The Final Review

Illinois Accessibility Law: 2016 Year in Review

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This year, Illinois has taken important steps to update the state’s accessibility laws. Amendments to the state accessibility statute, the Illinois Environmental Barriers Act, were signed into law this past July. However, the state regulations implementing the Environmental Barriers Act are still waiting to be introduced as part of the state’s formal rulemaking process. The changes to the state accessibility statute will have limited impact until the state’s accessibility rules, the Illinois Accessibility Code, are also updated.

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Amendments to the Environmental Barriers Act

The Illinois Environmental Barriers Act (Environmental Barriers Act), 410 ILL. Comp. Stat 25 et. seq., requires any newly constructed or altered public facilities and multi-story housing units to meet Illinois’ accessibility standards. The changes to the Environmental Barriers Act were introduced in the Illinois General Assembly this past February as Senate Bill 2956. Governor Rauner signed the amendments into law, Public Act 99-582, on July 15, 2016, and the amendments are effective January 1, 2017.

The Illinois Attorney General (IAG), responsible for enforcing the Environmental Barriers Act, drafted the updates to the law in cooperation with the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB). The major goal of the amendments was to better align the state law with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Illinois public facilities must comply with both the ADA and the Environmental Barriers Act. According the Dan Hohl, Director of Government Affairs for the American Institute of Architects in Illinois, the amendments that update the Environmental Barriers Act to match the ADA’s requirements will help “ensure that projects meet both state and federal accessibility laws and regulations.”

The changes also require that the Illinois Accessibility Code (Accessibility Code), 71 ILL. Admin. Code tit.71, sec. 400 et seq., the state regulations implementing the Environmental Barriers Act, to be updated within three years of any changes to the ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design. The revised Environmental Barriers Act also includes requirements for paths of travel to primary function areas even though the proposed federal Accessibility Guidelines for Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way have not yet been finalized. For a more detailed summary of the Environmental Barriers Act amendments, please read our earlier post.

Changes to the Illinois Accessibility Code

The CDB is working on draft amendments to the Accessibility Code to better align the Illinois standards with the federal 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, the rules implementing the ADA’s accessibility provisions. The draft amendments were circulated for comments this past summer prior to their formal introduction as a proposed rule in keeping with the Illinois rulemaking procedure. The CDB shared the draft at this early stage in order to foster agreement before beginning the rulemaking process.

Originally, CDB planned to start the formal rulemaking procedure, publishing the proposed rule in the Illinois Register, this past summer. Technically, the statutory deadline for promulgating the amended rules is January 2017. However, as 2016 ends, the amendments still have not been published as a proposed rule in the Illinois Register. It is our understanding that the revised rules were numbered to align with the federal standards to make comparison between the federal and state rules straightforward. However, this numbering method is different from the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules’ (JCAR) rulemaking numbering system, and CDB and JCAR are trying to work out this issue.

At this point, it will be well into 2017 before the revised Accessibility Code will become final. Once the Accessibility Code amendments are proposed, the public comment period must be at least 45 days, CDB needs time review any comments and make potential revisions, and JCAR requires time review the revised rules. We are looking forward to these important Illinois accessibility law changes in the coming year.

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