Letter 209

August 13, 1997

Ms. Elisabeth S. Shuster

Chief Counsel

Human Relations Commission

State of Pennsylvania

P.O. Box 3145

Harrisburg, PA 17105-3145

Dear Ms. Shuster:

I am responding to your recent letter to Attorney General Reno with respect to a complaint now pending before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Please excuse our delay in responding.

The complaint, which was filed by the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA), alleges violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by Widener University and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Because the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act requires compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA, you have asked the Department's advice on the application of the ADA to this matter.

The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to assist individuals and entities subject to the Act to understand their rights and responsibilities. Because this response is based solely on the facts presented in your letter, it is intended only as technical assistance to help you to identify pertinent facts. This response does not constitute a legal opinion of the Department with respect to the obligations of the parties to this dispute.

The facts, as we understand them, are that Widener University constructed a new football stadium that includes multi-level viewing stands and a press box. It is undisputed that there is no accessible means of vertical access provided to the press box. There is a significant dispute among the parties as to whether the press box is an integral part of the multi-level stadium or a separate single-story facility.

The press box is described by EPVA as an integral part of the stadium. It is described by the University as a single-story, 1200 square-foot facility. The University further asserts that it would require an elevator with a lift height of 36 feet to provide access to the press box.

When the University applied for a building permit for the stadium construction, it requested a waiver of the State requirement to provide an elevator to the press box. This request was denied by the Pennsylvania Accessibility Advisory Board. The Advisory Board did grant the University a variance that would have permitted the University to provide access to the press box by means of a wheelchair lift or "personal service" elevator rather than a full passenger elevator. The University appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, which ultimately determined that the elevator exception set forth in Pennsylvania's Universal Accessibility Act applies to the press box. Therefore, the press box was constructed without an elevator.

In your letter, you posed two specific questions:

1) Whether a press box that has three levels is considered to have "stories" such that if those "stories" are less than 3000 square feet, the facility is entitled to claim the elevator exemption under the ADA; and

2) If an elevator is not required, could a covered entity be required to provide vertical access by means of a ramp?

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards), 28 C.F.R. pt. 36, App. A, § 3.5, define a story as:

That portion of a building located between the upper surface of a floor and upper surface of the floor or roof next above. If such portion of a building does not include occupiable space, it is not considered a story . . . .

The definition goes on to note that "[t]here may be more than one floor level within a story as in the case of a mezzanine or mezzanines." Therefore, a facility that has three floor levels may be entitled to the elevator exemption if one or more of the floor levels does not fall within the ADA definition of a "story." When a building or structure is entitled to the ADA elevator exemption, it is not required to provide any accessible means of vertical access (e.g., lifts or ramps) between stories.

However, a facility that qualifies for the ADA elevator exemption is still required to comply with all of the other applicable accessibility requirements in the ADA Standards.

See, 28 C.F.R. § 36.401(3). Therefore, although the ADA may exempt a facility from the obligation to provide an accessible route (elevator, lift, or ramp) to the upper stories of a facility, the facility must still comply with any other applicable accessibility requirements. For example, if fixed seating, restrooms, drinking fountains, or telephones are provided in the press box, these elements must comply with the ADA Standards.

I hope that this discussion of the potentially applicable sections of the ADA Standards is helpful to you in resolving this matter.

Sincerely,

Isabelle Katz Pinzler

Acting Assistant Attorney General

Civil Rights Division >

Updated August 6, 2015

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