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Break Down Architectural Barriers

Break Down Architectural Barriers

Since the very first, documented, accessibility standard issued in 1961, a lot has changed in our work environments, like the emergence of the virtual office, automated vehicles and drone technology. Yet, the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968 remains a steady presence to promote equity for people with disabilities. This act set the stage for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Design Standards, which brought the ABA’s requirements to the public at large as a federal mandate. Today, both the ADA and ABA ensure greater access to the built environment for those with disabilities.

As the ABA outlined compliance requirements for federal facilities, the ADA effectively granted those same access rights to users at both private and nonfederal government facilities. ADA compliance is required for all buildings, and specifically for those that serve as a place of public accommodation. This can include libraries or city halls, hotels or restaurants, and many others. For any facility type, non-compliance can spur legal action against the agency, business or building owner.

Both the ADA and the ABA focus on how to remove barriers that would inhibit mobility or the intended function for people with disabilities. This may include an accessible entrance with a ramp, lower sinks in bathrooms or braille signs. With these barriers, people with disabilities are unable to use or navigate the space safely and have the sense of freedom to which they are entitled.

Remove Barriers to Enhance Accessibility

If you haven’t experienced an impairment, it may seem daunting to identify the barriers in your space. So, ADA Design Standards detail how to enhance accessibility through measures such as detection zones, door closing speed, and floor transition. These are a few of the common violations that should be part of the vocabulary of an accessibility-savvy building owner, or other professional  involved building operations.

Detection zones are the areas in which a cane would detect a protruding object to help people with visual impairments move through a space. Often people with visual impairments follow the wall with their hand to determine if an object is in their way. For objects that are below this height, they must be detactable by a cane.

Door closing speed is essential for wheelchair users – they must have enough time to move through the doorway. If there is more than one set of doors, there is an additional consideration. There are a variety of door closers that help ensure the doors do not shut too quickly.

Abrupt floor transitions are another factor that can make movement difficult or unsafe for people with disabilities. If the transition between two types of floor materials, or any other change in floor level, is more than a one quarter of an inch, a transition strip or beveled piece of material, must be placed to ease the transition.  

Prioritize Improvements

For existing establishments, there are many requirements for a fully-compliant building, so the ADA National Network and Institute for Human Centered Design have developed an ADA Checklist for readily-achievable barrier removal. The checklist focuses on four priorities for barrier removal:

  1. Approach & Entrance
  2. Access to Goods & Services
  3. Toilet Rooms
  4. Additional Access

There are often opportunities to retrofit a space to improve the accessibility in priority areas. For example, B&N worked with a winery to assess ADA compliance in the four priority areas. For each area on the ADA checklist, the B&N team observed the current conditions and compared them to the ADA standards. Some observations included the number of accessible parking spaces, the threshold height at entrance doors, the height of service counters, braille on toilet room signs and knee space under dining tables. 

For each observation, the team cited the corresponding design standard to achieve compliance. This report gave the client the data needed to create a plan for improvement, to increase accessibility for their patrons and protect their business. 

Assess Access

When going through a standard inspection, building inspectors do not necessarily check for accessibility compliance. In the case of an existing operation, it is up to the building or business owner to take the first step and assess access for people with disabilities. Taking this step and developing a barrier removal plan will help protect them from legal action, while better accommodating citizens and patrons.

For more information about removing architectural barriers and increasing accessibility, email Lamonte Woodard, AIA LEED AP BD+C.

Lamonte Woodard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Architect

Lamonte Woodard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C