The ABCs of ADA

  April 2, 2014

Every maintenance and engineering manager knows ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the civil rights law signed into law in 1990. Some managers know the law provides protection to the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group— people with disabilities. But many ADA-related terms are less well understood. Here’s a mini-dictionary of key ADA issues:

Alterations — 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 ADA accessibility guidelines (ADAAG).

Barrier-free — Often used to describe an area with no barriers to individuals with physical or sensory disabilities

Disability — A mental or physical impairment that limits major life activities. People with disabilities include someone using a walker and someone who has a visual disability, but also someone with a hidden illness, such as diabetes, emphysema or heart disease.

Good-faith effort — What building owners, managers and all businesses were required to begin making on Jan. 26, 1992. A good-faith effort means taking steps to identify and remove barriers in a facility. It's not too late to start, unless of course a facility has already 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 might be today.

Risk Management — ADA issues have become synonymous with risk management. Grab bars and handrails provide support; smooth sidewalks prevent trips and falls, as do secure carpets and non-skid floor coverings.

TDD/TTY — Telephone Devices for the Deaf. Text telephones that allow individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate using regular voice phones.

UFAS — Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. The predecessor to ADAAG. The standards were the technical requirements for compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Once ADA was signed into law and ADAAG was developed, ADAAG requirements have, for the most part, replaced UFAS standards.

Universal design — The standard all construction should achieve because it meets the needs of everyone, from children to senior citizens.


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