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Chapter 4: Specific Requirements

Italicized text was added to the original Title III Technical Assistance Manual through supplements issued in 1993 and 1994.

Regulatory references: 28 CFR 36.301-36.310.

III-4.2000 Reasonable modifications

III-4.2100 General.

A public accommodation must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. If the public accommodation can demonstrate, however, that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations it provides, it is not required to make the modification.

ILLUSTRATION 1: A private health clinic, in collaboration with its local public safety officials, has developed an evacuation plan to be used in the event of fire or other emergency. The clinic occupies several floors of a multistory building. During an emergency, elevators, which are the normal means of exiting from the clinic, will be shut off. The health clinic is obligated to modify its evacuation procedures, if necessary, to provide alternative means for clients with mobility impairments to be safely evacuated from the clinic without using the elevator. The clinic should also modify its plan to take into account the needs of its clients with visual, hearing, and other disabilities.

ILLUSTRATION 2: Under its obligation to remove architectural barriers where it is readily achievable to do so, a local motel has greatly improved physical access in several of its rooms. However, under its present reservation system, the motel is unable to guarantee that, when a person requests an accessible room, one of the new rooms will actually be available when he or she arrives. The ADA requires the motel to make reasonable modifications in its reservation system to ensure the availability of the accessible room. Also, if the motel’s only available accessible rooms were offered at higher rates than the room initially requested, it may be a reasonable modification of policy for the hotel to make the more expensive rooms available at the lower rate.

ILLUSTRATION 3: A retail store has a policy of not taking special orders for out-of-stock merchandise unless the customer appears personally to sign the order. The store would be required to reasonably modify its procedures to allow the taking of special orders by phone from persons with disabilities who cannot visit the store. If the store's concern is obtaining a guarantee of payment that a signed order would provide, the store could, for example, take orders by mail or take credit card orders by telephone from persons with disabilities.

ILLUSTRATION 4: An individual requires assistance in order to use toilet facilities and his only companion is a person of the opposite sex. Permitting a person of the opposite sex to assist an individual with a disability in a toilet room designated for one sex may be a required reasonable modification of policy.

ILLUSTRATION 5: A car rental company has a policy that customers who wish to secure car rentals with cash must have been employed at their present jobs for a year or more. A responsible, cash-paying customer with other sources of income, who is unemployed due to a disability, applies to rent a car and is rejected. The ADA requires the car rental company to reasonably modify its procedures to permit rentals by individuals with other adequate sources of income, including disability-related sources of income such as SSI, SSDI, Veteran’s Administration disability benefits, or employer’s disability benefits. The company has reasonably modified its policy so that a person who is not employed due to a disability may still qualify to rent cars with cash.

ILLUSTRATION 6: An individual is unable to wait in a long line for an amusement park ride because of a disability that carries with it a heightened sensitivity to heat. Another individual cannot wait in line because the line moves along an inaccessible path. In both cases the park may be required to modify its policy requiring all patrons to wait in line for attractions. For example, the amusement park could make available a marker to hold an individual’s place in line.

ILLUSTRATION 7: A movie theater has a policy prohibiting patrons from consuming food and beverages purchased outside the theater. The theater may be required to make an exception to permit a parent to bring in appropriate food for a child with diabetes.

III-4.2200 Specialties.

It is not considered discriminatory for a public accommodation with a specialty in a particular area to refer an individual with a disability to a different public accommodation if --

  1. The individual is seeking a service or treatment outside the referring public accommodation's area of expertise; and 
  2. The public accommodation would make a similar referral for an individual who does not have a disability.

ILLUSTRATION: An individual who is blind initially visits a doctor who specializes in family medicine. The doctor discovers that the individual has a potentially cancerous growth. The family practice physician may refer the blind individual to a cancer specialist, if he or she has no expertise in that area, and if he or she would make a similar referral for an individual who is not blind. The cancer specialist who receives the referral may not refuse to treat the individual for cancer-related problems simply because the individual is blind.

III-4.2300 Service animals.

A public accommodation must modify its policies to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration or jeopardize the safe operation of the public accommodation.

Service animals include any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Tasks typically performed by service animals include guiding people with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to the presence of intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or retrieving dropped items.

