Accessible operable parts and mechanisms

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018
One of the guidelines that seem to be misunderstood is for operable parts.  This guideline requires that an accessible operable part have a mechanism that allows for operating or use without tight grasping or pinching, twisting of the wrist, with less than 5 lbs of force and to operate using only one hand.
ADA section 309.4 Operable parts shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.
Why this is required?
There are persons that don’t have proper use of their hands.  People with rheumatoid arthritis for example, or cerebral palsy, have a hard time grasping elements.  Also, there are people, like amputees, or people that were born without hands or fingers that cannot operate elements which require tight pinching.  In addition, some people with disabilities or older people may not have the amount of strength required to operate an element or activate an operable part if the force required is more than 5 lbs.  Therefore, the ADA design guidelines provides rules to assist those people to navigate their environment in an equal manner.


Operable parts on accessible elements, accessible routes, and in accessible rooms
and spaces shall comply with with the standards.  There are some exceptions which explain that certain operable parts do not have to comply:
1. Operable parts that are intended for use only by service or maintenance personnel
2. Electrical or communication receptacles serving a dedicated use (like a refrigerator)
3. Where two or more outlets are provided in a kitchen above a length of counter top that is uninterrupted by a sink or appliance, one  outlet shall not be required to comply
4. Floor electrical receptacles
5. HVAC diffusers
6. Except for light switches, where redundant controls are provided for a single element, one control in each space  shall not be required to comply 
7. Cleats and other boat securement devices
8. Exercise machines and exercise equipment
9. Operable windows that are only operated by staff and not occupants
There is an advisory  that gives us more guidance and explanation;
205.1 General. Controls covered by 205.1 include, but are not limited to, light switches, circuit breakers, duplexes and other convenience receptacles, environmental and appliance controls, plumbing fixture controls, and security and intercom systems.
Section 309 
Operable parts have three requirements:
1) They must be within reach ranges as spelled out in the Section 308
the operable part of the coffee maker must be no higher than 48″ a.f.f.
2) They must have a 30″x 48″ clear floor space to reach the operable part as specified on 305.  The clear floor space should have a slope no steeper than 1:48 (2%) in all directions.
the slope at the push button door opener was steeper
than 2%
3) and the operable part should be the type that will not require tight grasping and twisting of the wrist and no more than 5 lbs, like explained before.
this feminine napkin dispenser operable part requires tight grasping and pulling to operate
this faucet has an operable part that requires graping and twisting to activate
Below are some more examples.

Fire Extinguisher cabinet

I get this question a lot about fire extinguisher cabinets:
“Do we mount the cabinet so that the top of the fire extinguisher is between 15″-48″ a.f.f.?”
The answer is no.  The reach range is for “operable parts” of fixed elements.  So a fire extinguisher would not be the operable part, but the handle to open the cabinet would be.  So one should locate the fire extinguisher cabinet door handle between 15″-48″ a.f.f.
the operable part is the handle to open the cabinet door

Emergency Nurse calling

Another operating mechanism that is confusing is the emergency call button located in medical care facilities and long term care facilities. They are used when a patient or resident needs a nurse.  They are typically located next to the toilet and in the shower and they are required to have a string that reaches the floor.  The string is used if a patient or resident falls and they need to pull the string if they can’t get up.
this call button has a red lever that can be pushed down with a closed fist which has a compliant operable part
this call button also has a lever that can be pushed down with a closed fist which is a compliant operable part
this call button is only able to be activated by grasping and pulling the string. This would not meet the requirements for accessible operable parts
In order for the call button to be compliant, it must not only have the string, but it should have a second way of calling the nurse which will not require tight grasping and pulling.

Adjustable mechanism at the hand held shower

One of the operating mechanism that is forgotten is the one required to adjust a hand held shower unit.
the hand held unit height can be adjusted using the wheel next to the vertical bar.  The wheel requires tight grasping and twisting to
operate it and therefore not a compliant operating mechanism.
Once the height is adjusted, the mechanism to loosen or tighten the adjustable part is not always used again.  But the initial action to adjust must meet the requirements.  So the adjustable mechanism must also comply.
this mechanism does not require tight grasping to loosen or tighten
this adjustable mechanism requires pinching to loosen

Need Barrier Free CEUs?

