4 FM quick reads on ADA
1. ADA: Tactics To Avoid Lawsuits
The number of lawsuits filed against businesses and facilities for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are on the rise in the last few years. These lawsuits have the potential to cost defendants $5,000 or more per complaint.
The best defense against ADA lawsuits is to begin the process of removing accessibility barriers. Barriers are aspects of the built environment that lessen a disabled person's access. The removal process starts by assessing what needs to be done and then putting in place plans, procedures and policies to guide implementation.
Maintenance and engineering managers need to understand the basics of the ADA. Title III of the ADA addresses public accommodations and commercial buildings. This section prohibits discrimination based on disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases or operates a place of public accommodation.
One of the most important things to understand is that the ADA is a civil rights law, not a building code. Local building code officials do not oversee ADA enforcement. The ADA is enforced when discrimination is alleged through private suit or by certain federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice. Therefore, just because plans are approved by building inspectors or other officials does not mean the building will be ADA compliant.
To truly know whether an organization is compliant, managers should consult with a professional for specific details related to the facility. A consultant can perform an accessibility audit on the facility.
The audit should include the exterior and interior. The exterior audit of the property should include the path of travel from the street, parking and public transportation. The interior audit should include all areas accessed by visitors, customers and vendors.
ADA: Communication Consdierations
Institutional and commercial facilities, operations, and occupants change regularly. As a result of these shifts, maintenance and engineering managers need to communicate as thoroughly as possible about their departments' efforts to comply with facility access guidelines.
One crucial step in the regard is to designate an ADA coordinator. Managers should post the ADA coordinator's name, title, address, phone number, TDD/TTY number, and e-mail in a visible public location, and they should include this information in handbooks and all other organizationwide publications.
Managers also should post ADA-related notices in selected locations and on the organization's web site. They should pay special attention to provide additional information to front-line staff in non-public and outlying areas.
Managers also can use these tactics to communicate their compliance efforts:
- Develop a brochure or an informational packet that provides information on ADA requirements, as well as information on how to contact the organization's ADA coordinator.
- Develop a procedure for providing materials in accessible alternate formats. These alternate formats might include large print, taped materials or Braille. All of these materials need not be available in an alternate format prior to a request. But a procedure should be in place to provide an alternate format in a timely manner if one is requested.
- Review web sites for accessibility. For little or no charge, services such as Bobby Worldwide will evaluate web sites in order to ensure their accessibility.
- Provide accommodation statements on all public notices. Such statements should provide a contact in the event an individual with a disability needs accommodation to participate in a program, service or activity.
- Give members of the public, individuals with disabilities, and organizations representing individuals with disabilities an opportunity to provide input. Tools for this purpose include postings, surveys of facility users, organizations and site administrators, and newspaper notices.
- Use appropriate terminology on all verbal and printed communication. For example, use the term "disabled" instead of "handicapped." Refer to individuals with disabilities as people first, so instead of saying "hearing-impaired person," say "person with a hearing impairment."
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.
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.