4 FM quick reads on ADA
1. ADA: Emergency Preparations
Most maintenance and engineering managers would agree that nothing is more critical than being prepared for an emergency. But most institutional and commercial facilities focus their efforts on business continuity, meaning records, equipment and property.
Although managers and others involved in emergency preparations understand life safety must come first, they often spend too little time developing strategies to get people out of the building, particularly people who cannot use the stairs to evacuate.
How many managers put the primary focus of planning on people, the most important and costliest element to replace? Beyond that, not enough planners talk about ways to plan for evacuations when not everyone is able to use stairs to leave a facility quickly.
For those planners who do consider human capital first, here are a few key questions:
- Do you know everyone who comes in and out and spends time in your building everyday?
- Do you know whether all of these people could safely evacuate the building without using stairs in an emergency?
Not counting individuals with obvious physical disabilities, managers and others involved in emergency planning need to consider individuals with:
- a heart condition
- a breathing condition
- a panic disorder
- a hearing loss.
They also should consider other types of unforeseen needs, such as the young person who just had surgery and is on crutches but works on the 30th floor of the building, or the long-time employee or tenant who recently might have been diagnosed with or treated for cancer or another medical condition.
2. Accessibility to Facilities Goods and Services
One central goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines is ensuring that occupants and visitors can access goods and services in facilities. This process encompasses everything on the interior path of travel in a building, including corridors, lobbies, elevators, wheelchair lifts, store doorways, and offices.
Once inside an establishment — whether it is retail or service-oriented — the focus on access includes aisle widths, heights of products, sales and checkout counters, and other amenities associated with the transactions that take place. Managers must consider these issues:
- Lobby floor surfaces should be smooth and slip-resistant. Be cautious of floor-waxing products that become slippery when wet. That is a trip and fall — and personal injury — waiting to happen.
- When using carpet runners at doors and lobbies, make sure the edges are secured to the floor and do not curl or bunch.
- Make sure printed directories are readable, use larger print, and are not contained behind a reflective surface. An alternative is to use security staff to provide assistance and directions to visitors.
- On any path of travel, make sure items such as hanging artwork or fire extinguisher boxes are not mounted between 27 inches and 80 inches from the floor or don't protrude more than 4 inches from a wall or 12 inches from a post. Someone with a visual disability would get no warning with a cane before walking right into these protruding objects. Either move them to another location — or more than 80 inches from the floor — or place something underneath them to provide a warning to individuals with visual disabilities.
- Make sure boxes, file cabinets and similar items do not block a clear path of travel — one that is at least 36 inches wide — of any hallway or corridor.
- If elevators have emergency communication systems, make sure they do not require voice only, such as a telephone in a box or one with push-button operation. Neither of these is effective for individuals with hearing or speech disabilities. Speak with the elevator vendor to have them update the emergency communication system.
3. 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.
To maximize access for facility occupants and visitors when planning a restroom remodeling or renovation, managers can focus on these 8 key areas.
4. ADA: Are You At Risk?
Eight questions can help maintenance and engineering managers determine the risk their institutional and commercial facilities face in relation to a complaint under ADA access guidelines from an individual or the U.S. Department of Justice:
- Have we evaluated our facility for ADA barriers?
- Have we been performing readily achievable barrier removal since January 1992?
- Have we ensured that any modifications, alterations, additions or new construction after 1992 were in full compliance with the 1991 standards?
- Have we ensured that the facility's accessibility features — including door closers, sidewalks, ramps, handrails, and grab bars — are maintained in working order?
- Have we converted to the 2010 ADA Standards for any barrier removal, alterations and construction? If you are still working on a project that was permitted before March 15, 2012, using the 1991 ADA standards, complete the project using those standards.
- Have we looked at the new standards for policies and procedures that went into effect on March 15, 2011, for service animals, effective communication, mobility devices, and ticket sales?
- Have we reviewed the new elements contained in the 2010 ADA standards and put together a plan to review our facilities for those areas and elements?
- Have we been documenting our ADA compliance efforts?
Each "no" answer increases the organization's risk. But it is not too late to take the actions to turn no answers to yes. Even if all facilities cannot be immediately compliant, taking action will at least show that the organization is making a good-faith effort to remove barriers, comply with ADA standards, and maintain the accessible features of its facilities.