New Disability Regs Limit Slope of Mini Golf Holes, Require Businesses to Admit Mini Horses as Guide Animals

Elizabeth Harrington | June 26, 2012 | 5:27pm EDT
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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)

( – Although the Justice Department has extended the deadline for America’s hotels to comply with regulations regarding handicap access to swimming pools, new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines are already being applied at miniature golf courses, driving ranges, amusement parks, shooting ranges and saunas.

Among the provisions in the "Revised ADA Standards for Accessible Design," which went into effect on March 15, is one requiring businesses to allow miniature horses on their premises as guide animals for the disabled. Another limits the height of slopes on miniature golf holes.

“The new standards, for the first time, include requirements for judicial facilities, detention and correctional facilities, and recreational facilities,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said during a conference in Baltimore on June 7.

“We expect the implementation of these accessibility standards to open up doors for full participation in both the responsibilities, such as jury duty, and the benefits, such as playing at city parks, of civic life for people with disabilities,” he said.

The 2010 ADA standards for Accessible Design require that at least 50 percent of golf holes on miniature golf courses be “accessible” – with a ground space that is “48 inches minimum by 60 inches minimum with slopes not steeper than 1:48 at the start of play.”

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Other regulations include:

Saunas – provision of accessible turning space and an accessible bench.

Shooting facilities – provision of accessible turning space “for each different type of firing position.”

Golf courses – “an accessible route to connect all accessible elements within the boundary.” An accessible route must also “connect golf car rental areas, bag drop areas, teeing grounds, putting greens, and weather shelters.”

Gyms – at least one of each type of exercise machine must be positioned for use by a person in a wheelchair.

Amusement parks – any new or altered ride must provide at least one seat for a person in a wheelchair.

A section of the guidelines regulating commercial facilities states that, “a public accommodation shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.”

A public accommodation is defined as “a private entity that owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.”

“Miniature horses were suggested by some commenters as viable alternatives to dogs for individuals with allergies, or for those whose religious beliefs preclude the use of dogs,” the rules state.  Also mentioned as a reason to include the animals is the longer life span of miniature horses – providing approximately 25 years of service as opposed to seven years for dogs.

“Some individuals with disabilities have traveled by train and have flown commercially with their miniature horses,” the Justice Department notes.

“Similar to dogs, miniature horses can be trained through behavioral reinforcement to be ‘housebroken,’” it adds.

However, “Ponies and full-size horses are not covered.”

A business owner can deny admission to a miniature horse that is not housebroken, whose handler does not have sufficient control of the animal, or if the horse’s presence compromises “legitimate safety requirements.”

The miniature horse addition has come under the scrutiny of at least one member of Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who offered an amendment that passed the House, banning funding to implement the provision. Chaffetz penned an editorial last month in opposition to the rule entitled, “Horses in the Dining Room?

Last month the Justice Department extended the deadline for the rule requiring permanent wheelchair access to recreational pools. Citing “significant concerns and misunderstandings among a substantial number of pool owners and operators,” the department issued a notice in the Federal Register extending compliance from March 15 to May 21 this year. The date has now been pushed back further, to January 31, 2013.

The regulation requires large pools – those with over 300 linear feet of pool wall – to have two accessible means of entry, and smaller pools to have one.

For existing pools, owners making structural alterations are obliged to remove architectural barriers “to the extent such compliance is readily achievable.”

“As I consider the department’s accomplishments to date, and our plans for the future, I continue to take my inspiration from people with disabilities and their families,” Perez said in Baltimore.

“These individuals express the harm of segregation and the value of integration more eloquently than any lawyer’s brief ever could.  They are the heroes of this civil rights movement.”

A person with a disability is defined by the ADA as, “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

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