We are giving classes in the following locations:
Metrocon18-Dallas Texas
Online courses:
Green CE On Demand webinar “How Accessible is Your work place?”
Green CE On Demand webinar “ADA and Residential Facilities”
If you want to learn more about these standards, be sure to check out my books:

Revisiting Shower Seats

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Shower seat installation, location and the effects of shower controls and other elements

Seats are not always required at bathing facilities, but there are some situations that will require showers seats to be added.  For instance, a transfer shower always requires a seat. Also, in transient lodging facilities (hotels, halfway houses, dorms), a seat is required not only in transfer showers but also in roll-in showers.

The shower must be permanently attached to the shower and not be movable.  The one exception will be at residential facilities which require blocking for future seats.

This article will explain how the seat should be installed and how it affects the location of controls and other elements.

Shower Seat: Scoping

There are two types of showers: Transfer showers and roll in showers.  Transfer showers are one’s people with mobility impairment will “transfer” onto.  Roll-in showers are the ones that a person in a wheelchair will roll their wheelchair into.

ADA Section 608.4 requires permanent shower seats in transfer showers.

  1. These must be either folding or not folding seat.
  2. The only exception is for residential dwelling units required to comply with ADA (not Fair Housing). Reinforcement in the wall for the future installation shall be provided instead.

Roll-in showers are not required to provide a shower seat per section 608.4.  There are two exceptions where seats are required to be provided in roll-in showers:

  1. In social service establishments (i.e. homeless shelters) with more than 50 beds. (per DOJ’s Subpart D of 28 CFR Part 36) AND
  2. In transient lodging guest rooms with mobility features
  3. If a seat is provided in a roll in shower, either by choice or because it is required as stated above, the seat must be permanent and folding.  This allows a person to either use the shower as a transfer type with the seat or as a true roll-in-shower without the seat in the way.
  4. The same technical requirements must be provided as in a transfer shower with a seat (see next entry)

This photo shows a folding seat mounted on a roll in shower.  The controls are located in the correct location, but there is a grab bar above it.  A grab bar should not be provided where the seat is located.

This shower was intended as a roll in shower, but the seat provided is not “folding”, therefore a person in a wheelchair could not roll in and use it easily.

Shower Seats: Technical

Sections  610.3 describes the types of seats allowed at showers.  There can be a rectangular seat or an “L-shape” seat:

1) Where a seat is provided, the seat shall extend from the back wall to a point within 3″ of the compartment entry.

This seat did not extend from the back wall to 3″ of the entry

The seat is 9″ away from the entry

Sometimes, the seat is located around a gyp wall and the shower sits back a few inches.  So do we consider the wing wall part of the shower when measuring the location of the seat?  According to the Texas Department of Licensing, the shower begins at the shower pan and therefore the wing wall is not counted as part of the shower.

This shower seat is located 3″ away from the shower pan which is technically where the shower entry begins.  The gyp wall extension is not technically part of the shower.  We recommend that if at all possible, you make the shower pan flush with the wall.

2) The top of the seat shall be 17″-19″ above the bathroom finish floor.

3)They can be rectangular meeting figure 610.3.1

This seat is 4″ away from the end wall rather than 1 1/2″ max

4) Or they can be “L-shape” meeting figure 610.3.2

5) The structural strength should be able to sustain 250 lbs of applied force on the seat, fastener, mounting device or support structure.


Roll-in Showers

 There are two types of roll in shower configurations allowed by the ADA.  The shower seat location in these showers will dictate where the controls and grab bars will be located.

The Standard Roll-in shower with seat:

The alternate shower with a seat.  An alternate shower is a combination of a transfer shower and roll in shower, so it is larger in depth than a standard roll-in shower.

The photo above shows an alternate roll-in shower


Depending on where the seat is located, the controls must be located no farther than 27″ away from the seat.


