How to Comply with the ADA Update

May 1, 2012

Planning an expansion or major remodeling project? Make sure it complies with the newest revision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is rolling out changes in every property asset class.

Not keeping up with the multitude of small changes could lead to fines or lawsuits, but the right approach can eliminate your legal risk while improving accessibility.

“One of the main things that changed is how accessible routes are treated on a building site,” says ADA expert Doug Anderson of LCM Architects. “The 1991 standards required an accessible route from a bus stop or public sidewalk to an accessible entrance. The new standard says that if a pedestrian route is not provided, you do not have to try to create an accessible route. For instance, at a mall that’s set back from the road and doesn’t have any sidewalks, you know the back of the mall is not intended for pedestrian traffic.”

Other updates include:

  • Aquatic recreation areas: Pools require a lift or sloped ramp. If the pool’s perimeter is greater than 300 linear feet, a second means of access is necessary, such as stairs with a hand rail. Hot tubs also require a pool lift.

  • Fitness facilities: The maneuvering distance around fitness equipment changes and accessible seating is required in saunas and steam rooms.

  • Children’s play spaces: The new update specifies a certain number of accessible playground elements and discusses when to add ramps to play structures.

The update applies to new construction and major renovations. Projects that substantially modify an area must adhere to the new rules, while buildings that comply with the 1991 standard but don’t change are in “safe harbor,” explains Kevin Hughes, vice president of project and development services at Jones Lang LaSalle.

“If you’ve taken a proactive look at the ADA in the past, you’re probably in compliance with safe harbor as long as you’re not doing any new projects or renovations,” Hughes says. “But the ADA is starting to get more visible with updates, so if you haven’t looked at it, you’re going to be under more scrutiny.”

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