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Are your elevators ADA compliant?

How Elevator Modernization Ensures Accessibility and Compliance

May 13, 2024
Accessible, ADA-compliant elevators are an indispensable part of multi-level buildings, ensuring equitable access for people with disabilities and safety for all passengers. Are your elevators compliant?

First passed in 1990 and later amended in 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) encompasses a wide range of laws, standards and regulations intended to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. The ADA Standards for Accessible Design – in conjunction with Title II and Title III regulations—specifically provide well-tested requirements that ensure building and facility accessibility.

Accessible and compliant elevators are indispensable components in multi-level buildings, ensuring safe access for people with disabilities as well as increasing overall safety for all potential passengers. Generally speaking, the requirements for elevators include accessible location, elevator cars deep and wide enough to accommodate wheelchair passengers, doors that remain open for at least 3 seconds and are at least 36 inches wide, size requirements for buttons, Braille signage and verbal announcements.

Of course, these standards only work in practice when there is strict adherence and regular assessment. As accessible design standards are wide-ranging, they can seem challenging to meet, especially when combined with additional state and municipal codes, legislation, and regulations. On the building management side, even when the needed requirements are understood, there can be barriers to implementation.

For new builds, this can include cost, footprint and consideration of other elements that must be installed without hampering the size and location of the elevator shafts and cabs. Existing buildings themselves may not meet ADA standards without significant structural changes, making elevator compliance even more challenging and potentially posing legal risks to building owners.

The good news is thoughtful building design or redesign, when co-conceived and instituted with an engaged elevator service provider, can help buildings meet accessibility requirements, provide strategies to maximize limited budgets, and proactively plan to futureproof properties against evolving standards as well as the growth of a given building or facility.

For example, if several states update their code to include the use of an upgraded safety measure, it’s smart planning to include that safety measure in design planning in general, even if the building is not located in that state. ASME A17.1 2019 code made it mandatory to install two-way communication on new units being installed or units that upgrades that are made to the emergency operation and signaling devices. The two-way communication means the elevator must have the ability for authorized personnel to send messages as well as receive responses from trapped passengers. This includes passengers who cannot speak or hear.

Along the same lines, if a facility were to, for example, increase its traffic due to serving more clients, planning would mean elevator capacity would already meet that higher number. Design considerations can also lay the foundation for easier first-time installation, replacement and the implementation of modernization options that can help bring elevators up to code.

ADA elevator capacity regulations can be one of the more difficult requirements to design for, as an elevator’s size is directly affected by the size of the hoistway. If a smaller hoistway is already in place, it may not be able to contain an ADA-compliant elevator. For new builds, this is just one example of keeping key ADA considerations in mind in the planning stages. Widening a hoistway can allow it to contain a larger car, in the design phase or after the fact, but it will also affect the footprint of every floor, possibly including the placement of necessities such as wiring and plumbing.

It’s ideal to plan ahead, but in the case of existing builds, closet spaces can be considered as an opportunity to expand a hoistway. Again, anything housed in those closets, such as wiring and telecommunication cables, will need to be rethought. Another possibility is converting freight elevators, which typically fulfill spatial requirements. It is imperative, however, that such an elevator be fully converted to meet requirements on the cab’s interior and all landings, as well as inspected and approved, and not merely called an accessible elevator.

In all these scenarios, an elevator service company can be contracted to assess buildings, even before they are purchased, to determine if compliant elevators are viable, including anticipated testing requirements. ADA accessibility is a key component of any modern building’s operations and future viability. Understanding what is required and developing feasible options for meeting standards ensures building owners and managers will have lasting success.

About the Author

Mary Pulliam

Mary Pulliam is a project manager for Eastern Elevator.

About the Author

Mary Pulliam

Mary Pulliam is a project manager for Eastern Elevator.

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