Clear Floor Space

In order to transfer onto the seat, there should be a clear floor space that meets the requirements at 305 parallel to the shower seat.  The requirements include the size to be 30″x48″ and that the slope is not steeper than 1:48.

This shower has a ramp transition up to the entry which creates a slope steeper than 1:48 at the clear floor space of the seat
This shower entry into a transfer shower has a sloped entry which would have been acceptable if the clear floor space would have been 30″ deep. The slope begins with that 30″ making the slope steeper than 1:48.

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Fair Housing

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Which projects have to comply?

The Federal Fair Housing Act covers newly constructed multi-family housing projects that are first time occupancy residential.  The projects must also have more than four dwelling units.  In an a building with elevators, ALL dwelling units must comply with the guidelines.  In a building without an elevator, only the first floor units must comply.  If the building is only two story units, then none of them must comply.
In addition to the Fair Housing Act, some municipalities have also adopted the ANSI A117.1 for their residential dwelling units.  These dictate that a certain percentage must be built as with mobility features (for the mobility impaired) and a percentage with communication features (for the hearing and visually impaired)

Seven Requirements

The Fair Housing Act Guidelines have seven requirements for the covered residential dwelling units.  Here is the definitions.  This newsletter will just give an overview and will not describe all the details for each requirement.  We will plan to explain in more detail in future newsletters:
Accessible Building Entrance on an Accessible Route:
Covered multifamily dwellings must have at least one building entrance on an accessible route, unless it is impractical to do so because of terrain or unusual characteristics of the site. For all such dwellings with a building entrance on an accessible route the following six requirements apply.
Accessible and Usable Public and Common Use Areas:
Usable Doors:
All doors designed to allow passage into and within all premises must be sufficiently
wide to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs.
Accessible Route Into and Through the Covered Dwelling Unit:
Light Switches, Electrical Outlets, Thermostats and Other Environmental
Controls in Accessible Locations:
All premises within the dwelling units must contain light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.
Reinforced Walls for Grab Bars:
All premises within dwelling units must contain reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars around toilet, tub, shower stall and shower seat, where such facilities are provided.
Usable Kitchens and Bathrooms:
Dwelling units must contain usable kitchens and bathrooms such that an individual who uses a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.

Inspector’s Corner

Requirement 1 of the Fair Housing Act states that an accessible entrance is required to the dwelling units.  This photo shows three steps up to the stoop which leads to the entrance, and no ramp or lift to get them to the stoop.  This unit does not meet the requirement.


Need CEUs

February 24th: “How Accessible is Your Work Space” at Herman Miller Showroom in Dallas, Texas
If you are interested in Building Code seminars check out my colleague Shahla Layendecker with SSTL Codes
If you want to learn more about these standards, be sure to check out my books:

If you have any questions about these or any other topics, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Marcela Abadi Rhoads, RAS #240
Abadi Accessibility
214. 403.8714

Private Bathrooms

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

There is a misconception that a private bathroom is exempted from having to comply with the 2010 ADA Guidelines and the 2012 TAS.  In reality, even private bathrooms must comply, although there are some exceptions they can take. In order to take the exceptions, a bathroom is deemed “private” if  the bathroom is accessed from a private office and not for public or common use.  This newsletter will discuss what items are required to be provided at private bathrooms, and which one’s can be left out. There is a summary from TDLR on TM 2013-19 which we will discuss in detail.


At a private bathroom that is accessed through a private office and not for common use, the toilets must comply with all the requirements except for:

  1. The height of the toilet does not have to be 17″-19″ a.f.f.  It can be higher or lower than the minimum required heights.
  2. Grab bars are not required to be installed, but blocking must be provided within the wall for future installation
  3. In the Toilet and Bathing rooms the door shall swing into the clear floor space of the fixtures in a private office

So a private toilet must still have the clearances required at the floor area distance from the side wall, flush control and toilet paper dispenser must comply with 604


The photo above shows the proper floor clearance, but the flush control and the toilet paper dispenser were not correctly located 


The toilet in this photo does not have the proper floor clearance per 604 nor is the toilet paper dispenser mounted at the proper location


At a private bathroom accessed from a private office and not for public use must have a sink that complies with everything in section 606 except:

  1. The sink does not have to have a knee space complying with 306 for forward approach.  A parallel approach is allowed to be provided.
  2. The height of the sink does not have to be a 34″ a.f.f. maximum.  It can be higher or lower than what the Standards require.

