Accessibility and Design

ADA, design   July 2, 2010

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, accessibility and design.

When helping to design a renovation or new construction project, facility managers know they must consider the needs of individuals with disabilities. But the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represent only a minimum standard, not the final word on accessibility. Just as managers would not apply a cookie-cutter approach to any other part of the design, they must address accessibility and comfort needs in the context of a specific site and its population.

Designers can neglect employees and visitors with disabilities during the design process, but focusing on that element proved to be key to accessibility planning when renovating one corporate office building with more than 300,000 square feet. At the outset, the owner set the goal of creating a work environment where all employees would be comfortable. The design focused on work-life balance, sustainable design and enhanced accessibility.

As with all such projects, planners encountered challenges, particularly in cafeterias, where accessibility needs conflicted with other requirements. For example, it is difficult to design a salad bar that complies with health-department regulations and is accessible. The solution was to provide a second, more accessible salad section in the server line.

Planners solved some challenges in the cafeteria by applying common sense, rather than requiring an architectural solution. One complaint involved drinks on the top shelf of a reach-in beverage cooler that were too high to reach. By arranging the different types of drinks vertically rather than horizontally, each drink was available at several heights.

Some design solutions came with significant costs, while others required only a more thoughtful approach. While the low- and no-cost solutions might be easier — and, thus, more appealing — to implement, making a workplace accessible to all employees and visitors is well worth any reasonable cost a solution requires.


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