August 15, 2001
The Honorable Tim Holden
Member, U.S. House of Representatives
101 North Center Street
Pottsville, PA 17901
Dear Congressman Holden:
This letter is in response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, xxxxxxxxxx. Xxxxxxxxx, who is the President of a volunteer fire company in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, asked you to determine how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) applies to the fire company. Specifically, xxxxxxxxx wants to know if the fire company is required to install a lift or an elevator to provide access to a "social room" that is now reached by means of a staircase.
From the information provided in your letter, we infer that the volunteer fire company is a private entity that is not funded by the county government. We have also inferred that the fire company, not the county government, owns the building that houses the fire company. If these assumptions are correct, the fire company would be subject to title III of the ADA. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by private entities that own, operate, lease (or lease to) places of public accommodation. The statutory term "public accommodation" includes social service providers, such as fire companies.
If the fire company's building was constructed on or after January 26, 1992, it is subject to the new construction requirements of the Act. A new building must comply fully with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The Standards require elevator access in any building with three or more stories. A privately owned building that has less than three stories does not have to provide elevator access to the upper floor.
If the fire company's building was constructed prior to January 26, 1992, the fire company is only required to remove architectural barriers to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so. The statute defines readily achievable as "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." The Department's regulations provide that a covered entity should refer to the ADA Standards to identify barriers. The barrier removal requirement does not exceed the requirement for an altered facility. Therefore, if the fire company's building is less than three stories, it is not required to have an elevator. If the building is more than three stories, the fire company must consider whether it is "readily achievable" to install an elevator or other means of vertical access. If the cost of installing an elevator would not be "readily achievable," the fire company would not be required to provide access to the second floor.
I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to your constituent. If xxxxxxxxx has additional questions about the ADA, he may contact our toll-free ADA Information line ((800) 514-0301(voice) or (800) 514-0383 (TDD)) to discuss his questions with members of the Disability Rights Section's staff. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division