The sink is required to have the proper faucet mechanism, the mirror at the correct height, and floor area for parallel approach.


Because a private bathroom does not require a knee space at the sink, a pedestal sink can be used.  The mirror on the other hand must be mounted at 40″ a.f.f. to the bottom of the reflective surface.

Showers and Tubs

At a private bathroom accessed by a private office and not for public or common use, the showers and tubs have to comply with all the requirements of section 607 and 608 except for:

  1.  Grab bars do not have to be installed, but blocking within the walls for future installation must be provided.

Otherwise, a shower must have the controls installed at the proper reach range, a hand held shower unit must be provided, the threshold at the entry must not be higher than 1/2″, the size of the shower must comply, and at a transfer shower a seat must also be provided.


This shower doesn’t have a seat or a handheld shower unit.  In addition there is a door which doesn’t have clearance on the interior of the shower 

Upcoming Continuing Education Opportunities


Tuesday July 21st from 3:00-4:00 CST “Understanding the 2010 ADA Standards” Provided by Green CE

Thursday July 23rd

Sit in a wheelchair for a Day!  Join several of your fellow architects in Dallas and experience what a person who uses a wheelchair experiences.  For more information contact Marcela Rhoads at

Friday July 24th ALL DAY!  Join Us!!!

Marking the 25th anniversary of the ADA, July 24th will be ADA Awareness day in Dallas Texas.  The AIA Dallas’s Codes and Standards committee is planning a day full of great programs.  Stay tuned.  If you want to be a sponsor, let me know.


Thank you to our Sponsors: Andres Construction, Access by Design and

Abadi Accessibility

If you are interested in Building Code seminars check out my colleague Shahla Layendecker with SSTL Codes

If you want to learn more about these standards, be sure to check out my books:

“The ADA Companion Guide”  “Applying the ADA” published by Wiley. 


 They are available for sale now. (also available as an e-book)
If you have any questions about these or any other topics, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Marcela Abadi Rhoads, RAS #240
Abadi Accessibility
214. 403.8714
Useful Links



Accessible Residences

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

In the new ADA there are residential scoping and technical guidelines.  But these guidelines only deal with Federally funded housing, residences in places of education or social service establishments that have dwelling within.  Other residential facilities, do not fall under the ADA, but Fair Housing or Model Codes.  There are four types of residential projects, but only two are required to follow the ADA Standards.

  1. Single Family Housing
  2. Multi-Family Housing
  3. Federally funded multi-family housing
  4. Residential facilities as defined by ADA

This newsletter will explain single and multi-family housing that are not required to meet ADA Standards.

Privately funded Multi-Family Housing

The Fair Housing Act requires that any multi-family project be made accessible to the disabled community. Therefore the owner of a multi-famly property cannot discriminate against a family or individual who is disabled on the grounds that the property is not accessible.

ALL multi-family housing projects are required to be accessible per the Fair Housing Act.  This includes apartment complexes, and even condominiums as long as there are four or more units in the property.


Here are the requirements from the fair housing act guidelines:

– At walk-ups (no elevator) ALL ground level units must meet the requirements

–  in an elevator building ALL units must meet the requirements

Building code and ADA does have percentages for how many units are required to be fully compliant vs. adaptable, but fair housing does not.  Therefore all units must be designed using the minimum guidelines listed below.

There are seven requirements:

1) Accessible building entrance on an accessible route: At least one entrance into the building or unit


2) Accessible and Usable public and common use areas: Places such as parking lots, mail boxes, recreational area, lobbies, laundry areas, community building must be accessible and usable.


