Some Thoughts on Accessibility

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law giving individuals with disabilities civil rights protections against discrimination.  It requires places of public accommodation, including government buildings, business locations, and service providers, to serve the disabled.  (Religious organizations are exempt, but many congregations voluntarily comply.)  The ADA does not require retrofitting of existing buildings but if a building is being altered the area of alteration must be made accessible in accordance with the Existing Building Code of New York State.  This code relaxes some requirements when applying the Code to officially designated historic buildings.  Following is a list of the priorities of the ADA along with examples of accessibility.

Priority 1 – Provide an accessible route into the facility from sidewalk, parking, and public transportation: “getting through the door”.

Examples include providing curb ramps, accessible parking spaces, signage directing people to an accessible entrance, entrance ramp, wide doors, and accessible door hardware.

○          Accessible parking is an 8 foot wide space with a 5 foot wide aisle adjacent, or an 8 foot wide aisle adjacent for van access.

○          Ramps shall have a maximum slope of 1:12. Slopes less than 1:20 are not considered ramps and do not need handrails.

○          Door hardware (and all operable hardware) shall be able to be operated with a closed fist, without a pinching grasp, and without turning the wrist.

Priority 2 – Provide access to places where goods and services are available to the public.

Examples include widening doorways, providing turnaround space, lowering counters, providing raised character signage, rearranging tables, providing wheelchair seating space, and assistive listening systems.

○          Doorways shall be 32 inches clear width when the door is fully open.

○          A clear circle 5 feet in diameter, or a “T” shape space 5 feet square is required for wheelchair turnaround.

○          Counter height, reception window, food service shelves, etc. should be 34 inches.

Priority 3 – Provide accessible restroom facilities.

This includes doorways, stall size, lavatory height, faucets, coat hook height, grab bars and door thresholds. A single accessible unisex toilet room may be provided instead of altering both men’s and women’s rooms.

○          Minimum stall size is 5 feet square. Minimum individual use toilet room size is approximately 7 feet by 6 foot-8 inch; this varies with type of toilet (wall or floor mount) and size of lavatory.

○          Lavatory shall be 34 inches high maximum and have 29 inches clearance under it. Exposed pipes shall be padded to insulate from burns.

○          Coat hooks shall be 54 inches high maximum.

○          Thresholds shall be maximum of 1/4 inch high with a vertical rise, or 1/2 inch high maximum with a beveled slope.

Priority 4 – Provide access to all other goods, services, advantages and accommodations within the facility.

Examples include accessible loading zone, operable controls, accessible public telephones, installing visual alarms, accessible drinking fountains or cup dispensers, and making employee areas accessible.

Certified historic buildings do not have to comply with the ADA where barrier removal would be detrimental to the historic character but should strive for the concepts of the priorities as listed above.

For specific questions on accessibility there are local organizations that may be able to help:

United Spinal Association
130 South Elmwood Avenue
Suite 641
Buffalo, New York 14202 – 2487
(716) 857 3338

Regional Center for Independent Living
497 State Street
Rochester, NY  14608
(585) 442-6470

United Spinal Association has a number of publications summarizing ADA requirements, dealing with historic buildings and comparing state to federal law.

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