Premises security has always been a balancing act between erecting barriers
to access and interfering as little as possible with authorized personnel. When
the tenant or visitor is a person with disabilities, that balancing act becomes
all the more tricky for building owners, integrators, and facilities managers.
In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became law, combating discrimination
with respect to employment, public transportation, public accommodations, and
telecommunications. In the decade since the law's inception, a number of factors
have caused great changes in the commercial construction industry, including
access control systems installation.
The ADA is enforced through civil litigation initiated by private individuals
or the Department of Justice (DOJ). While local authorities that have jurisdiction
over building codes do not have direct enforcement responsibilities for the
ADA, they often enforce local law with respect to accessibility provisions that
duplicate or are at least roughly similar to the federal requirements. There
are no provisions in the ADA, however, for pre-construction reviews of building
plans. It is up to the owner and designer to make plans they can defend in court
if the need arises.
Early in the building process, a security and integrated systems designer must
first determine the access control perimeters and where entries will be for
persons with ADA requirements. This includes coordination with the building
owner, local building inspector, architect, general contractor, and hardware
suppliers. To avoid problems with ADA compliance, accessibility of each door
must be addressed, as well as standards for each access control system device's
height and functionality. Premises security door hardware may include electromagnetic
locks, pushbutton locks, cardreader-operated locks, keypads, and more. These
devices need to take disabilities such as visual or auditory impairment into
account, not depending on solely visual or audio cues for successful operation.
Because a person with disabilities might not be able to operate traditional
doors, one answer may be to consider low-energy automatic door openers, known
informally as "ADA door operators." With this product, after a person
is authorized to enter, the door will automatically open to allow for entry,
wait a number of seconds, and then automatically close.
ADA-compliant door operator systems need to be carefully integrated into access
control systems or problems may occur. For instance, many times the interface
between the door operator and the access control system's door release functions
are overlooked. In these cases, the lock and unlock functions operate independently
of the door operator. An end-user will attempt to open the door with the ADA
operator while the door hardware is still in a locked condition. This action
causes the operator to apply force against the locked hardware. As a result,
the operator will then need to be replaced much earlier than is necessary from
normal use. If both systems are integrated, the door operator will not function
unless the access control system first releases the door hardware.
Once the access control systems are installed, a testing and end-user instruction
session can be held to ensure the devices are being used properly. Ron McPherson,
CPP is the director of the Security Systems Division at Troy, MI-based GSI LLC