3) Usable doors: all doors that allow passage must be wide enough (32″ nominal) and the main entrance must have proper hardware


4) Accessible route into and through the covered dwelling unit


5)  Light switches, Electrical outlets, thermostat and other environmental controls in accessible locations


6) Reinforced walls in bathrooms for future installation of grab bars


7) Usable kitchens and bathrooms: Should be designed and constructed so an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver in the space provided.  No knee clearances are required




To understand more in detail the requirements, visit the Fair Housing Act website or click here for the Design Manual

Single Family Housing

Single family homes, duplexes, triplexes and multi-story townhouses  are not required to be accessible by any accessibility standards. Therefore any single family home development are essentially exempted from having to be accessible to the disabled.

A new movement called “Aging in Place” are advocating for remodeling or retro-fitting homes in order to make them more usable to the disabled and more universally designed so that families can stay together as they age. Below are some of the enhancements we did in a kitchen of a family with a disabled mother and son.  It is also good for their able body husband.

Before the upgrades:



After the upgrades:




Inspector’s Corner

This was a remodel of a single family home.  We installed a pull down shelving which made the shelves within reach range


Click here to watch the video of pull down shelving

For more information

If you want to learn more about the new Standards, The ADA Companion Guide explains the 2004 ADAAG Guidelines  with commentary and explanations throughout.  The 2004 Guidelines were adopted by the DOJ to create the 2010 Standards and by Texas to create the 2012 TAS.  This book explains the technical requirements for both.

 If you have any questions about these or any other topics, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Marcela Abadi Rhoads, RAS #240
Abadi Accessibility
214. 403.8714

Technical Memos

Monday, December 24th, 2012

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation regulates the Architectural Barrier Act and the Texas Accessibility Standards in Texas.  They also issue memos that explain certain ambiguous terms and concepts in the Standards.  They have issued four so far to explain the 2012 TAS.  This newsletter explain them.

TM 2012-01 Electrical Vehical Charging Station

The Technical Memorandum TM 2012-01 has requirements for Electrical Vehicle Charging Station.

Because the US Department of Justice have not issued guidelines for Electric Vehicle Charging station, TDLR decided to create one.  So in Texas this is the requirements:

Twenty percent (20%) but not less than one, of each type of charging station in each cluster on a site shall meet the following criteria:

  1. Controls and operating mechanisms for the accessible charging station shall comply with TAS 309 (no twisting of the wrist and less than 5 lbs to operate) and shall be within the forward reach ranges specified in TAS 308.2;
  2. The vehicle space(s) with the accessible charging station shall be at least 96 inches wide and shall provide a 36 inch wide (minimum) accessible route complying with TAS  402 on both sides of the vehicle space to allow the user adequate space to exit their vehicle and access both sides of the vehicle. Striping of the accessible routes is recommended but not required.
  3. Directional and informational signage complying with TAS 216.3 shall designate the location of the accessible charging stations.  The symbol of accessibility is recommended but not required.


This figure is just one example.  There might be other ways to meet the requirements

TM 2012-02 Emergency Response Building and Facilities

The Technical Memorandum TM 2012-02 explains what to do with facilities for emergency response personnel.  This was taken from the US Access Board and DOJ Commentary.  There are basically Three type of areas within emergency response facilities:

  1. Crew quarters that are used exclusively as a residence by emergency response personnel and the kitchens and bathrooms exclusively serving those quarters shall comply with the requirements of 233 (including 233.3.1) and 809 for residential facilities and residential dwelling units.
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  3. All other common use areas, elements, and spaces, including, but not limited to, parking, drinking fountains, public restrooms, meeting and training rooms, and conference rooms, shall comply with the 2012 TAS.  Multi-story buildings and facilities shall comply with the accessible route requirements found in 206.2.3 unless exempted by 206.2.3, Exception 2, which states that in a public building that is less than three stories with less than 5 occupants on the upper or lower story, an accessible route is not required.
  4. f39a150f-554e-4bfc-a156-3d0cdf0aa82f

  5. Truck bays, workshops, and other employee work areas, elements, and spaces used exclusively by emergency personnel for work shall comply with 203.9 and other provisions of the 2012 TAS applicable to employee work areas which state only approach, enter and exit is required.
  6. e92b7a5b-dc30-485e-9fc9-b67b2ef639a3

TM 2012-03 Shopping Centers and Shopping Malls

The Technical Memorandum TM 2012-03 explains what defines a shopping center or shopping mall and how this affects the elevator/accessible route exception.

