If your building was built prior to 1992, chances are the level of accessibility originally designed and built into your structure does not come close to the current access requirements.
Over time, most of the “older existing buildings” undergo multiple remodels, re-fresh or complete new tenant improvement projects. Except for replacement of roofing, flooring, windows, paint and general maintenance to keep a building functioning, any improvements, additions, structural repairs or changes are considered a trigger to complete roughly 20% additional in accessibility improvements.
When building a new building, however, it is absolutely required to include accessibility in the design and construction to avoid the architectural barriers that people with disabilities confront in many older buildings. This is why the ADA requires all new public accommodations and commercial facilities to comply with design standards called the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards). Then each individual state enforces their specific version of the accessibility codes. These standards make buildings and facilities usable by people who are blind or deaf or have limited dexterity, hand strength, as well as people who have mobility impairments.
The goal is to ensure that all commercial buildings and facilities built in the United States since 1992 are accessible to and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities.
The ADA as well as all 50 states enforce accessibility standards for:
- Paths of Travel
- Disabled parking stalls
- Sidewalks and walkways
- Curb cut and pedestrian ramps, handrails, guardrails and stair sets
- Building entrances, corridors, rooms, service counters, toilet facilities
- Drinking fountains, elevators, signage and so much more
Complying with the ADA Standards as well as your specific state codes allows customers or employees who have disabilities to enter a building or site, move through the hallways or circulation paths, access the areas where goods and services are provided or where they perform their work, and use the restrooms and other amenities that are provided.
When access requirements are met during construction, the additional cost of the accessible features is usually minimal. In contrast, retrofits done after construction can be very expensive and disruptive. That is why it is important for businesses to remind their architects and contractors about the importance of complying with the ADA as well as the most current version of their State Building Codes, especially at the early stages of planning a project.
So what does this look like at the local level?
Let’s face it, pretty much every new building and facility must be built to comply with current state or local building codes.
Typically, a “plans examiner” or building official reviews plans to approve construction and inspect the new facility several times before work is completed. This is at the City or County level within a specific State.
But when it comes to the Federal ADA, there is no inspector or department within the DOJ that is going to help you determine if your project is going to meet the requirements. The building owner and those responsible for design and construction are responsible for complying with the ADA.
Many local codes contain accessibility provisions, but they are separate from the ADA Standards. To be sure the construction complies with the ADA as well as the building code, both sets of requirements need to be followed. Fortunately, many of the accessibility requirements are similar. Where there are differences, it is best to follow the requirements that will result in greater accessibility.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) encourages state and local governments to submit their accessibility provisions for a determination as to whether they are equivalent to the ADA requirements.
Each State is looking to receive their “certificate of equivalency” from the DOJ. When the provisions are certified as equivalent to the ADA, the building code inspection process ensures compliance with the building code and also serves as rebuttal evidence that the building complies with the ADA.
So regardless if you are building a brand new commercial property or pulling a permit to upgrade the exterior facade of your 1970’s strip center, you must make sure that the professionals you trust with the design, construction and inspections along the way don’t lead you down a path to non-compliance.
If you have any questions regarding this topic, please feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org