4 FM quick reads on ADA
1. Terms of Accessibility: The Glossary of ADA
Many professional groups have their own lexicon of acronyms — those technical or specialized terms that often cause non-specialists to nod and feign recognition and understanding when the terms come up in conversation. But if asked to give the full name of the acronym or to provide a rough definition, many listeners would be lost. Here's a mini dictionary of accessibility terms to help maintenance and engineering managers navigate the territory:
ADAAG — Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. It spells out the technical and scoping requirements of ADA. ADAAG is not a building code. Because ADA is a civil rights law, there are many aspects of the technical requirements that differ from standard building codes.
Alteration — Any change made to a facility that affects the function of the element or space. As alterations are designed and constructed, they must meet the new construction requirements of ADAAG.
Barrier-free — Often used to describe an area that has no barriers to individuals with physical or sensory disabilities.
Complaint-driven — ADA is enforced by private citizens who either file a complaint with the appropriate federal agency responsible for enforcement or file a lawsuit in federal court.
Disability — A mental or physical impairment that limits major life activities. People with disabilities include someone using a walker, someone who has a visual disability and someone with a hidden illness such as diabetes, emphysema or heart disease.
DOJ — U.S. Department of Justice, the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of ADA's Title II (State and Local Governments/Public Services) and Title III (Public Accommodations/Privately Owned).
Good-faith effort — Taking steps to identify and remove barriers in a facility. It's not too late to start, unless of course a facility already has had a complaint filed against it.
Grandfathering — ADA has no provisions for grandfathering. All buildings, whether new or in existence prior to ADA, must perform readily achievable barrier removal.
Readily achievable — The definition of readily achievable is intentionally vague, as it is viewed on a case-by-case basis, with consideration to structural ability and financial resources. What might not have been affordable in 1992 may well be doable in 2004.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.