The definition of a shopping center is:

a) A building housing five or more sales or rental establishments; or

b) A series of buildings on a common site, either under common ownership or common control or developed either as one project or as a series of related projects, housing five or more sales or rental establishments

If a private building is a shopping center and has more than one story, an accessible route is required, no matter what is going on on the second story.

But there is an exception if it is a retail space in a one story building with a mezzanine.

A free standing store, like Walmart is not a shopping center and therefore a mezzanine may not require an accessible route if it meets all the criteria on 206.2.3 Exception 1 or 206.2.4 Exception 3.


This photo is of a retail story with a second story and it does require an accessible route to the second story.

TM 2012-04 Multi-Story Buildings and Facilities

The Technical Memorandum TM 2012-04 explains what is meant by “square feet” and “per story” in 206.2.3, Exception 1:

  1. Square Feet. The reference to “square feet” shall mean gross square feet.
  2. Per Story. The term “story” is defined  in 106.5.64  as that portion of a building or facility designed for human occupancy included between the upper surface of a floor or the upper surface of the floor or roof next above.  A story containing one or more mezzanines has more than one floor level.
  3. Therefore, based on 106.1 and the indicated meaning of “story”, the reference to “per story” shall also apply to the first story when calculating square footage.

    These clarifications have been confirmed by the Department with the U. S. Access Board and do not constitute a substantive change to the compliance requirements of 206.2.3, Exception 1.


    Continuing Education Opportunities

    New Orleans

    4 hr HSW: 2010 ADA and IBC

    Please use this link below for registration and details

    Little Rock

    4 hr HSW 2010 ADA and IBC

    Please  use this link below for registration and details

    If you want to learn more about the new Standards, The ADA Companion Guide explains the 2004 ADAAG Guidelines  with commentary and explanations throughout.  The 2004 Guidelines were adopted by the DOJ to create the 2010 Standards and by Texas to create the 2012 TAS.  This book explains the technical requirements for both.

     If you have any questions about these or any other topics, please feel free to contact me anytime.
    Marcela Abadi Rhoads, RAS #240
    Abadi Accessibility
    214. 403.8714

Monet had Cataracts

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I love impressionistic paintings. They are a marvel of color, textures and optical illusion! It is like painting the trees and getting the forest….How did the Masters do it? I recently found out that Monet, one of the great impressionistic painters, had cataracts and that is what made him paint the way he did. He had to get close to the canvas in order to paint. He hated his style once his cataracts got worse. He didn’t value its beauty….Thank goodness that others did. We are now lucky to have had him in the world with cataracts and we can enjoy his beautiful work.

On the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a group of architects toured the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. This is an amazing facility that trains and employs visually impaired people to manufacture many items from eye glass cases, highlighters, and even military shovel carrying fanny packs. It was an “eye-opening” experience (pun intended). These people are truly incredible. They are able to use computers with a software that read them what is on the screen. But the software doesn’t read it like an audio CD that you read for fun….it speed reads. One of the trainees demonstrated the software and he had it read what was on the screen in the speed that he can understand. All I could hear was gibberish….it was reading 120 words a minute…. and he could actually understand it! INCREDIBLE!!!

There is also a software that assists in reading called J.A.W.S.  this makes the text bigger as needed.  We also saw the others at work at sewing machines, assembly lines and their individual stations where they put together all sorts of products that are sold to companies. These people are so good at what they do, that all I could do is just open my mouth and be in awe!!!

