Effective October 19, 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a revision to some aspects of Parts 37 and 38 of its ADA regulations. The FTA maintains a Q&A which clarifies some of the main points. As stated in the Q&A, these are:
The term “common wheelchair” has been removed and changed to “three or more wheeled devices” to accommodate the technology advances that have been made since the ADA was implemented. Over time, transit operators began to apply the original common wheelchair dimensions to exclude wheelchairs that did not fit into the common wheelchair weight and dimension “envelope” (i.e., a weight of not more than 600 pounds when occupied, and measuring 30” x 48”), regardless of whether their vehicles and equipment could accommodate them.
Notably, there is no requirement to procure vehicles or lifts that can accommodate wheelchairs exceeding the weight and dimensions found in the previous definition of “common wheelchair.” 49 CFR Part 38 continues to require that vehicle lifts accommodate a minimum of 600 pounds, and that vehicles accommodate wheelchairs measuring 30” x 48”. However, when transit providers procure vehicles and/or lifts that have the capacity to transport larger and/or heavier chairs, transit providers must carry a wheelchair and occupant if the lift and vehicle can physically accommodate them, unless doing so is inconsistent with legitimate safety requirements.
While the original language called for lifts to accommodate a combined passenger and device weight of 600 pounds, many lifts are now rated to accommodate 800 pounds. There may also be a situation where the passenger’s mobility device exceeds the length of the original dimension and the lift tip and bridge plates can still deploy. In either situation, you must transport the passenger provided they fit into the securement area. Remember that the ADA is about a passenger’s right to use the mobility device of his or her choosing; it does not address the actual safety features of the device.
“Legitimate safety requirements” include such circumstances as a mobility device of such size that it would block an aisle or would interfere with the safe evacuation of passengers in an emergency.
This does not apply to securement; a transit provider cannot impose a limitation on the transportation of wheelchairs and other mobility aids based on the inability of the securement system to secure the device to the satisfaction of the transportation provider. It would be inconsistent with this rule to allow transportation providers to deny service to people who use wheelchairs just because particular devices may be problematic from a securement point of view. “Legitimate safety requirements” must be based on actual risks, not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities or about the devices they use for mobility purposes.
For more information, please see the Federal Register Notice containing the final revision to the regulations as well as National RTAP's 2015 technical brief on Oversized Wheeled Mobility Devices.