Complying With ADA: Construction And Maintenance Challenges
Construction and maintenance each has a its own set of challenges when dealing with ADA compliance. For example, the construction techniques a contractor uses can mean the difference between compliance and complaints. Quality checks for compliance are an important component of the construction process. A contractor must understand what the process for checking his work will be; otherwise, he could believe an element is compliant when in fact he took the measurement incorrectly. If a contractor measures the slopes of an accessible parking space only along the edges of the parking space, he may miss non-compliant slopes in the middle of the parking space. So it is important that the contractor is on the same page as the architect regarding methods for checking his work.
After the construction of an accessible element is complete, inspect it to confirm that the element is compliant. If the contractor has established a reliable record for providing ADA-compliant construction, then she could be the surveying entity, which provides a compliance confirmation report. If the contractor has not yet established such reliability, then an outside party, the architect, or an accessibility consultant should conduct a quality check.
Change orders can also cause ADA compliance issues. A lavatory may have been selected at the design stage to be the accessible lavatory and detailed in the drawings to provide the necessary knee clearance below it. During construction, however, the lavatory may be changed to a different type with a deeper bowl, so that when it is set into the counter it reduces the knee-clearance depth. This is a coordination issue. The details for change orders must be analyzed to assess their impact on ADA compliance. In this case, it could mean that the new lavatory needs to be set back in the counter to provide the necessary knee clearance, or that the new lavatory is unsuitable for this situation and another one must be selected. Ongoing coordination throughout the construction process is necessary to ensure that changes to details don't violate ADA criteria.
Selecting a contractor who is a good communicator and understands the importance of ADA compliance will go a long way to reducing non-compliant conditions.
The importance of maintenance is often overlooked when building construction is complete, and many owners and operators do not fully understand ADA's ongoing maintenance requirement. Facility maintenance personnel need to understand ADA design requirements since they are responsible for repairs to elements that often have accessibility requirements. For example, coat hooks in restroom compartments often need to be replaced, so if a new hook replaces the low accessible hook in the accessible compartment, it needs to be placed within compliant reach range. Knowing the maximum height for reach range is 48 inches high (it was 54 inches high for a side reach in the 1991 ADA Standards) means the hook will be placed correctly and a possible ADA complaint averted. Owners and operators need to provide training, procedures, or both, for the repair and maintenance of accessible elements.
Cleaning staff or other employees should have a basic understanding of ADA design criteria so they are not inadvertently creating ADA compliance problems. If a trash can is pulled to the door, emptied, and left there, it can obstruct the door maneuvering clearance. Or if a hotel employee places a table against the wall in a meeting room to provide refreshments and doesn't understand the need to provide a clear floor space for a wheelchair by the only house phone in the room, then this creates a compliance issue. It is not the customer's or guest's responsibility to ask that these situations be corrected; they should not occur in the first place. This requires training employees to grasp the importance of ADA and be vigilant about compliance issues that can be avoided or easily resolved.
An understanding of ADA standards is paramount in all three aspects of a building's lifecycle. The courts are filled with ADA complaints citing lists, both long and short, of alleged accessibility violations that usually boil down to non-compliance with the details of ADA standards. Owners and operators are responsible for ADA compliance, so it is imperative that they require their designers, contractors, and maintenance personnel to understand the importance of ADA compliance for their properties.
Lee Swinscoe is consulting manager for Universal Designers and Consultants, an accessibility consulting firm specializing in the Americans with Disabilities Act, based in Silver Spring, Md. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.