requirements for the bar and sink on both the serving and "customer" sides?
A. While the ADA does not apply to the design of churches and other places of worship, the NJ building code requires accessibility in assembly areas such as churches.
If the sink is only used by "employees", it is technically not required to be accessible, however, it is advisable to provide access to the sink to accommodate an employee who may require access at a future date.
If the sink were to be used by patrons/parishioners, then the sink height is limited to 34" inches above the finish floor. You do not need clearance underneath the sink for someone seated in a wheelchair if you do not have a cooktop/oven in the area described in your question.
On the patron/parishioner side of the bar, you need at least a 30 inch-long section of counter that is no higher than 36 inches above the finish floor, or you could drop the entire bar to 36 inches high. This height would apply to the type of bar where people are perhaps grabbing sugar/creamers/ napkins or other items common to these types of counters.
If people will be seated or standing at the bar however, at least 5% of the seated/standing spaces must be accessible and the height of the counter surface is limited to 34 inches maximum above the finish floor. There must be clearance underneath the bar for a front approach (on the customer side) by someone seated in a wheelchair.
Nonprofits and Religious Entities
Q. I am trying to find out if a 501(c)(3) is a "religious" entity for ADA purposes (i.e., accommodations in a day care). I am having no luck. Is there a place to look somewhere on tax forms or such that would answer this question of if they are a "religious entity" for ADA purposes?
A. No, there is no place on a form that indicates if a nonprofit is a religious entity exempt from Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When trying to determine whether it is a religious entity or not under the ADA, the key is to look if the nonprofit in question is directly controlled by a religious entity. Some organizations rent space from religious entities, operating a private daycare out of a church, synagogue, or mosque for example. Such places are covered by Title III even though they
are physically housed in a religious entity.
There are also occasions where a religious entity controlled an organization, but over the years that organization has become independent but retained the
original name (possibly conveying a religious affiliation). Those organizations are in fact covered by the ADA.
So, it boils down to a matter of the control of the operation of an organization to determine its status under the ADA.
To learn more, you can read the ADA National Network fact sheet, Religious Entities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Emotional Support Dogs in Common Areas of Housing
Q. I was told by my apartment complex’s management that that I would need a doctor’s note in order to take my emotional support dog into any common areas like the laundry room. Is this correct?
A. Yes, a private housing provider can require documentation prior to allowing an emotional support animal into any common areas. It’s important to first remember that this situation is covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and not the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, emotional support animals are specifically not covered as a service animal with all of the rights to access granted to them. Additionally, private apartments are not covered under Title III of the ADA.
By contrast under the FHA, the term assistance animal is used which is less restrictive than the ADA’s service animal and can include an emotional support dog. Assistance animals are a type of reasonable modification to a policy. A housing provider can ask for verification that a tenant has a disability and that there is a disability related need for a modification E.G., having an assistance animal and allowing it to accompany that person into common areas. The verification can be from a doctor, but it also could be from a counselor or other professional.
Forms for Flying with a Service Animal
Q. I frequently travel with my service dog, Max. I'm getting ready for a cross country flight. The airlines now require a Department of Transportation (DOT) form to be filled out and sent back at least 48 hours prior to a flight. My problem is nowhere in all the searches I’ve done, does it show me where to send or email the form for review and approval. Where do I send it?
A. The DOT's Service Animal Air Transportation form (SAAT) needs to be provided to the air carrier that is asking you to fill out the form. These forms are not reviewed by the DOT at all. They are simply created by the DOT for airlines to use as a review and attestation tool. You will need to contact your air carrier as to where they want you to send in the form. Besides other information, the SAAT form verifies for the airline that Max is properly trained, has necessary vaccinations, knows how to behave appropriately, and is free of fleas, ticks, or diseases that could harm humans or other animals.
Now if your trip has a flight lasting longer than eight hours, then you will also need to complete a Service Animal Relief Attestation form. This document verifies that Max can go for eight hours without needing to relieve himself. Or if he cannot, the form asks if Max can relieve himself in a sanitary manner. And again, this form would go to the airline carrier.
Paratransit Eligibility Documentation
Q: When a transit agency is going through the process of determining paratransit eligibility for riders with disabilities, can the transit provider require a disability diagnosis from a licensed physician?
