ADA is not Building Code
One of the most common misconceptions about accessibility is about how it should be applied. Many design professionals, building code officials and contractors treat accessibility only as building code. However, as accessibility became more complex, the concept of an accessible “path of travel” was fragmented and divided by specialty. For example, the asphalt contractor does the parking lot and the door installer does the doors. Unless the accessibility designer or the general contractor is able to get the specialists to follow his or her master design plan (instead of each doing their own thing), accessible features can end up apart from one another so that there isn’t a continuous path of travel. For example, consider the following image:
Other than the slopes and cross slopes? What else is improper about where this parking is located?
Hint: A truly accessible parking lot isn’t just about striping blue paint according to the correct dimensions.
For accessible parking spaces, there needs to be a “bridge” to the accessible entrance and a protective “envelope” around the patron along this path. If you can imagine the asphalt as an ‘ocean’, one that is hazardous to someone in a wheelchair (who can be completely invisible to a driver backing out of a parking spot because of their low profile), you will realize the necessity of protecting the disabled patron with this path of travel.
Creating an accessible path can include various configurations of head aisles, cross walks, detectable warnings, edge protection and signage (not to mention addressing various hazards like grates or protruding objects). This becomes even more problematic when an owner or a designer does not understand the principle or reasoning behind the elements of an accessible path. This is because while the ADA guidelines specify only certain drawings as an example, there are invariably several possible solutions depending on the unique characteristics of each facility. The worst situations are where accessible parking is added where there is room for one feature (say an access aisle) but this is done without regard to where the main entrance is located, and a disabled patron must unnecessarily travel over twice or three times the distance that an able-bodied patron can travel to reach the entrance of a store.
This is where having the right consultant becomes so important. Knowing what your options are can save a ton of money and time while preventing confusing and even dangerous travel for a disabled individual.
Accessibility is more about fair access to goods and services than it is about construction. Elements along an accessible route need to comply with existing design standards, but as long as the good or service is made accessible with reasonable accommodation, construction might not be needed. The requirements of the ADA are many, but they are such that in the big picture, there are almost always alternate options available.
Furthermore, designers, contractors and inspectors don’t have control over how a building is used or what is offered within a building… that’s up to the occupant. If the occupant assumes that access is all about building code, as many often do, they may think they don’t have any responsibility when in fact their lack of awareness leaves them open to all kinds of liability.
A restaurant owner may think that an upstairs dining room is perfect for private parties or events. But what if a customer books a wedding at your location and it turns out that their grandma is in a wheelchair? Does this mean she can’t see her grandchildren during dinner? Providing equal (or equivalent) access is paramount, and where we choose to locate accommodations becomes a deciding factor in how an occupant configures a space. Unfortunately, there are few classes to teach business owners or commercial real estate agents the complex requirements for accessibility. So, YTA is here to help. If you have any questions of concerns about accessibility, feel free to give us a call at (866) 982-3212 or email us at email@example.com and we can consult with you to determine your full accessibility needs or even hold seminars for your organization or community.
How liable are you? Read our ADA FAQ for more information. For information about assessing your site yourself or hiring an ADA expert, please look at our ADA Consultation page. Or call us at 866 982 3212 x2 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Note: The California Building Code may have changed its requirements since the writing of this article.