The building was also designed for the low vision people that worked there. The door frames were a contrasting color to the doors and walls so that they could “see” that there was a doorway there rather than just a wall of the same color. Their bathrooms had circular mirrors so that they would not think it was a window they were looking through. And many other items such as braille at signs, truncated domes on ramps so they can detect the change in environment, and they even use their sense of smell to move around their space.

That experience really made me think of the disability and how truly remarkable our bodies (and these wonderful people) are that they can adjust to their limitations.

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What do I think of the ADA…as an architect?

Monday, July 19th, 2010


Thank you to Abadi Accessibility News for asking me to weigh in with my opinion as we approach the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. My name is Bob Borson and I can typically be found at the helm of my own blog, Life of an Architect .

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by then President George. H. W. Bush. It was a momentous occasion and it would change the lives of millions of people, mostly for the better. So here we are 20 years later, well into living and working with the rules and regulations associated with the ADA, but how are we as architects doing implementing these rules? As architects we are probably doing okay because you can’t work on a project without implementing the requirements of the ADA. For example, this act was signed into law before I even graduated from college so it has existed all of my professional life. That having been said, how are our clients doing with it and are we helping them?

On occasion, when I tell people that some portion of their project doesn’t currently meet code or when I try and explain why the bathrooms are as large as I have shown them, I get puzzled, sometimes irritated responses:

Client: “I was in a restaurant the other day and their toilet room wasn’t anywhere near this big.”
Me: “Well that doesn’t make it right, besides, it is possible that their toilet rooms were permitted before ADA was a requirement.”
Client: “And why is that space behind the cashier so large – make it smaller..”
Me: “I can’t, that is another ADA requirement. Someone who works back there might be in a wheelchair and they need to be able to turn around and maneuver properly.”
Client: “It’s too big, I just won’t hire someone in a wheelchair.”
Me: “It’s not called the Americans in Wheelchairs Act, there are other disabilities. You do realize that you are now practicing a type of discrimination and trying to break a federal law?”
Client: “No one else seems to have to do it…now whose being discriminated against?”

I am embarrassed to have to say that I have had this exact conversation or some form just like it several times and I am always shocked that people don’t even realize that they are practicing discrimination. I like to think I have smart clients but I have had a few tell me (after I pointed out what they were asking for) tell me that they don’t discriminate, that they like people from all races and backgrounds.

Errr…that would be racism and something entirely different. Holy gorilla’s armpit – you have got to be kidding me………

I have to be honest with you, I mostly do residential work and my knowledge of the intricacies of the rules and regulations associated with the ADA are pedestrian at best. I can handle looking things up in the rule book and coming to my own conclusions but what it really comes down to is having a Registered Accessibility Specialist, or RAS, who is there to help guide you. When I start a project, and I try to sit down with all the people who will be working with me and I have a conversation about how we are all on the same team and that we all have the same goals. See, the very nature of how most contracts are set up, adversarial relationships between architect and contractor are established from the very beginning. Another relationship that can be a bit…well maybe not adversarial but difficult at times is between the architect and their RAS. Sometimes, and I mean this with begrudging respect, RAS tend to be rule followers of the highest order. This “rule following” mentality can actually serve the architect well when trying to navigate the labyrinth that is the ADA rulebook. But I am not interested in just rule followers, I want my RAS to interpret how the rules might actually apply specifically to my project. And that’s where my particular RAS consultant specialist comes in.

When I was asked to write this post, I was more than happy to do it. The type of RAS consultant I like to work with typically has an architectural background. Having a RAS who thinks like an architect while interpreting the rules and regulations associated with ADA, brings me that much closer to achieving a successful project while getting everyone working on the project on the same side and with the same ultimate goal. I don’t think that some people think about the type of role that a RAS can perform – if you get the right one. It is my intention to go beyond just “doing the right thing”, disabled persons should have their actions and challenges taken into consideration. Trying to be a rule breaker, or even a rule bender, holds no allure for me as a architect and designer. But just as I have to interpret the projects programs, I want a RAS consultant who will help me work within the guidelines established and to achieve all our common goals – a happy client. Incorporating ADA requirements into your projects is an indication on how far we as a society have come, how inclusive we can be. It should be more about what we can do, not what we have to do.

