4 FM quick reads on ADA
1. Eight Questions for ADA Compliance
Maintenance and engineering managers in institutional and commercial facilities often face a difficult challenge in determining whether their facilities comply with ADA accessibility guidelines. These eight questions can help managers determine their organizations' level of risk for an ADA complaint:
- Have we evaluated the 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 — door closers, sidewalks, ramps, handrails, grab bars, etc. — are maintained in working order?
- Have we converted to the 2010 ADA Standards for any barrier removal, alterations or construction?
- 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 elements contained in the 2010 ADA standards and put together a plan to review our facility for those areas and elements?
- Have we been documenting all of our ADA compliance efforts?
Each "no" answer increases risk. But it is not too late to take the actions to turn your no answers to yes. Even if you cannot bring all of your facilities into immediate compliance, taking action will at least show that you are making a good-faith effort to remove barriers, comply with ADA standards, and maintain the accessible features of your facility.
2. ADA: Design for All
The mindset toward accessibility in many institutional and commercial facilities is evolving, but slowly. How can maintenance and engineering managers update their attitude toward ADA to see it as an element of the "design for all" concept instead of as a penalty or as something extra?
The best way to do this is by thinking of it as making the facility accessible to more visitors and occupants — not just those with disabilities — which is good for the bottom line.
In most cases, the project or facility can be designed so it does not negatively affect customers who are not disabled, yet still provides a positive experience for those that are. Accessible features also tend to benefit broader, possibly unexpected demographic groups, including parents with strollers, senior citizens, people with temporary injuries or even someone delivering packages or carrying luggage. These features ensure any and all customers can access the space safely and comfortably.
3. Retrofits: Ensuring ADA Compliance
For maintenance and engineering managers overseeing construction and renovation project in institutional and commercial facilities, there are two key steps to take to ensure that the project is fully compliant. The first is to perform a jurisdictional analysis.
Managing projects that result in fully accessible and compliant facilities requires a thorough analysis of the range of accessibility regulations that may be applicable to a specific project. The analysis will help determine, at the early planning stage, how many of what must be accessible. Do all public entrances have to be accessible, 50 percent or just one? This jurisdictional analysis must be done at the beginning of the project and reviewed at key milestones.
The specific questions that should be asked depend in part on the state that the project is in. However, typical key questions include:
- Is the facility's owner a government or private entity?
- If it is a private entity, does it receive any public financial assistance — not just for the specific building project?
- Is the facility open to the general public or used by employees only?
- Is the project new construction, an addition or an alteration?
In alteration projects, ask the following: Are "primary function" areas being altered? What is the cost of the planned alterations? For multifamily housing projects, additional questions include: Is the housing being developed by a state or local government agency? How many units? Are the units for rent or sale?
The second step is to knowing the resources.
Having in-house expertise is the easiest source for answering accessibility questions as they arise during projects. Every organization should designate someone to become familiar with the federal laws and regulations as well as the requirements of the states in which the organization has facilities. But the accessibility issues for many projects are not straightforward, and second opinions or interpretations are often warranted.
4. 4 Steps to Proactive ADA Compliance
ADA accessibility lawsuits filed against businesses and facilities for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been growing over the last few years. The best defense against ADA lawsuits is to remove accessibility barriers.
Barriers are aspects of the built environment that lessen access. The removal process starts by assessing what needs to be done and then putting in place plans, procedures and policies to guide implementation. Here are four proactive steps to become an unappealing target:
Know how you're doing. The first step is to understand the basics of the ADA. 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 the enforcement of the ADA. The ADA is enforced when discrimination is alleged through private suit or by certain federal agencies, such as the Department of Justice. So just because plans are approved by building inspectors or other officials does not mean the building will be ADA compliant.
Develop a written implementation plan. The data collected from the audit will then be used to create an access plan to remove barriers within your time frame. That's 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.
Execute against the plan. The Standards require businesses to remove barriers to the extent that it is readily achievable. Many may 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's not readily achievable to immediately remove a barrier, the business must remove barriers to the extent it is readily achievable.
Let the law be your guide. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design is more than 250 pages, but there are resources to help make use of this extensive document. A couple of good places to start are the United States Access Board website, www.access-board.gov, and the U.S. DOJ ADA website, www.ada.gov. The DOJ also offers a toll-free ADA information line for assistance.