Critical Facilities Summit

4  FM quick reads on ADA

1. ADA Compliance Requires Proactive Approach

ADA

Managers in institutional and commercial facilities looking to avoid problems with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can benefit from taking a proactive approach to the act's accessibility guidelines, which are far more than a set of requirements.

"The ADA is a civil rights law and a building code," says Joan Stein, president and CEO of Accessibility Development Associates, adding it continues to have a major impact on facilities more than 20 years after its enactment. More than 200 private ADA lawsuits are filed monthly in U.S. federal courts nationwide, she said.

How can managers get a sense of whether their facilities present barriers to accessibility? Stein says if somebody with a disability has to do something that is unequal, such as calling ahead before visiting a facility or going out of his or her way to gain access, the facility has a problem.

Facilities can use several permissible explanations for not complying with the regulations, Stein says. These explanations cover three instances: cases where changes to a facility would: be structurally impractical; alter the basic nature of the operation; or create financial hardship for the organization.

But she advises managers to tread carefully in one particular situation.

"Don't say 'financial hardship' unless you are prepared to open your books," Stein says. "They will make you open your books, and it is painful."

She also advises managers to be proactive regarding potential accessibility problems because doing so can give facilities better control over the process of making changes.

"If you wait for a complaint to be filed, you will lose control of the process," Stein says, adding the department will tell facilities what to do regarding mandatory changes, as well as when facilities must complete them.


Avoiding ADA Lawsuits

Accessibility lawsuits against facilities for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been on the rise over the last few years. The best defense against ADA lawsuits is to begin the process of removing accessibility barriers. Barriers are aspects of the built environment that lessen accessibility for a person with a disability. The removal process starts by assessing what needs to be done and then putting in place plans, procedures and policies to guide implementation. Two other steps are crucial:

Develop a written implementation plan. Managers can use data collected from an accessibility audit to create an access plan to remove barriers within a manager's time frame. That is the good news. Enforcement of the ADA standards does not insist on complete and immediate compliance. On the other hand, doing nothing or taking half-hearted, slipshod measures are an invitation to lawsuits and substantial penalties, damages, and costs. Barrier removal is a continuing obligation, and it is expected that a business will take steps to improve accessibility over time.

Execute against the plan. The standards require facilities to remove barriers to the extent that it is readily achievable. Many might think the term readily achievable means “to the extent it is convenient for me." This is simply not so. The 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design defines readily achievable as, "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." If it is not readily achievable to immediately remove a barrier, the business must remove barriers to the extent that it is readily achievable.

Managers should incorporate continuing barrier-removal obligations into both short-term and long-term business planning. Managers might consider incorporating previously identified and deferred barriers into their annual capital planning processes. A record of this process should be part of the accessibility compliance plan.

ADA: Avoiding Restroom Accessibility Woes

Restrooms in institutional and commercial buildings remain common areas for accessibility errors because of the many components related to accessibility, including doors, door hardware and dispensers.

A closer look at tested and proven strategies for successfully renovating and remodeling restrooms can help managers address trouble spots in restrooms and can be invaluable in ensuring compliance with Americans with Disabilities (ADA) access guidelines.

Managers first need to understand the individual accessibility standards that combine to produce an accessible restroom. Misapplying these standards and requirements or installing products incorrectly not only makes a restroom non-accessible for individuals with disabilities. It also will heighten the probability of lawsuits alleging discrimination under the ADA and state codes.

Remodeling and new construction usually trigger the application of new accessibility standards. If a remodeling or new construction project is not compliant, it is hard to defend the reasons for including newly installed features, such as soap dispensers, that are not compliant. The cost to install a soap dispenser incorrectly is usually the same as the cost to install a compliant dispenser.

Good students do their homework, and the same philosophy applies to contractors and maintenance and operations staff when remodeling restrooms. Understanding accessibility requirements will result in doing the job right the first time.

Specifying compliant products and paying careful attention to installation details will result in compliant restrooms that meet the federal accessibility requirement of the ADA accessibility guidelines (ADAAG) and state codes. Compliance with ADA is a minimum standard. If a state standard requires a greater level of accessibility than the ADAAG requirement, the state standard applies.

Avoiding ADA Lawsuits

Accessibility lawsuits against facilities for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been on the rise over the last few years. The best defense against ADA lawsuits is to begin the process of removing accessibility barriers. Barriers are aspects of the built environment that lessen accessibility for a person with a disability. The removal process starts by assessing what needs to be done and then putting in place plans, procedures and policies to guide implementation. Two other steps are crucial:

Develop a written implementation plan. Managers can use data collected from an accessibility audit to create an access plan to remove barriers within a manager's time frame. That is the good news. Enforcement of the ADA standards does not insist on complete and immediate compliance. On the other hand, doing nothing or taking half-hearted, slipshod measures are an invitation to lawsuits and substantial penalties, damages, and costs. Barrier removal is a continuing obligation, and it is expected that a business will take steps to improve accessibility over time.

Execute against the plan. The standards require facilities to remove barriers to the extent that it is readily achievable. Many might think the term readily achievable means "to the extent it is convenient for me." This is simply not so. The 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design defines readily achievable as, "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." If it is not readily achievable to immediately remove a barrier, the business must remove barriers to the extent that it is readily achievable.

Managers should incorporate continuing barrier-removal obligations into both short-term and long-term business planning. Managers might consider incorporating previously identified and deferred barriers into their annual capital planning processes. A record of this process should be part of the accessibility compliance plan.


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ADA , accessibility

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