The care or supervision of a service animal is the responsibility of his or her owner, not the public accommodation. A public accommodation may not require an individual with a disability to post a deposit as a condition to permitting a service animal to accompany its owner in a place of public accommodation, even if such deposits are required for pets.

ILLUSTRATION: An individual who is blind wishes to be accompanied in a restaurant by her guide dog. The restaurant must permit the guide dog to accompany its owner in all areas of the restaurant open to other patrons and may not insist that the dog be separated from her.

A number of States have programs to certify service animals. A private entity, however, may not insist on proof of State certification before permitting the entry of a service animal to a place of public accommodation.

This regulation also acknowledges that in rare circumstances, if the nature of the goods and services provided or accommodations offered would be fundamentally altered or the safe operation of a public accommodation jeopardized, a service animal need not be allowed to enter.

ILLUSTRATION: A showing by appropriate medical personnel that the presence or use of a service animal would pose a significant health risk in certain designated areas of a hospital may serve as a basis for excluding service animals in those areas.

III-4.2400 Check-out aisles.

If a store has check-out aisles, customers with disabilities must be provided an equivalent level of convenience in access to check-out facilities as customers without disabilities. To accomplish this, the store must either keep an adequate number of accessible aisles open or otherwise modify its policies and practices.

ILLUSTRATION: PQR Foodmart has twenty narrow, inaccessible check-out aisles and one wider, accessible aisle. The accessible aisle is used as an express lane limited to customers purchasing fewer than ten items. K, who uses a wheelchair, wishes to make a larger purchase. PQR Foodmart must permit K to make his large purchase at the express lane.

III-4.2500 Accessible or special goods.

As a general rule, a public accommodation is not required to alter its inventory to carry accessible or special products that are designed for or easier to use by customers with disabilities. Examples of accessible goods include Brailled books, books on audio tape, closed-captioned video tapes, specially sized or designed clothing, and foods that meet special dietary needs.

ILLUSTRATION: A local book store has customarily carried only regular print versions of books. The ADA does not require the bookstore to expand its inventory to include large print books or books on audio tape.

On the other hand, a public accommodation may be required to special order accessible goods at the request of a customer with a disability if --

  1. It makes special orders for unstocked goods in its regular course of business, and 
  2. The accessible or special goods requested can be obtained from one of its regular suppliers.

ILLUSTRATION: A customer of a local bookstore begins to experience some vision loss and has difficulty reading regular print. Upon request by the customer, the bookstore is required to try to obtain large print books, if it normally fills special orders (of any kind) for its other customers, and if large print books can be obtained from its regular suppliers.

The ADA does not require that manufacturers provide warranties or operating manuals that are packed with the product in accessible formats.

III-4.2600 Personal services and devices.

A public accommodation is not required to provide individuals with disabilities with personal or individually prescribed devices, such as wheelchairs, prescription eyeglasses, or hearing aids, or to provide services of a personal nature, such as assistance in eating, toileting, or dressing.

Although discussed here as a limit on the duty to make reasonable modifications, this provision applies to all aspects of the title III rule and limits the obligations of public accommodations in areas such as the provision of auxiliary aids and services, alternatives to barrier removal, and examinations and courses.

However, the phrase "services of a personal nature" is not to be interpreted as referring to minor assistance provided to individuals with disabilities. For example, measures taken as alternatives to barrier removal, such as retrieving items from shelves or providing curb service or home delivery, or actions required as modifications in policies, practices, and procedures, such as a waiter's removing the cover from a customer's straw, a kitchen's cutting up food into smaller pieces, or a bank's filling out a deposit slip, would not be considered "services of a personal nature." Also, if a public accommodation such as a hospital or nursing home customarily provides its clients with what might otherwise be considered services of a personal nature, it must provide the same services for individuals with disabilities.

ILLUSTRATION: An exclusive women's clothing shop provides individualized assistance to its customers in selecting and trying on garments. Although "dressing" might otherwise be considered a personal service, in this case the store must extend the same service to its customers with disabilities. However, a "no frills" merchandiser would not be required to provide assistance in trying on garments, because it does not provide such a service to any of its customers.