ADA Requirements: Wheelchairs, Mobility Aids, and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices
People with mobility, circulatory, respiratory, or neurological disabilities use many kinds of devices for mobility. Some use walkers, canes, crutches, or braces. Some use manual or power wheelchairs or electric scooters. In addition, advances in technology have given rise to new devices, such as Segways, that some people with disabilities use as mobility devices, including many veterans injured while serving in the military. And more advanced devices will inevitably be invented, providing more mobility options for people with disabilities.
This publication is designed to help title II entities (State and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and non-profit organizations that serve the public) (together, “covered entities”) understand how the new rules for mobility devices apply to them. These rules went into effect on March 15, 2011.
Covered entities must allow people with disabilities who use manual or power wheelchairs or scooters, and manually-powered mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, and canes, into all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
Covered entities must also allow people with disabilities who use other types of power-driven mobility devices into their facilities, unless a particular type of device cannot be accommodated because of legitimate safety requirements. Where legitimate safety requirements bar accommodation for a particular type of device, the covered entity must provide the service it offers in alternate ways if possible.
The rules set out five specific factors to consider in deciding whether or not a particular type of device can be accommodated.
Most people are familiar with the manual and power wheelchairs and electric scooters used by people with mobility disabilities. The term “wheelchair” is defined in the new rules as “a manually-operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor or of both indoor and outdoor locomotion.”
Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices
In recent years, some people with mobility disabilities have begun using less traditional mobility devices such as golf cars or Segways®. These devices are called “other power-driven mobility device” (OPDMD) in the rule. OPDMD is defined in the new rules as “any mobility device powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines… that is used by individuals with mobility disabilities for the purpose of locomotion, including golf cars, electronic personal assistance mobility devices… such as the Segway® PT, or any mobility device designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes, but that is not a wheelchair”. When an OPDMD is being used by a person with a mobility disability, different rules apply under the ADA than when it is being used by a person without a disability
Choice of Device
People with disabilities have the right to choose whatever mobility device best suits their needs. For example, someone may choose to use a manual wheelchair rather than a power wheelchair because it enables her to maintain her upper body strength. Similarly, someone who is able to stand may choose to use a Segway® rather than a manual wheelchair because of the health benefits gained by standing. A facility may be required to allow a type of device that is generally prohibited when being used by someone without a disability when it is being used by a person who needs it because of a mobility disability.
For example, if golf cars are generally prohibited in a park, the park may be required to allow a golf car when it is being used because of a person’s mobility disability, unless there is a legitimate safety reason that it cannot be accommodated.
Requirements Regarding Mobility Devices and Aids
Under the new rules, covered entities must allow people with disabilities who use wheelchairs (including manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, and electric scooters) and manually-powered mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, canes, braces, and other similar devices into all areas of a facility where members of the public are allowed to go.
In addition, covered entities must allow people with disabilities who use any OPDMD to enter the premises unless a particular type of device cannot be accommodated because of legitimate safety requirements. Such safety requirements must be based on actual risks, not on speculation or stereotypes about a particular type of device or how it might be operated by people with disabilities using them.
For some facilities – such as a hospital, a shopping mall, a large home improvement store with wide aisles, a public park, or an outdoor amusement park – covered entities will likely determine that certain classes of OPDMDs being used by people with disabilities can be accommodated. These entities must allow people with disabilities using these types of OPDMDs into all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
In some cases, even in facilities such as those described above, an OPDMD can be accommodated in some areas of a facility, but not in others because of legitimate safety concerns. For example, a cruise ship may decide that people with disabilities using Segways® can generally be accommodated, except in constricted areas, such as passageways to cabins that are very narrow and have low ceilings.
For other facilities – such as a small convenience store, or a small town manager’s office – covered entities may determine that certain classes of OPDMDs cannot be accommodated. In that case, they are still required to serve a person with a disability using one of these devices in an alternate manner if possible, such as providing curbside service or meeting the person at an alternate location.