A: The ADA regulations do not mandate a medical diagnosis from a physician in the paratransit eligibility process. This is because the ultimate goal is to determine if the individual can fully access and navigate the transportation system – which is a functional determination more than a medical diagnosis. While documentation from a physician may be of use when determining a rider’s functional ability to use the transit system, it should not be the only form of evidence or support that is accepted by a transit provider.
Service Animals on Public Transit
Q: Are the rules for service animals different on public transportation than they are for service animals in other areas like restaurants and stores?
A: The biggest difference between the Dept. of Transportation’s (DOT) ADA regulations regarding service animals and the Dept. of Justice’s (DOJ) regulations (which would apply in areas like restaurants and retail spaces) is in the DOT definition of a service animal. For the DOT regulations, a service animal is “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.” People with disabilities must be permitted to have their service animal accompany them on transit vehicles and in transit facilities if they meet this definition. While the DOJ definition limits the species of service animals to dogs, and in some cases miniature horses, the DOT definition of a service animal does not limit the species of animal in the same way.
To read more about what the term service animal means and where, check out the article, The ADA and Service Animals.
Broken Elevators at Transit Stations
Q: If a transit station has an elevator that breaks down, do the ADA regulations address what should be done to accommodate riders with disabilities?
A:Yes. The ADA regulations require that the transit agency “take reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities who would otherwise use the (accessibility) feature.” The regulations do not state exactly how the transit agency must provide accommodations, but whatever action is taken to address the needs of riders with disabilities must be effective for them. For example, the transit agency could notify users of the station by announcing that the elevator is out of service at other stations to alert passengers. Additionally, alternative means of accessible transportation should be offered – which may involve the use of accessible shuttle bus service around the station without elevator accessibility. It is important to remember that while temporary outages are not a violation of the ADA, the expectation is that accessibility features are inspected frequently to make sure that they are operational and if they are not, repairs must be implemented promptly.
Limits to Wheelchair Size on Buses
Q: Can a transit provider deny service to a rider based on the size of the mobility device they use?
A: The ADA DOT Regulations require that transit agencies provide service for riders with disabilities using wheelchairs. The regulations specify minimum design requirements for lifts on vehicles, which include that lifts must accommodate occupied wheelchairs weighing up to 600 pounds that are 30 inches wide and 48 inches long. Many lifts used in transportation vehicles can support additional weight (more than 600 pounds) and additional space. The transit provider must provide service to riders with disabilities that can be accommodated by the design specifications of the lift on the vehicle – meaning, to deny service to a rider because their wheelchair (when occupied) weighs more than 600 pounds, but the vehicle lift can accommodate up to 800 pounds, would be a violation of the ADA regulations. If the combined weight of the wheelchair and its occupant exceeds the lift specifications though, the transit provider is not required to provide service.
What about COVID-19?
Q. What COVID-19 resources do you recommend?
A. First, let’s acknowledge that coping with COVID-19 can be very difficult, and we hope you’re doing okay with whatever challenges brought you here today. We also want to mention that we don’t give medical or legal advice, so be sure to contact an expert if you need that sort of help.
Second, we’ve listed below some training sessions and resources that staff from the Northeast ADA Center have been involved in creating, plus some federal and regional resources.
Resources from the Northeast ADA:
Resources in New York:
Resources in New Jersey:
- New Jersey Department of Health: This site offers updates and resources about COVID-19 as it relates to New Jersey, including essential services and employment protections.
- New Jersey 2-1-1: By calling 211 or visiting this website, New Jersey residents can find available resources in their communities.
Resources in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands:
For updates about the novel coronavirus in your community, visit the website for your county’s Department of Health. If you have symptoms and worry that you have COVID-19, please contact your health care provider.
Videos for Online College Classes
Q: Must videos for online college classes have closed captions?
A: We’ve seen a lot more questions along these lines recently, as so many colleges have ramped up their online offerings. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), colleges and universities must offer their courses in a manner accessible to individuals with disabilities. To that end, they must ensure that course-related communications is equally effective for those with communication-related disabilities as for anyone else taking the class. This includes any video content provided as part of a class. Videos must be captioned with either closed or open captions.