Requirements to upgrade previously developed structures and projects for ADA access is not strictly limited to new construction or renovations. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law, rather than a building code or development standard, meaning compliance can be tricky for existing facilities. Businesses and non-profit organizations accessed by the public at large are required to remove architectural barriers, even when making no renovations or upgrades, when it is “readily achievable.” Readily achievable, as defined by the ADA, is when barrier removal is “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” Cost and constraints change over time and as working capital and other factors change; the ADA’s “readily achievable” requirements for a given project can change as well.
The goal is to use inclusive design to accommodate individuals with disabilities and to encourage a society that listens and responds to these individuals. From wheelchair-accessible swimming pools, to ADA ramps providing ocean access and wheelchair-based theme parks, people with disabilities cherish these offerings and feel more seamlessly integrated into society when their needs are considered. This is where landscape architects can provide the expertise, creativity, and problem solving skills to achieve desirable outcomes.
With any upgrade or retrofit project, it is key for designers and planners to spend ample time planning for and implementing ADA compliance to understand the cost and effects to the overall budget. Construction costs to provide for ADA access and compliance can be up to 20% of the overall retrofit construction budget, so proper planning and management of ADA criteria is essential to achieve final goals and objectives. The ADA National Network has developed a detailed checklist to assist in the planning and implementation of ADA upgrades to existing facilities. The checklist provides a wealth of knowledge for designers and planners, covering topics from access to goods and services to upgrading toilets and bathroom facilities.
The more our existing public facilities and key areas of public access can accommodate all end users, the more inclusive our society becomes. The hallmark of an industrialized nation is providing for all citizens. Upgrading ADA access, whether it is a retrofit/upgrade or under the “readily achievable” provision, is a critically important topic for today and in the future. Close to 50 million Americans have a disability. Ignoring or not significantly providing for 20% of the US population through design programming is a mistake we as designers cannot overlook.
This article is written by Nate Lowry, ASLA, a licensed landscape architect for MacKay Sposito in Federal Way, WA. He has 16 years of experience predominantly in the Puget Sound area. He is also a City Council member and member of the Pierce County Regional Council planning body. This article was originally published in ASLA Professional Practice Networks Blog.