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By Joan W. Stein
ADA Article Use Policy
Building owners and facility executives rely on the guidance and knowledge of architects and contractors when buildings are being constructed or renovated. Confidence in the architect’s or contractor’s ability to meet all applicable codes and regulations is usually a given. Just to be safe, of course, contracts include the clause “must comply with all applicable codes and regulations” to be sure all the bases are covered.
Since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and the implementation of Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, or ADAAG, some building owners and facility executives have inserted specific references to nondiscrimination and compliance with the ADA into contract language. On the surface, this seems to offer all the protection needed. ADA is a federal law; it’s easy to assume that all architects and contractors must comply with it and fully understand it. But in real life, things aren’t so simple. Consider incidents like these:
One problem with that response is ADA is not a building code; it is a civil rights law. Although much of it is predicated on ANSI and other building code formats, the reality is that complaints of noncompliance can be initiated solely on the perception of discrimination. But most ADA complaints aren’t just a matter of perception; they involve failure to meet the requirements spelled out in ADAAG.
Whose responsibility is it to meet those requirements? Ultimately, responsibility falls to the building owner. Other construction professionals may also be liable, but that doesn’t mean the building owner has no responsibility. To be an informed buyer of architecture and contracting services, the best approach to take is “buyer beware.”
It’s worth investing some time upfront to be sure that the project expected is actually the project delivered. Here are questions to ask architects and contractors; many apply to product manufacturers and representatives as well:
The same approach applies to evaluations of product maintenance and warranties:
For purposes of ADA compliance, the facility executive must make sure that the building owner’s interests are being protected. Doing that means asking the tough questions and digging for answers. Make sure design and construction professionals include “errors and omissions” in their liability coverage. If a complaint is made against the owner or management of the building, be prepared with the documentation of the process used to ensure ADA compliance.
Joan W. Stein is president and CEO of Accessibility Development Associates Inc. in Pittsburgh, and Carol Cocuzzi is vice president of design consulting services for that firm.