September 22, 1998
The Honorable Bob Graham
United States Senator
Post Office Box 3050
Tallahassee, Florida 32315
Dear Senator Graham:
This letter responds to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, Mr. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, who asks whether the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) addresses the accessibility of fishing piers. In particular, he inquires whether there are scoping requirements for railing heights and parking spaces. Mr. xxxxxxxxxx advises that Charlotte County, where he resides, has restored a fishing pier that provides both "handicap spaces" for fishing and a ramp for accessibility to individuals with disabilities.
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers and Compliance Board, which recommends accessibility guidelines and scoping requirements to the Department of Justice as part of its rulemaking authority under the ADA, is in the process of preparing requirements for recreational facilities and sites. This rulemaking includes fishing piers. The Department of Justice expects to issue its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on recreation by the end of the calendar year.
With respect to your constituent's particular questions,
the ADA's accessibility standards provide general scoping requirements for accessible parking spaces. When your constituent asks about railing heights, we assume that he refers to guard rails that are often required for safety by local codes, and not hand rails that are addressed in the ADA's accessibility standards. Local codes often require guard rails to be approximately 44 inches high, a height that is likely to present an obstruction to a wheelchair user who is fishing. The question of whether and how the ADA requires such rails to be modified to prevent obstructing wheelchair users is likely to be addressed in the upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The issue requires balancing the safety concerns represented by guard rails with the rights of individuals with disabilities to use the pier. We encourage your constituent to voice his concerns in writing during the notice and comment period of the rulemaking for recreational sites.
Even in circumstances where the ADA's accessibility standards do not provide scoping requirements for a particular element, the ADA still requires that covered entities take steps to ensure general accessibility. Private businesses that are public accommodations must provide access to their fishing piers by engaging in barrier removal that is "readily achievable" or easily accomplishable without great difficulty or expense. Further, if the businesses renovate a pier, they must ensure that the altered areasand path of travel to the altered areas are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Similarly, state or local governments that provide use of fishing piers as part of their recreational programs must ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to participate in such programs.
Thank you for your inquiry. We hope that this information is helpful to you in addressing the very timely concerns of your constituent.
Bill Lann Lee
Civil Rights Division>