March 24, 1999
The Honorable Joe Scarborough
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Congressman Scarborough:
I am responding to your letter on behalf of State Representative Jerry Melvin regarding the application of the new construction requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to the construction of fire stations. Mr. Melvin questions the conclusion of the State of Florida that the ADA (and the Florida Accessibility Code for Building Construction) require the installation of an elevator to provide access to the second floor of a fire station.
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all of the programs, services, and activities of a public entity. Both title I and title II of the ADA prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in employment. One aspect of this nondiscrimination mandate is the obligation to ensure that all new public buildings and facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The federal regulation implementing title II (28 C.F.R. pt.35) permits covered entities to meet this obligation by complying with either of two design standards -- the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) or the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
Both UFAS and the ADA Standards require covered entities to provide an accessible means of vertical access (such as a ramp, a lift, or an elevator) to connect all floor levels in multi-story buildings. Mr. Melvin objects to this requirement because he believes that individuals with disabilities who require the use of an elevator are not eligible to be fire fighters.
Mr. Melvin's analysis appears to be based on the assumption that if the principal users of a facility will be able-bodied individuals, the facility may be designed exclusively to serve them. This analysis conflicts with the primary purpose of the new construction requirements of the ADA, which is to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from opportunities that would otherwise be available to them, because buildings are not accessible.
Even if a fire department could establish that the employment requirements of titles I and II of the ADA support exclusion of people who have mobility impairments from employment as fire fighters, that fact does not support the conclusion that no person with a disability will need access to the second floor of the fire station. For example, other employees, such as those responsible for cleaning, maintenance, and clerical tasks, may need access to some or all of the areas in question. Supervisory personnel and city officials may also need access to such areas. It is not likely that persons with physical disabilities may be lawfully excluded from those types of positions or denied access to the second floor of a public building.
In addition, the useful life of a building may span many decades during which the uses of the facility can change. Although the current users of a facility may be fire fighters and other fire department employees, a public entity may later decide to open the facility for school tours, neighborhood association meetings, or other public activities that are required to be accessible.
I hope this information is helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we may be of assistance with other matters.
Bill Lann Lee
Civil Rights Division >