ADA man in wheelchair

ADA: Myths, Misconceptions and Compliance Strategies

Managers must track changes in their facilities that can affect accessibility for all occupants and visitors.

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor  

Despite increased awareness and legislation, millions of individuals with a documented disability still experience accessibility challenges related to non-compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is critically important to recognize that the ADA matters for all institutional and commercial facilities

Owners of properties and businesses, as well as maintenance and engineering managers, must work to comply with ADA and be aware of the potential business impacts of non-compliance. Settlements can be costly and time consuming, costing thousands of dollars per violation, and can increase quickly into millions. 

To bring managers up to speed on trends and issues related to ADA and accessibility in facilities, Facility Maintenance Decisions spoke with Joan Stein, president of Stein Consulting, LLC.  

FMD: What are the most important changes to ADA guidelines in recent years? 

Stein: There really have been no changes. The original standards were adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to be effective on Jan. 26, 1992. The U.S. Access Board, which is the federal agency responsible for writing the guidelines, updated them in 2004. Six years later in 2010, the DOJ adopted them to be enforceable standards as of March 15, 2012. There have been no further updates. 

Building codes from the International Code Council (ICC) and ANSI are updated every three years, and states and local entities adopt them as they see fit. But these entities do not enforce the ADA. It is unknown if or when the ADA standards will be updated. 

FMD: What are the two or three most common myths or misconceptions related to ADA guidelines, compliance and enforcement? 

Stein: The first misconception among building owners and managers is that their existing buildings are grandfathered under the ADA. This is partially true, due to the fact that building codes and code officials do not get involved until such time that renovations or new construction happen that require a building permit. All existing buildings have had ADA obligations to perform readily achievable barrier removal since Jan. 26, 1992. It is an ongoing obligation. 

Another common myth or misconception is that public facilities believe they only have to comply with ADA if they have a certain number of employees. The number of employees relates to Title I, the employment provisions. Any place that sells or provides goods or services to the public, whether it is for-profit or non-profit, must comply with ADA regardless of the number of employees. 

A third common myth is that code officials enforce the ADA. The truth is that only the DOJ or federal courts can enforce the ADA. Many code officials will say, “The ADA requires you to do this …,” but code officials cannot enforce it. 

FMD: What is the best advice for maintenance and engineering managers trying to ensure their facilities remain in compliance with ADA requirements? 

Stein: Managers need to stay on top of things. They need to monitor any changes to their facilities, make sure the changes comply and make sure that accessible features of their facilities – such as elevators and maneuvering clearances at doors – are not undone by staff. 

In that scenario, cleaning staff might want to place a trash can next to the restroom door to prevent building occupants and visitors from throwing their paper towels on the floor. But this step undoes the requirement for maneuvering clearance at the door of the restroom. 

The bottom line is to document everything. 

FMD: What are the most important likely or pending updates to ADA guidelines, compliance and enforcement that managers should be aware of? 

Stein: I really do not believe there will be any regulatory updates in the coming years. What managers might be on the lookout for are the following: 

  • specific requirements for websites that will be enforceable by the DOJ 
  • additional regulations for building components such as furniture and medical equipment that have been under development for more than 10 years. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facility market. He has more than 25 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 

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  posted on 12/13/2022   Article Use Policy

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