Guest Column - October 2011
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Miniature Golf

A Mandate for Miniature Golf ADA Compliance

By Arne Lundmark

A revision to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that on or after March 15, 2012, public accommodations, which include miniature golf facilities, must remove architectural barriers to elements subject to the new requirements in the 2010 Standards when it is "readily achievable" to do so.

The ball is now in the court of miniature golf owners to interpret the barrier removal requirements and comply. This article focuses on the immediate issue of removing "readily achievable" barriers.

A word of caution is needed: No one knows all the issues and answers, so my comments are my best efforts to interpret and comply with the regulations. I have participated on committees, spoken with representatives of the U.S. Access Board and have accomplished an extensive review of the regulations. But if there is a question of law and facts, I leave that to the attorneys and others. I am simply trying to provide insight to meet the deadline and help owners develop priorities.

Before anyone jumps out of their skin in surprise or rushes to their local congressperson, this may not be as bad as it sounds, and the time for reaction has mostly passed. This is not a new issue and the deadline is beginning to show up in our rear-view mirrors.

How did this happen? Did we not know this was coming? Can we still question the rules and regulations? Where do we begin? What are barriers? What does "readily achievable" mean? What if it can't be done? What if we don't have the funds?

Yes, we knew this was coming. Yes, we can still have questions answered. To find answers to the balance of these questions, it is helpful to review how we arrived at this moment.

Over the past 20 years, committees from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) and other organizations have worked with representatives of the Access Board and the Department of Justice, seeking to create regulations that are fair to miniature golf course owners and to people with disabilities. While they did a good job, there are still questions to be resolved and that effort is ongoing. They have been guided by trying to resolve this statement from the "Primer:" "People with disabilities continue to face architectural barriers that limit or make it impossible to access the goods or services offered by businesses."

There are three ADA compliance components that impact miniature golf courses:

  • New construction now and after March 15, 2012.
  • Removal of barriers that is readily achievable on existing courses.
  • Alterations to existing miniature golf courses after March 15, 2012.

Compliance for new courses and alterations to existing courses will be an ongoing requirement after the 2012 deadline. New construction is straightforward, and we have been building accessible courses for at least 15 years based on scoping provisions of the future regulations. But the devil is in the details, so you have to do your homework. For example, with the compliance to regulations that other businesses have already dealt with, there are specific provisions for signs, parking spaces, counters and other items.

Alterations to existing miniature golf courses after March 15, 2012, will be governed by the regulations now in place, and there are a few unanswered questions. The industry's effort to find answers to these questions is in process. Our quest for knowledge may not be fully satisfied until we deal with real-life situations after the deadline.

Barrier Removal

The removal of barriers is the trigger point for anyone to question why a particular miniature golf course has not removed barriers. Owners, operators, designers and builders are expected to know the law, so lack of knowledge may not be an adequate defense.

So what are the barriers that need to be removed? According to an Access Board spokesperson, "The new construction requirements for miniature golf courses can be used as a measuring stick for identifying barriers. The requirement is that you remove barriers when it is 'readily achievable.'"

Examples of new course requirements include, but are not limited to accessible holes, slope requirements and related standards for accessible routes, tee areas and exits, and passage dimensions and space requirements that allow those with disabilities to move around obstacles and on the miniature golf play area.

However, some probable requirements may be found in sections not specifically listed under the miniature golf requirements, such as protrusions along the circulation path, overhead clearance, stairway and handrail details, surfaces, toilet rooms and counters.

Developing an action plan related to the removal of barriers and future compliance will be determined by answering these tougher questions:

  • What are the barriers on a miniature golf course?
  • How many holes are accessible?
  • Does the accessible route connecting the accessible route comply?