The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was accepted into law in 1990. In the decades since, commercial properties have been subject to evolving regulations that help make spaces more accessible by those with disabilities. Not only is compliance useful to both future employees and clients, but it's also a legal requirement in many cases.
With that said, implementing ADA pathways and accommodations into your engineering project goes beyond scanning the law books. It's important that ADA designs are functional, cost-effective, and easy to maintain. To achieve these goals, developers, architects, and contractors should incorporate these best practices into their municipal and institutional engineering projects.
1. Ensure Close Coordination Between the Owner and Design Team
Achieving ADA compliance without going over budget or overshadowing other design goals is difficult, but it's made easier when the owner and the design team work closely together.
Open lines of communication offer countless benefits for design projects, but they're especially important when dealing with ADA regulations, which may require changes in layout, among other accommodations, to make room for pathways and necessary clearance.
In the case of ADA compliance, accessibility is best achieved by an owner who knows the legal requirements that need to be met and a design team that knows the engineering specifications necessary to get there. The project owner should set out clear expectations for the level of accessibility, and the design team should offer feedback on how to best achieve it within the scope of the project.
2. Clearly Delineate Planned ADA-Compliant Pathways
Delivering clearly marked plans upfront is critical to achieving ADA compliance without going over budget or delaying the project. Ideally, accessibility will be addressed from day one in the planning phase — and not worked in as an afterthought. The latter is an all-too-common mistake that is sure to lead to sacrifices and/or added costs in the final stages.
Incorporating ADA compliance into project planning from the beginning means clearly delineating all areas, objects, and pathways that need to meet accessibility requirements and communicating these with the contractor. Additional clarification over the level of accessibility needed in each marked area should also be provided sooner rather than later so no assumptions are made.
3. Consider All Options to Reduce Costs and Maintenance
One of the major benefits of prioritizing open communication early on in the project is the freedom to discuss design options that achieve accessibility in different ways. This is when a well-informed project owner will prove valuable, as knowing the level of accessibility required in each area is paramount to making the best design choices.
For example, if you tell your contractor that disabled individuals need to be able to safely make it from the first floor to the second floor, this could mean the simple addition of a handrail on the stairs, a more space-consuming addition of a tiered ramp, or even the costly addition of an elevator.
Aside from identifying accessibility accommodations that fit into your project's budget, you also need to consider future maintenance.
A handrail does not impact maintenance at all, indoors or out. However, an exterior ramp leading to the front entrance will require additional maintenance, especially during periods of rain and snow when it needs to be kept clear of ice and obstructions. If you're looking at an elevator, that requires a great deal of licensure and maintenance just to keep it operating.
4. Recognize Where Accessibility Isn't Necessary
Often, project owners get overwhelmed with ADA compliance requirements because they interpret them as a mandate to make every single area, object, and pathway completely accessible. In reality, you don't need to make every element of the entire building compliant; you just need to make accommodations where needed to ensure that those with disabilities can safely navigate the premises like anyone else.
In other words, if you have five staircases, you probably don't need every single one to have an accessible ramp. Likewise, if you have multiple entrances to your building, you may only need to make accommodations at one or two of them.
Depending on regulations, and the level of accommodation you find necessary beyond those regulations, you might have a single dedicated ADA entrance or pathway between floors and signage at all non-compliant staircases to direct those with disabilities to the nearest accessible pathway.
5. Design Built-In Tolerances to Avoid Rework
When accommodating those with disabilities, it's about more than how people with a wheelchair will get to the second floor or how those with vision impairment will navigate the premises. One of the aspects that makes achieving accessibility so difficult is the sheer diversity of the disabled community.
As regulations try to keep up with this diversity, you'll also find that they continue to evolve and the requirements change from year to year. All of this means that the best way to future-proof your projects and avoid rework is to design for tolerances for the future. This is best achieved by aiming not for the maximum or minimum specifications in an ADA-established range, but for the middle to allow for the inevitable variances that occur in construction as well as the possibility of future adjustments in tolerance allowances.
6. Collect Certifications for Areas That Must Be Compliant
The last step in achieving ADA compliance is collecting certifications for each area that is required to be compliant. Depending on the project and your locale, you may need to require this certification from the construction team or you may have to submit for certification directly by providing post-construction verification.
In any case, once you have achieved ADA compliance, displaying proper signage and maintaining these pathways is an ongoing process, but one that will prove well worth it as you open the doors to the larger community.
Do you need further assistance in ensuring that your next project is ADA compliant, without going over budget or overshadowing your other design goals? Consult Engineering Surveys & Services for more information.
Image Credits: Pixabay @Creative Commons