In what was advertised at the time as the biggest attended bill signing ever held on the White House lawn, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into effect 18 years ago, in July of 1990. Why, then, are there still complaints and lawsuits regarding the placement of accessibility elements?
After the passage of the ADA, different federal agencies were given rulemaking authority for different sections of the act: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was awarded aircraft; the Department of Transportation (DOT) was awarded rail, buses, and highways; and the Department of Justice (DOJ) was responsible for buildings and facilities. The DOJ, which was more familiar with bank robberies and drug busts, chose a federal board—the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Board—to craft its rules. (The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Board is now known as the U.S. Access Board.) The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Board developed the bible of accessibility regulations: the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).
After years of enforcement, you'd think that all of the required accessibility features are being installed and maintained according to the guidelines. Even today, though, many building elements are being installed or changed in such a way that they may not be usable by the population they're intended to help, simply because building managers aren't really conscious of how these elements contribute to accessibility. It's hard to change hundreds of years of construction practices. A whole new sensitivity and thinking needs to be followed in order to comply with the vast number of regulations in this arena.
Following is a list of the 10 most common mistakes that occur in the field—from least common to most common—when building owners/managers attempt to provide accessibility.
10. Installing a coat hook too high.
9. Using round knobs on doors.
8. Objects protruding from walls.
7. Mirrors are too high.
6. Clear space is obstructed.
5. Grab bars are blocked.
4. The door offset is too small.
3. The accessible route is too narrow.
2. Accessible parking signage is too low.
1. Door signs are on the wrong side of the door.
With more awareness, understanding, and sensitivity, providing accessibility can be accomplished in a way that's usable for the population for which it was intended.
Jeffery Gross is president at Hollywood, FL-based Jeffery Gross Associates Architect.