Friday, March 23, 2007

Detail of the Week: a primer on ADA

I've decided to take the middle road today on the DotW and attempt to explain a bit about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that spaces and equipment must be designed so that most people with most disabilities can use public spaces without needing help from a staff member or having a helper with them. The ADA also has a book of how the spaces and equipment should be designed, called the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). Architects also use the American National Standards Institute's space configurations (ANSI A117.1) because they are sometimes stricter than ADAAG. Recent revisions to ADAAG have made ADAAG more stringent, so we're back to using them.

The ADA requires that a public facility make a real attempt to comply. There are requirements for how many toilets, desks, phones, etc. must comply with their regulations. For example, a facility with private sleeping rooms, like a hotel or hospital, is often allowed to make only one in ten rooms comply with ADAAG. (However, if your project receives government funds to be built, then all rooms must comply.)

As a matter of fact, let's take a primary example of ADAAG space requirements for a lavatory and a toilet. Now, I should note that in architecture, we have sinks and lavatories. A sink is a stainless steel or aluminum basin that sits in a countertop. A lavatory is made of china, porcelain, or solid surface material that sits either in a countertop or can be mounted directly to a wall. So, we're dealing today with a basic lavatory and toilet in one room for use by one person alone. Let's look first at the requirements for a toilet:

These requirements are pretty extensive. The plan shows how much space needs to be around the toilet, free from obstructions like walls, columns, pipes, anything. It also shows how the toilet need to be mounted, how high off the floor and how far away from the side wall. The elevation also show to locate the grab bars on the wall. Now let's look at the lavatory:

Here again we see requirements for how big and how small the lavatory can be and how much clear space is needed around and underneath the lavatory. Lavatories with exposed drain pipes below (like the one in the elevation above) require insulation on them to protect knees from being bumped or even scalded if really hot water goes down the pipes.
Now, when you put these two fixtures in a room together, there are additional requirements. A room needs to have a 30 inch by 48 inch space available for a wheelchair to maneuver into so the person can close the door behind them. Also, when the door is closed, the room needs to have a circle that's 60 inches in diameter in the floor that doesn't intersect the lavatory or the toilet so the wheelchair can turn completely around. These other requirements add even more space to a room. The hardest thing about ADAAG is that because maneuvering a wheelchair takes a lot of space, suddenly a hall that could suffice at 4'-0" wide now has to be at least 5'-0" wide. When this happens, suddenly we have a little less space that we thought we had to fit in a toilet room, three offices, and a copy alcove. Suddenly, the offices can only be 100 square feet instead of 110 square feet because the hall needs to be a little wider. This is often tough to explain to the users of a space. They say, "We don't get it; these bathrooms are huge! Here's what our existing bathrooms in our old hospital look like:"

"See? Our present toilet rooms are only 5 feet 1 inch wide and 6 feet 6 inches deep, and they're fine!"

"Yes," we respond, "but your hospital was built before 1980, which is when the ADA was passed. Before then, you didn't have to hire handicapped people--they often couldn't find work because people wouldn't hire 'cripples'. But after the ADA was passed, you couldn't refuse to hire the person because of their incapacity, and you actually have to make provisions for them to work at your business. One of those provisions is making the can big enough to get a wheelchair in and around, so your new toilets have to look like this, at minimum:"
And then they say, "Oh." And we say, "Yeah, oh. And trust us, you're gonna like having a bathroom you can actually turn around and change clothes in."

ADA is a big deal these days in our litigious culture. There are ADA watchdog groups that go around to new buildings and measure clearances and will then file complaints against the facility if the clearances are even 1/4 of an inch too small. A toilet room can be off by 1/4 of an inch by a) construction tolerances (things get lost in the building of the walls) or b) because the design of the walls didn't account for the tile on them. The dimensions between the walls is to the face of the drywall, but tile adds another 1/4" to 1/2" to the face of the drywall. So, there you go--little things add up. I know of an architect whose contractor had to move all the patient room toilets over one inch after a code official came in and found that the toilets were 1'-5" off the wall instead of 1'-6". Crazy, y'all.

Know what's really freaky? After doing healthcare for six and a half years, I can draw these sketches from memory.

All images from the 2006 ADAAG website:


faded said...

It turns out the original Americans with Disabilities Act was authored by senator Ted Kennedy in 1992 as a civil rights law. This is the same class of law as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The original ADA law had no enforcement provisions in it at all. There was no requirement to build in an ADA compliant way. If you chose to ignore the ADA you opened yourself to civil lawsuits from anyone who decided to to take a run at you. This is why you see measuring tape vigilantes checking your work today.

By authoring the law this way Ted Kennedy bypassed all the code officials and code writing bodies in this great land.

Over time what we think of as the ADA has been integrated in to various building codes and regulatory bodies.

From a legal point of view what Ted Kennedy did was really manipulative and dishonest. He should have created a law that empowered and required the code writing authorities to create the ADA standards. Instead he turned building codes into civil law to be settled in the court, rather than regulatory law that supposedly had some research and thought behind it.

The ADA standards have improved over the years. The original law had no standards in it at all. All it really said was if a handicapped person cannot access your work place you can be sued. Everyone was searching for some guidance on how to deal with this law. There were all kinds of things circulating the first year. It has all finally settled down into the web site on your post.

There were loony things going on, like companies marketing elevators that were "ADA compliant" as retrofits to you building. They were to be separate structures attached to the side of your 5-10-50 story building. Building owners were told they had to install these or get sued.

There are lawyers today who make a business out of filing hundreds of lawsuits over "ADA issues." It has gotten so bad that some lawyers have lost their right to bring lawsuits in certain jurisdictions. I am sorry that I cannot remember more details on the lawsuit situation. Remember, Congress is here to help you have better life. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "No one's life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature is in session."

Miss Kitty said...

Did you say you had a nutty new "person" to add into these drawings? :-P

Mile High Pixie said...

Faded: Much thanks for the clarification (and the Jefferson quote). Congress is here to help me have a better life indeed! I agree that Kennedy's law would have been better served by designating another group (perhaps the ICC) to come up with a set of dimensions, regs, and guidelines, but I can also understand just wanting to get something more concrete in place after 12 years and not wanting to pass the buck to yet another committee or council. Some of the rules are really handy, and some just flat out eat up valuable real estate.

Miss Kitty: Yes, yes, I have yet more not-safe-for-construction-documents alterations to add to WAD...try not to spit coffee on your monitor.

faded said...

Oh Please, Oh Please, can I see the figures too?