Covered entities are encouraged to develop written policies specifying which kinds of OPDMDs will be permitted and where and when they will be permitted, based on the following assessment factors.
In deciding whether a particular type of OPDMD can be accommodated in a particular facility, the following factors must be considered:
- the type, size, weight, dimensions, and speed of the device;
- the facility’s volume of pedestrian traffic (which may vary at different times of the day, week, month, or year);
- the facility’s design and operational characteristics (e.g., whether its business is conducted indoors or outdoors, its square footage, the density and placement of furniture and other stationary devices, and the availability of storage for the OPDMD if needed and requested by the user);
- whether legitimate safety requirements (such as limiting speed to the pace of pedestrian traffic or prohibiting use on escalators) can be established to permit the safe operation of the OPDMD in the specific facility; and
- whether the use of the OPDMD creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources, or poses a conflict with Federal land management laws and regulations.
It is important to understand that these assessment factors relate to an entire class of device type, not to how a person with a disability might operate the device. (See next topic for operational issues.) All types of devices powered by fuel or combustion engines, for example, may be excluded from indoor settings for health or environmental reasons, but may be deemed acceptable in some outdoor settings. Also, for safety reasons, larger electric devices such as golf cars may be excluded from narrow or crowded settings where there is no valid reason to exclude smaller electric devices like Segways®.
Based on these assessment factors, the Department of Justice expects that devices such as Segways® can be accommodated in most circumstances. The Department also expects that, in most circumstances, people with disabilities using ATVs and other combustion engine-driven devices may be prohibited indoors and in outdoor areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.
Policies on the Use of OPDMDs
In deciding whether a type of OPDMD can be accommodated, covered entities must consider all assessment factors and, where appropriate, should develop and publicize rules for people with disabilities using these devices.
Such rules may include –
- requiring the user to operate the device at the speed of pedestrian traffic; identifying specific locations, terms, or circumstances (if any) where the devices cannot be accommodated;
- setting out instructions for going through security screening machines if the device contains technology that could be harmed by the machine; and
- specifying whether or not storage is available for the device when it is not being used.
An entity that determines it can accommodate one or more types of OPDMDs in its facility is allowed to ask the person using the device to provide credible assurance that the device is used because of a disability.
If the person presents a valid, State-issued disability parking placard or card or a State-issued proof of disability, that must be accepted as credible assurance on its face. If the person does not have this documentation, but states verbally that the OPDMD is being used because of a mobility disability, that also must be accepted as credible assurance, unless the person is observed doing something that contradicts the assurance. For example, if a person is observed running and jumping, that may be evidence that contradicts the person’s assertion of a mobility disability. However, it is very important for covered entities and their staff to understand that the fact that a person with a disability is able to walk for a short distance does not necessarily contradict a verbal assurance – many people with mobility disabilities can walk, but need their mobility device for longer distances or uneven terrain. This is particularly true for people who lack stamina, have poor balance, or use mobility devices because of respiratory, cardiac, or neurological disabilities. A covered entity cannot ask people about their disabilities.
Ongoing staff training is essential to ensure that people with disabilities who use OPDMDs for mobility are not turned away or treated inappropriately. Training should include instruction on the types of OPDMDs that can be accommodated, the rules for obtaining credible assurance that the device is being used because of a disability, and the rules for operation of the devices within the facility.
For more information about the ADA, please visit ADA.gov or call our toll-free number.
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The Americans with Disabilities Act authorizes the Department of Justice (the Department) to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities that have rights or responsibilities under the Act. This document provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA and the Department’s regulations.
This guidance document is not intended to be a final agency action, has no legally binding effect, and may be rescinded or modified in the Department’s complete discretion, in accordance with applicable laws. The Department’s guidance documents, including this guidance, do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities beyond what is required by the terms of the applicable statutes, regulations, or binding judicial precedent.
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