Doctor’s offices often lack examination tables, weight scales and other diagnostic equipment that are accessible to people with disabilities. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to change that.

The agency is proposing a rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act that would adopt technical standards spelling out the responsibilities that hospitals and health care clinics operated by state or local governments have under the law.

The Justice Department said that the proposal published this month in the Federal Register comes in response to numerous complaints from people with disabilities who have been denied basic services by health care providers due to a lack of accessible equipment.

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Complaints cited cases where doctors failed to obtain an accurate weight before administering anesthesia, a doctor who told a patient who remained in his wheelchair for the entirety of his annual exam that “I assume everything below the waist is fine,” and a patient who was afraid to go to the doctor after being placed on a standard exam table with no side rails.

“Individuals with disabilities often experience great difficulty obtaining routine or preventative medical care because of inaccessible medical diagnostic equipment. From examination tables to weight scales to mammography equipment, accessible (medical diagnostic equipment) is critical to ensuring equal access to medical care,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This groundbreaking rule marks a significant milestone in the Justice Department’s efforts to remove barriers that people with disabilities face when accessing medical care.”

The proposed rule would adopt accessibility standards established in 2017 by the U.S. Access Board for exam tables, chairs used for eye and dental exams, weight scales, mammography equipment and x-ray machines, among other items used by health care providers for diagnostic purposes.

The rule is being proposed under Title II of the ADA, which requires state and local government services, programs and activities to be accessible to people with disabilities, so the rule would apply to public hospitals, health clinics and other entities that state and local governments contract with to provide health care services.

Under the proposal, state and local government entities that provide health care would be barred from denying services to patients with disabilities because of a lack of accessible equipment and such providers would be prohibited from requiring people with disabilities to bring someone to help them with an exam.

The rule would require that any new medical diagnostic equipment that covered entities acquire be accessible until they meet a required threshold of accessible equipment. Providers that use exam tables would have to have at least one that is accessible within two years. Similarly, if the rule is finalized, entities that use weight scales would need to have an accessible one within two years.

Staff would need to be able to operate accessible medical equipment and be able to assist with necessary transfers and positioning, the Justice Department said.

The proposal is up for public comment through Feb. 12.

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