Why Architects Still Struggle With Disability Requirements 28 Years After Passage of the ADA

By Michael J. Crosbie: For More Info, Go Here…

Thanks and a hat tip to Joe H…

The original ADA referenced technical accessibility guidelines established in 1991. The problem was that the accessibility guidelines didn’t advance as quickly as technical standards referenced by building codes, so they became an outdated standard. The accessibility guidelines were replaced by the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which are more harmonized with other objective measures of accessibility, including the ICC A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, which are referenced by the current International Building Code. Now, the 2010 ADA Standards are up to date with current research and applications.

Working with architects, builders, and developers, what are some of the criticisms of ADA that you’ve heard?

The criticism I’ve heard most often is that a building should be deemed compliant because it almost hits the mark. But, a building can’t be “almost” compliant—it either meets ADA or it doesn’t—there is no leeway or tolerance other than that which is specifically addressed in the standards. For example, if the location of a bathroom fixture is off by an inch, architects, contractors, or developers want to know what the leeway is, what’s the tolerance for variance? But the tolerance is established by the range permitted by the 2010 Standards; anything above or below the range is not compliant—it either meets the standard or it doesn’t. That’s the biggest complaint. Another common criticism is that there isn’t one technical standard for compliance. Depending on the building’s use, there are several: ADA, ANSI 117.1, and FHA standards, which can vary from state to state. Different standards respond to different building types and are promulgated by different agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Justice. There is an intention to shift to harmonizing these different standards, but we’re not quite there yet.

What’s the most common misunderstanding of the ADA standards by architects?

The most common misunderstanding is that compliance with the requirements of the local building code and its accessibility standards is enough to satisfy the ADA requirements. The accessible design and construction requirement of the code and of the ADA are mutually exclusive and must be considered separately. So it’s possible for a building to be in compliance with the local code, but not in compliance with ADA. Many architects, contractors, and developers don’t realize this.

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