M+A Architects


How to Foresee ADA Violations in Your Building

  • NOVEMBER 13, 2015
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When asked about accessibility on a project the two things that consistently come to everyone’s minds are wheelchairs and the term ADA.  While these are both extremely important aspects on any project, they are a very small piece of accessibility that needs to be perfectly crafted for a successful project.

While Accessibility Rules and Regulations widely focus on the design of facilities for use by people in wheelchairs, they are also shaped to provide for accessibility for all disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines this as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  This includes, but is not limited to, those with mobility, visual and audible impairments. But ADA isn't the only governing body, projects may also include: ANSI A117.1, FHA, and UFAS requirements for complete accessibility.

Accessibility is something that those without disabilities, often take for granted or simply overlook. Sinks and appliances are always in reach, even if inconvenient. If an elevator isn't working, you take the stairs. And you are accustomed to seeing color coded signage guide you through a space. However, imagine that you are suddenly in a wheelchair, on crutches or partially blind—how differently would you experience these things? Or should I say challenges?

Because of the growing spectrum of disabilities, designing for accessibility is a much broader issue when it comes to the layout and details of a facility.

While the accessibility rules apply broadly to people with varying disabilities, the rules are very detailed and require a great deal of analysis and understanding to apply and integrate them correctly. Throughout our work with additions and renovations of existing facilities, regardless of the building type, we've found a commonality of certain accessibility errors and omissions. Below are some of the most common violations we've seen and their importance to the overall accessibility of the facility:


1. Door Clear Floor Areas - These are the areas required on both sides of a door to allow for a person with disabilities to operate the door.  Always look at whether your door needs or has a closer and a latch, as that increases the clear floor area needed. Door clear floor areas are a critical portion of a fully accessible facility.


2. Mounting Heights + Reach Ranges - Mounting heights and reach ranges are one of the most complex parts of the accessibility codes. This is due to the fact that many different objects have different necessary heights. For example, a mirror is required to be mounted a minimum of 40 inches to the bottom of the reflective surface, while a paper towel dispenser is required to be 48 inches maximum to the operating and dispensing mechanisms. However, in all cases nothing should be mounted above 48 inches that is intended or required to be accessible.

Typical features we assess to ensure accessibility. Typical features we assess for accessibility compliance

3. Clear Floor Space - Most everyone who has experience with accessibility on a project knows about the 5 foot turning circle. This requirement allows space for someone in a wheelchair to turn around within a room. All rooms are required to have this turning space available or provide a similarly sized ‘T’-turn. Care should be taken to make sure that a conservative approach to these dimensions are taken, since often times construction tolerances may reduce the size of a room. Through experience, our team recommends adding 2 inches to any required dimension.

4. Protruding Objects into the Accessible Route - An accessible route is required to connect accessible parking spots to the accessible building and through the facility. However, one thing often missed is objects protruding into the minimum accessible route width of 36 inches. Any protruding object that is below 80 inches or above 27 inches may not project into the accessible route more than 4 inches. This includes things like signage and light sconces.

While the above items touch on a few of the hot issues we see in the field, it's important to first confirm what specific accessibility rules apply to your project. By being diligent in the application of the accessibility knowledge and codes, you can make sure your facility will be ready to accommodate and welcome all visitors with varying disabilities. Accessibility should never be ignored or integrated into a new facility as an afterthought. After all, it's Civil Rights.

WNP_6213 A subtle ramp makes the alter at St. John Neumann's Catholic Church accessible

M+A Architects