Congressmen Question Dubious Regs: ‘Balancing Ponies,’ Wheelchair Access Ramps But No Sidewalks

By Elizabeth Harrington | July 25, 2012 | 2:56 PM EDT

( – Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) and some of his House colleagues questioned the need for certain federal regulations on business under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), affecting things like minature golf courses, driving ranges, shooting ranges, and saunas, and stressed that the regulators “want to cover every hypothetical that could ever happen in the world."

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Rep. Griffin cited regulations for “balancing ponies” and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) cited wheelchair ramps at intersections that have no sidewalks in rural Texas as examples of where the regulations seemed nonsensical.

Griffin made his remarks at a press conference on Tuesday where he and several colleagues announced a seven-bill package to tackle excessive regulations, including the Red Tape Reduction and Business Job Creation Act, which the House is expected to vote on before the August recess.

As previously reported, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design went into effect on March 15, standards which regulate everything from the dimensions of miniature golf course holes to the use of seeing-eye miniature horses in restaurants.

In addition to the ADA guidelines, the Department of Transportation issued a draft manual earlier this month requiring airlines to let passengers fly with pot-bellied pigs for “emotional support.”

At the press conference, asked Rep. Griffin, “I was wondering if you have looked into the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, those are the regulations that require pools to have two permanent handicap access; they regulate miniature golf courses; they make businesses have to allow miniature horses on their premises for service animals.  I’m just wondering if you’ve looked into that to try to -- are you concerned about it?”

Griffin said, “Yes, I have looked at that. I would say that many of the regulations that implement the Americans with Disabilities Act are well-intentioned but miss the mark. Many of them do what they’re supposed to do and are fine but there are a lot that miss the mark and let me give you some examples.”

Wheelchair access ramp at intersection without sidewalks. (Photo courtesy

“One of the first most ridiculous regulations that I heard of, when I got here, was a small business owner came to me and she told me that in her convenient stores she has to allow for ponies, small horses, to come in her stores,” Griffin said.  “And I had no idea what she was talking about.”

He continued:  “I said, ‘Seeing-eye dogs?’  And she said, ‘No.  Small balancing ponies.’  And I said, ‘I’ve never heard of a balancing pony.’  And she said, ‘Yes, this is part of the ADA regulatory structure, you have to make provision for someone who might have a balancing horse.’  Apparently some people -- and I’ve never heard of this in my 43 years, 44 next month -- some people use, apparently they use ponies, small Shetland ponies or, certainly they’re not quarter horses, to keep their balance.  I’d never heard of that.”

“I started thinking, ‘Okay, well if someone needs that, that’s fine but do we really need to regulate that?  Is it that common?’” Griffin asked.  “And a lot of times the problem is, again, folks are well-intentioned but they want to cover every hypothetical that could ever happen in the world -- and that adds cost.”

Griffin then told another story where the business owner ran into trouble after replacing the refrigerators in her convenience store to save electricity costs.

“Well, when she did that the regulators said, ‘Well, these are too hard to open,’” Griffin said.  “So these don’t meet the five-pound pull, or whatever the test is, so that everybody can open one.”

Mona Ramouni, who is blind, rides a bus to work with her guide horse in Lincoln Park, Mich. Growing up in Detroit, Ramouni could never get a dog because her devout Muslim family considered dogs unclean. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio/File)

“Common sense would tell me if someone came in your store and they couldn’t open the refrigerator, which has to be a very few number of people, that they would just say, ‘Hey, could you help me open the door?’” said Griffin.  “Or, how about when they can’t reach a shelf, there’s regulations on that.  Could you not ask the person, ‘Hey, could someone help me reach the saltines?’”

“But no, the federal government’s got to regulate it,” Griffin said.  “They’ve got to force people to spend money to consider all the hypotheticals.  That’s the problem and so, yes, we’ve looked at this, we’ve looked at the pool issue.  That’s one of the big problems.”

The ADA guidelines include a provision requiring public and commercial pools to have two permanent handicap entrances, though the deadline for compliance has been pushed back to January 31, 2013.

Rep. Mike Conaway said his district in rural Texas has many ADA-approved handicap access ramps at intersections but there are no sidewalks at those locations.  The ramps are the “right answer” but “the problem is there are no sidewalks up to the ramps.”

There are eight of these ramps at the intersections, said Conaway, “but no one’s built sidewalks there yet and I suspect that, at whatever point in time the sidewalks are built, they won’t marry up properly and they’ll tear those ramps out.”

“And none of us want to inconvenience somebody in a wheelchair for goodness sakes,” he said.  “But by the same token we ought to be doing things that make sense. A wheelchair ramp, at an intersection that doesn’t have sidewalks in any direction is a bit puzzling for those of us who represent rural Texas.”