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Chapter 3: General Requirements

Regulatory references: 28 CFR 36.201-36.213.

III-3.4000 Separate benefit/integrated setting.

A primary goal of the ADA is the equal participation of individuals with disabilities in the "mainstream" of American society. The major principles of mainstreaming include the following:
  1. Individuals with disabilities must be integrated to the maximum extent appropriate.
  2. Separate programs are permitted where necessary to ensure equal opportunity. A separate program must be appropriate to the particular individual.
  3. Individuals with disabilities cannot be excluded from the regular program, or required to accept special services or benefits.

III-3.4100 Separate programs.

A public accommodation may offer separate or special programs necessary to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the programs. Such programs must, however, be specifically designed to meet the needs of the individuals with disabilities for whom they are provided.

ILLUSTRATION 1: Museums generally do not allow visitors to touch exhibits because handling can cause damage to the objects. A municipal museum may offer a special tour for individuals with vision impairments during which they are permitted to touch and handle specific objects on a limited basis. (It cannot, however, exclude a blind person from the standard museum tour.)

ILLUSTRATION 2: A private athletic facility may sponsor a separate basketball league for individuals who use wheelchairs.

III-3.4200 Right to participate in the regular program.

Even if a separate or special program for individuals with disabilities is offered, a public accommodation cannot deny an individual with a disability participation in its regular program, unless some other limitation on the obligation to provide services applies. See, e.g., III-3.8000 (direct threat); III-4.1000 (eligibility criteria).

ILLUSTRATION: An individual who uses a wheelchair may be excluded from playing in a basketball league, if the recreation center can demonstrate that the exclusion is necessary for safe operation.

Individuals with disabilities are entitled to participate in regular programs, even if the public accommodation could reasonably believe that they cannot benefit from the regular program.

ILLUSTRATION: A museum cannot exclude a person who is blind from a tour because of assumptions about his or her inability to appreciate and benefit from the tour experience. Similarly, a deaf person may not be excluded from a museum concert because of a belief that deaf persons cannot enjoy the music.

The fact that a public accommodation offers special programs does not affect the right of an individual with a disability to participate in regular programs. The requirements for providing access to the regular program still apply.

ILLUSTRATION: A public accommodation cannot exclude a person who is blind from a standard museum tour, where touching objects is not permitted, if he or she prefers the standard tour.

Individuals with disabilities may not be required to accept special "benefits" if they choose not to do so.

ILLUSTRATION: ABC theater offers reduced rate tickets for individuals with disabilities and requires appropriate documentation for eligibility for the reduced rates. ABC cannot require an individual who qualifies for the reduced rate to present documentation or accept the reduced rate, if he or she chooses to pay the full price.

III-3.4300 Modifications in the regular program.

When a public accommodation offers a special program for individuals with a particular disability, but an individual with that disability elects to participate in the regular program rather than in the separate program, the public accommodation may still have obligations to provide an opportunity for that individual to benefit from the regular program. The fact that a separate program is offered may be a factor in determining the extent of the obligations under the regular program, but only if the separate program is appropriate to the needs of the particular individual with a disability.

ILLUSTRATION: If a museum provides a sign language interpreter for one of its regularly scheduled tours, the availability of the signed tour may be a factor in determining whether it would be an undue burden to provide an interpreter for a deaf person who wants to take the tour at a different time.

BUT: The availability of the signed tour would not affect the museum's obligation to provide an interpreter for a different tour, or the museum's obligation to provide a different auxiliary aid, such as an assistive listening device, for an individual with impaired hearing who does not use sign language.