Ever since I received classroom instruction at West Virginia University in the mid-1990s, accessibility has been a key component to my design process. Of course, back then we merely worried about the basics by providing ramps, curb cuts, and accessible parking spaces. Today, accessibility is a complicated, multi-level set of regulations and design guidelines that reach into every aspect of our society and daily lives – as they should. Over the years, I was guilty of questioning the regulatory guidance and why we needed to provide such a comprehensive approach which complicated design, sometimes limited the final design, and absolutely increased construction costs.
Today, I’m proud to say that I fully embrace accessibility, and make it the very first priority on any site design. In addition to the comprehensive checks and balances now in place to ensure accessibility that force compliance, I have witnessed over the years all types of people struggle in some of the same places I designed. Additionally, you can learn a lot when you have two young children and a stroller to push around. It was these experiences that have me now incorporating Universal Design Principles, as accessibility guidelines truly help all users, no matter your physical or cognitive ability.
In order to get to this point, the regulations which need to be followed are long and complicated and ever changing. Never mind the complexities of the spatial requirements, type of curb ramp to use, or accessible routing requirements, the real challenge is knowing when the accessible guidelines take effect and what guidelines to utilize. Currently, there are many design guidance documents to consider, including 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, ICC/ANSI A117.1-2009 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, and Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines. It’s these overlapping regulations which typically cause confusion among regulators, designers, and owners.
Usually it takes a professional design consultant to assist the Owner to ensure compliance. Accessibility requirements are governed through the Federal Justice Department and it’s considered a discriminatory act if your private or public facility is not in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Any person believing they have been discriminated against can file a civil complaint against the facility owner. Additionally, the Justice Department completes random audits to ensure compliance.
ADA compliance is good for business. By addressing the needs of diverse groups including the elderly, young children, disabled veterans, and the physically challenged, a business’s client base increases and so do its profits. We can only participate in what is accessible to us.
Steven Beattie is a licensed Landscape Architect with Larson Design Group. Join him on July 18, 2013 for his PSAB Webinar discussion on Accessibility Fundamentals specifically geared toward local municipalities and how they can address their accessibility issues.