ADA- The Americans
with Disabilities Act
What it means for building owners and businesses, from a meeting with an ADA official.
It is the responsibility of your local Main Street organization to learn about things that can potentially impact your business, building or community. We constantly have to assess our knowledge base and supplement weak points with research and exploratory conversations with field experts. One area that staff needed to expand our knowledge base was the Americans with Disabilities Act. This piece of Civil Rights legislation was passed more than twenty years ago, but there are a lot of misconceptions about what this civil rights law actually does, how it effects businesses and what impacts the law has on construction projects. Working with Patty Gilligan of the Emporia Human Relations Commission, we were able to sit down with Ray Petty, and ADA Center official, to learn more about the law. What we found were resources, flexibility and a host of misconceptions that Ray was happy to correct.
First, it is important to understand that there are two types of property that are governed in different manners under ADA. Title 2 properties are owned by or funded by governments. Title 3 properties are what we commonly refer to as "Private Sector" properties.
Within Title 2, all citizens must have program access. Services delivered cannot discriminate, and if individuals cannot access the service provided on site, services must be provided off site to the citizen with accessibility issues. Government owned residential properties (government housing projects, for example) are subject to ADA throughout the facility. If government facilities offer the same services in multiple locations that are within close proximity, accessibility within one of the facilities sufficiently offers an accessible option to the public.
Title 3, or "Private Sector" buildings are slightly different. ADA encourages buildings to mitigate "readily removable barriers" to accessibility. Basically,
the ADA prioritizes barrier removal in three basic steps:
1. Get people in your business.
2. Get people to your products or services.
3. Get people to your amenities (water fountains, etc.)
The ADA takes a businesses financial situation and the costs of reconstruction into account with barrier removal projects. According to Mr. Petty, the ADA cannot force marginally profitable business to engage in an expensive conversion process, but they do ask businesses to make a good faith effort. These "good faith" efforts are governed by some very basic guidelines.
One guideline is referred to as the "20% Rule". Essentially, if a buildinghas a reconstruction project, up to 20% of the costs of renovating the "public space" can be expected to mitigate barriers to entry. Things like Air Conditioning, Boilers, electrical, plumbing and some exterior work do not count towards that 20%. If you had a $100,000 interior renovation project, up to $20,000 should be allocated to improve accessibility. Within that $20,000, ADA accessible bath rooms, hand rails and other amenities draw down the allocation number, preventing the building owner from being forced to incur "disproportionate costs".
Another commonly held belief that impedes redevelopment efforts is that ADA applies to upper story Title 3 Housing. According to Ray Petty, that type of housing is specifically excluded from ADA legislation and instead falls under the Fair Housing Act. Housing units should be "adaptable", meaning that accessibility amenities can be added by individual tenants and then potentially removed by the landlord at a later date. Ground floor housing units under Title 3 must be adaptable.
Historic properties are still subject to ADA, however, the law allows for flexibility within the application of accessibility standards. For example, an accessible ramp can be placed on the side or rear of a building as opposed to destroying the front facade of a historic structure. You can have a ramped structure that runs perpendicular to store fronts, allowing for ramp accessibility to several stores without requiring independent ramps. You can create a "buzzer" system that informs building owners they need to place a temporary ramp outside to allow for a customer's accessibility, and even the ramp grades allow for some flexibility.
Typically, accessible ramps are twelve inches long for every one inch in height. ADA flexibility often allows building owners to create a steeper grade for short distances. For example, a six inch high ramp can sometimes include a grade of 10" in length for every 1" in rise. For a three inch step up, the grade can be as little as 8" in length for 1" in rise. Although the ADA has no specific language advocating for door placement, Mr. Perry indicated that many people with disabilities prefer zero set back doors (as opposed to inset doors), because they find it difficult to reach inward within the inset environment. Accessibility "buttons" that automatically open an inset door can cost approximately $1,000.
How do you know what to do within this flexible environment, and how can businesses offset some of the costs incurred? You can submit digital images to the regional ADA office for assistance (their information is at the bottom of the article). Mr. Perry made us aware of the Disabled Access Tax Credit and the Barrier Removal Tax Deduction that may assist businesses and building owners in their conversions to more accessible environments while holding down net costs. Click HERE for more information on credits and deductions.
The ADA is an actual civil rights law, and although portions of theADA have been adopted within codes for construction, it is not a universal building code. Well under one percent of most business customers will have severe accessibility issues, but the ADA officials, and the Department of Justice, want to make sure that people are making a "good faith effort" to make their business as accessible as possible. When speaking with Ray Petty, the Kansas Coordinator of the Great Plains ADA Center, it was abundantly clear that he wanted to find ways to work WITH building owners and businesses to maintain building aesthetics while finding practical solutions to improve accessibility over time. If you have questions about accessibility in your building or business, we suggest you contact:
DBTAC- Great Plains ADA Center
1251 E. 1900 Road
Lawrence, KS 666046