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By Elizabeth Ruggles
From the April 2024 Issue


Accessibility is constantly evolving, in terms of both the general public’s understanding, and legal terms/requirements. This means that failing to keep up with both public opinion and the law can result in reputational and litigation risk. This is especially important for building executives to consider — it is costly to make the wrong choices and have to redesign things later on.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has put a stronger emphasis on creating accessible spaces to prevent lawsuits. However, there is a way to create upfront designs that integrate all-encompassing accessibility seamlessly and elegantly, not just to avoid a legal fee.

ADA lawsuits
(Photo: adobestock/ Leigh Trail)


Fortunately, there are steps companies can take to stay ahead of any lawsuits and create spaces that are accessible to all. The most important step being the hiring of an ADA expert to review and oversee all steps of the planning and construction process at the very beginning stages of a new build.

Get Familiar With ADA Policies

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has put accessibility on the forefront for construction and design, urging the inclusion of resources for those with disabilities so that builders can avoid getting fined, or worse, sued. Common ADA standards are associated with basic additions like ramps for handicap use, markers on stairs for the visually impaired and braille. Today, as technology advances and designers become more creative, there is an opportunity to construct accessible spaces that not only meet legal standards but are also aesthetically pleasing.

Today, as technology advances and designers become more creative, there is an opportunity to construct accessible spaces that not only meet legal standards but are also aesthetically pleasing.

Understand Your Menu Of Prophylactics

It is important to note that regular checks and assessments from ADA experts throughout the entire construction process ensures that accessibility features are not only implemented, but also maintained. While many choose to have an ADA expert help with initial design, it is also important to consult an expert with items that come up as the project is being built. A common example of this is protruding objects, such as water fountains and signage over doors. These items are often put into a build far after an ADA expert has done initial checking and can cause harm if not following the specific guidelines (27-inches for protruding objects, below 80-inches for over door objects, for those who use a seeing-eye cane).

Another crucial reason to get an ADA expert involved early in a construction project is for specific state standards. These ADA compliance benchmarks can vary and differ depending on the state. For instance, California, Texas, and Florida have an accessibility state standard that is more stringent than even the national standards of the Americans with Disability Act. Properties must both comply with the state and follow the ADA, to stop the property from facing accessibility litigation, and the intricacies can feel impossible to unwind without the right expertise to assist.

Additionally, some jurisdictions even within a single state can differ. For example, parts of Colorado have adopted a rule called ICC/ANSI a117.1-2017, and some municipalities require a different rule, ICC/ANSI a117.1-2009 (regulations for plumbing). Requirements also change based on facility type/use/occupancy and funding (private or federal) associated. To understand all of the pieces and bring them together to create a fully accessible project can pose a challenge, but it is a very important part of the process.

Beyond The Basics: The Second Piece

While having base-line accessibility standards are crucial, many designers and construction executives forget “the second piece” — covering the full scope of all possible disabilities. An issue that is common in the field is technology. While extremely helpful in many cases, there are instances where the full potential of tech is not being used. For example, “destination elevators” that only use a keycard to run are helpful for those with physical disabilities, but removing the braille aspect from the buttons on elevators can be detrimental for those with visual impairments. In addition, many office spaces are choosing to use digital signage in their buildings but are not including auditory enhancements for the visually impaired. Remembering the second piece is crucial to not only avoiding a potential ADA lawsuit, but also ensuring spaces are designed to benefit everyone of any ability.

Don’t Be Spooked By So-Called Cost Concerns

ADA lawsuits, Charles Taylor Engineering Technical Services
(Photos:adobestock/ Orkidia)

Despite popular belief, cost concerns are rarely why accessibility features are not included in spaces. More often, it is lack of awareness. Education on the long-term benefits of accessibility and the unique standards can shift executive perception from “it’s too expensive” to “I didn’t know, and now I do”. Doing things such as integrating auditory loops in conference rooms for hearing aids are simple, cheap ways to make a space inclusive and abide by ADA guidelines. This allows a company to hire the best talent and bring in the best clients.

Utilizing Tech

If the second piece is included, technology can be one of the more helpful accessibility tools in design. Innovative technology can already be seen aiding those with disabilities, such as strobe lights in fire detectors and smoke alarms for the hearing impaired, and elevators using audible directions for the visually impaired. An amazing piece of technology that may become mainstream in the coming years are body sensors. By placing these sensors on hats or shoes, it allows the user to hear a proximity alert when too close to protruding objects such as water fountains, which often sneak by ADA guidelines in the initial construction stage. Sensors are already being used in cars to allow a driver to recognize when the car is becoming too close to an object, preventing wrecks. This technology could soon be incorporated to assist in other areas.

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Doing The Right Thing

In conclusion, facility executives always want to do the right thing, but for accessibility, it is a matter of remembering and utilizing the entire picture. It is smartest to get an ADA specialist on-site as early as possible when staging and designing construction projects, as they can provide crucial guidance toward not only preventing lawsuits, but also making safer and more accessible spaces for all. Not only this, but choosing the right ADA expert for specific projects is crucial. Not hiring a knowledgeable consultant can be very costly and can result in crucial standards being missed, leading to potential lawsuits.

ADA lawsuitsRuggles is the senior ADA and accessibility consultant at Charles Taylor Engineering Technical Services. Her expertise includes Architectural Design Services, Accessibility Compliance, Fair Housing Act (FHA), American with Disabilities Act (ADA), International Code Council American National Standard Institute 2009 version and 2017 version (ICC/ANSI a117.1 2009 & 2017), Texas Accessibility Standard (TAS), Florida Accessibility Standards (FAS), Property Condition Assessments, Construction Document Reviews, Construction Management- Residential, Commercial, Hospitality, Multi-Family, Industrial, Medical Facilities, Site Investigation Reports & Reviews, Accessibility Training & Design Solutions.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

Facility Executive Magazine