Ten Tips for Accessibility Design

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Below are ten tips that I’ve given to my clients to assist them  in designing for accessibility.

Before you begin your design, make sure you are aware which code you are required to follow based on the City you are designing in. (for example, some Municipalities requires ANSI vs. ADA) Click here to see which Code has been adopted by State.  Remember that you have to use the most stringent between ADA and whatever other code/guidelines your municipality is using.

It is smart to have a checklist so you don’t forget some part of the puzzle.  The ADA has a checklist that you can follow for assessments and design process.

When given a range, don’t use the lowest or tallest number. Give yourself some tolerances for construction imperfections. For example, a handrail can be between 34” and 38”, so a 36” tall handrail is acceptable.

When designing toilet rooms, keep in mind what finishes will be on the wall. If the water closet must be 18” away from the finished wall, ceramic tile is sometimes 3/8” thick which can throw off the required clearances.

Remember that in a toilet room, a door cannot swing into the clear floor space of an accessible fixture, but clear floor spaces of fixtures can overlap each other. And the door swing can overlap the required turning space. There is an exception given in Texas and in ANSI for single user restrooms. Click here for the Technical Memo

When designing storage rooms, keep in mind that if a person in a wheel chair can enter the room and close the door behind them, then they must be able to turn around and go back out. In cases where the storage room is 48” deep (allowing a wheel chair front access), try to either swing the door in so they can’t close it once they are inside; or create shelving that will make the room shallower and therefore will not create the ability to stay stuck inside.

Most places in a facility that are used by more than one employee at a time, or by patrons or visitors to the facility are required to be accessible and meet the requirements of the Guidelines.  This includes employee non-work areas like storage closets, restrooms, and break rooms.  The mistake I see often is that most people believe that the ADA is only for non-employees.  In reality, common use spaces that are also accessed by employees  must comply.

Employee work areas only have the requirement to be able to be approached, entered and exited.  Everything else within the work area are exempted.  For example sinks that are in work areas (per ADA 4.1.3) are not required to have knee clearances for wheel chairs. Break Rooms are not considered work areas, therefore do require the knee clearance. Sinks and Lavatories have different requirements for knee clearances. Be aware that the knee clearance below sinks is 27” and below lavatories is 29” below their respective aprons.

Break rooms are not considered work areas (that is where you take a “break” from work, therefore do require the knee clearance.

In Texas, TAS does not allow any person to wheel themselves behind parked cars. When possible, allow for an accessible route in front of the cars. A person in a wheelchair is lower than the driver’s visual range and if they are wheeling behind a parked car, the driver may not see them if they are backing up.

Also, if there are any objects that are along the circulation path that are placed higher than 27″ above the ground, they must not project more than 4″ from the wall into the circulation path.  Visually impaired people will not detect the object and could hurt themselves.

In an alteration of an area containing a primary function the existing parking, accessible route, restrooms, drinking fountains and telephones must be brought up to compliance with ADA.  This is not always part of the scope of work of the remodel, but nevertheless must become part of the total scope if it’s not already compliant

Note: ADA has a 20% rule, which allows a deference of compliance if the amount of money required to fix the non-compliance items exceeds the total cost of the project by 20%.

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Who says that grab bars have to be ugly?

Friday, February 12th, 2010

“I would rather fall than have my friends think I have a grab bar!”

Those words changed the world of Abbie Sladick, sending her on a fantastic journey of creativity and innovation in a seemingly dull industry.

For over eight years, Abbie had been making dreams come true by designing and remodeling extraordinary bathrooms for her clients. She used products from all over the world for her projects but when one of her clients refused to use a grab bar – Abbie was stumped.

How could she create a beautifully bathroom with an ugly grab bar?

Never to be discouraged, Abbie decided if she couldn’t buy a stylish grab bar… then she would design one. The company’s signature Wave bar was the result. Now Abbie and the Great Grabz team look towards the future redefining safety in the bathroom by creating stylish products that allow people of all ages and abilities to maintain their dignity and independence.