4 FM quick reads on ADA
1. Accessibility: Planning for Emergencies
I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is accessibility.
Maintenance and engineering managers and others involved in emergency preparations understand life safety must come first. Unfortunately, planners often spend too little time developing strategies to get people out of the building, particularly people who cannot use the stairs to evacuate. Too few planners talk about ways to prepare for evacuations when not everyone is able to use stairs to leave a facility quickly.
One essential step for managers in this planning process is understanding the emergency components a building will support, including:
• areas of rescue assistance, not just a room down the hall or a place on the stairwell landing
• emergency-communication systems that meet the needs of persons with hearing disabilities
• visual alarms where required
• identification of assistive equipment, such as evacuation chairs
• and, an emergency-response team with floor wardens.
Now comes the touchy part. Planners often believe they have to ask, "Do you have a disability that I have to accommodate under the ADA?"
That question is not necessary to get the needed information to protect a facility and its occupants. Instead, planners can ask, "Would you need assistance in evacuating the building if the elevators were shut down?" That question does not intrude into anyone's personal disability or business, but it begins the dialogue.
Managers should preface that question with a great deal of education and outreach about the efforts building owners and managers are making to ensure the safety of occupants.
Finally, managers planning for the needs of visitors to a facility need to consider the case of a security staff, which can change often. One solution is a simple script of questions that includes asking about the kind of assistance a visitor would need, such as an evacuation chair or freight elevator, as well as a notation on the sign-in sheet of that particular person's needs.
2. Accessibility and Restroom Renovations
I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, accessibility and restroom renovations.
Restrooms offer maintenance and engineering managers major opportunities to produce numerous benefits for institutional and commercial facilities, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
To meet ADA requirements during restroom renovations, managers must consider such factors as: occupant count and fixture requirements; space requirements; and structural requirements.
Most ADA-compliance renovations result in the loss of a stall or a urinal as a result of changes to meet the 5-foot diameter requirement for stalls. If the number of existing fixtures is appropriate for the code governing the area's population, the loss of a stall might require additional construction costs.
Similarly, space requirements for an ADA-compliant stall might require realigning the remaining stalls and stools. One possible cost-saving option is to make the ADA-compliant stall the size of two existing stalls, exceeding the size needed for a compliant stall but eliminating the need to move plumbing fixtures.
Structural requirements also come into play with grab bars required in the ADA stall. Often, walls must be reinforced to accommodate the potential weight-bearing capacities of these bars.
Omitting reinforcement of existing walls when installing grab bars can be problematic. In one example, the grab bar in a handicap stall in one facility was detached and hanging from the wall. On further inspection, inspectors discovered the grab bar had been installed into the wall using only mollies, which obviously could not support weight applied to the grab bar.
The problem not only cost more money to rectify at that point. It also created a hazard and an inconvenience for the public. The failure to consider this and the previously mentioned factors too often results in higher construction costs and potential post-renovation costs.
3. Evaluating Access, Avoiding Liability
I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, accessibility and liability.
Newspaper articles continue to report accessibility complaints about shopping centers, movie theatres, colleges and universities, restaurants, and retail stores. The complaints range from "no accessible parking" to "no accessible restrooms in a restaurant."
The cases include existing facilities that have not performed readily achievable barrier removal, as well as organizations that have designed and built new facilities — following implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — that do not comply with ADA requirements.
When faced with a private lawsuit, it is important to determine if the allegations are valid. The first step is to have an outside entity — one that understands the differences between building code and enforceable ADA standards — perform a professional ADA evaluation.
A side-by-side comparison of the complaint's allegations and these professional findings often is helpful. If the problems relate to the removal of barriers — including providing compliant parking, and re-surfacing sidewalks and curb ramps — this step can speed the resolution of the complaint without a great deal of time, attention or cost.
But if the professional evaluation uncovers evidence that areas identified in the complaint actually comply with ADA, maintenance and engineering managers have critical information their organizations can use to negotiate.
A professional ADA evaluation also should include the steps necessary to bring the facility into compliance. For example, whether an item is readily achievable depends on the organization's resources and the nature of the building. If managers have not yet scheduled a full ADA evaluation, this report serves as a crucial step in ADA compliance efforts. By following through with the recommendations, with a clear timeline and budget, a manager often can prevent subsequent ADA complaints.
4. DOJ Updates ADA Guidelines
I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, updated ADA guidelines.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in July 2010 issued updated guidelines regarding accessibility for institutional and commercial facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The regulations update ADA standards, including the ADA standards for accessible design, that govern the construction and alteration of facilities covered by the ADA, including places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities.
Managers in institutional and commercial facilities should be aware of several important highlights of the updated guidelines:
First, the regulations allow covered entities the choice of following either the updated standards or the original standards during the first 18 months after publication. After this period, the 2010 standards are mandatory. In setting the effective dates, the department sought to allow enough time for a transition to the updated standards to avoid disrupting design and construction projects underway.
Second, the new rules also revise or supplement other sections of its ADA regulations, including those covering existing facilities, service animals, policies and programs, maintenance of accessible features, auxiliary aids and services, and effective communication.
Finally, the rule includes a general safe harbor, under which elements in covered facilities built or altered in compliance with the 1991 standards would not have to be brought into compliance with the 2010 standards until the elements were subject to a planned alteration. A similar safe harbor applies to elements associated with the path of travel to an altered area. More information is available at www.access-board.gov.