Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Consult Before You Change

At a local restaurant I am reminded how building owners can get themselves into trouble with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in an instant.   I frequent a nicely themed restaurant that was just built a couple of years ago so you would expect the building meets all of the requirements of the ADA and it probably does, however, the owner has made an innocent change that could cost them several thousand dollars in the form of an ADA lawsuit.

When the restaurant was built a couple of years ago, it had the proper signage on the restroom doors as required by the ADA…………..a triangle on the men’s and a circle on the women’s.   Everything is good…………….right??   Wrong!!!

As you can see from the picture above, the owner has installed a themed porthole window over the ADA restroom door signage.   Unfortunately by installing the porthole window the owner does not realize they have violated the ADA because they simply do not understand the intent of the ADA.  

What the owner in this case does not understand is the signs on the restroom entry door are an indication to the blind or visually impaired which restroom is appropriate for their sex.   Blind or visually impaired individuals will feel the signs to determine if it’s the men’s due to the points of the triangle or women’s due to the lack of points.   These symbols are of utmost importance to those who are blind or have limited vision in finding and using the correct restroom.   This one violation may and probably will cost the restaurant several thousand dollars.

I have discussed this with one of the restaurant managers and was met with limited concern and was informed the building met the current codes.   What management did not understand is that while the restaurant may have met all of the code requirements at the time, they have violated the ADA when they added the porthole window and now may be the subject of an ADA lawsuit totaling thousand of dollars.

It’s an odd quirk of the ADA that simple changes the owner innocently makes can result in a violation of the ADA and these changes are exactly what serial plaintiffs are looking to identify when they file a lawsuit for violations of the ADA.   This is especially true in the restrooms where there are usually a multitude of violations including accessories that are mounted too high.

So how do owners protect themselves?   They enlist the services of an ADA professional.  In California, this would be a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) who is an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can provide a CASp Report which outlines any areas of non-compliance with the ADA.   In addition, the owner needs to think of the ADA professional as part of his team of consultants similar to the attorney or the accountant.   Any changes to the existing facility need to discussed with the ADA professional before being implemented.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Signage Matters

I am still to this day mystified as to how business owners react to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).   The photograph above is a prime example of exactly what I am describing.

This photograph was taken at a gas station in the City of Pico Rivera.   The gas station has one van accessible parking space; however, there was a 3/4” change in elevation between the van accessible parking space and the walkway to the gas station convenience store.   Because of the ¾” change in elevation, the gas station received a lawsuit and as a result, they removed the entire van accessible parking space and poured a new concrete parking space that was 100% level with the adjacent walkway.   Everything is good now????

Well, as with so many businesses, the parking space was only one of many violations of the ADA that exist at the gas station.   It was at this point that I offered my services to the gas station manager as I thought they may want to avoid future lawsuits.

Sure enough, as with most business, they believed they were O.K. now and did not want to enlist my services as a professional ADA consultant.   

Unfortunately, the business owner has gone from bad to worse if that is possible and will probably be involved in another lawsuit in the next year or two.   The basis of the lawsuit will be the incorrect signage located in front of the new van accessible parking space.   Of particular issue is the tow away sign which I will discuss. 

The tow away sign is required at all vehicular entrances.   There is an exception that allows the tow away sign to be located adjacent to the accessible space as shown above.   So far, so good, but now we need to examine the sign.   The accessibility code is very specific as to the language of the sign and provides the exact language in a paragraph of the accessibility codes.   In addition, the signage is to provide the location and the telephone number of where a towed vehicle can be obtained.   This contact information is important because legitimate tow companies will not tow without that information.   Finally, the accessibility code state the sign shall be 17” wide x 22” high and shall have text that is 1” high.   It’s obvious the tow away sign in the photograph above does not meet any of these very specific requirements.

Believe it or not there are numerous other issues with regards to the other signage shown above including sign size, mounting height and other missing signage.   It’s hard to believe, but these few signs can get the business owner into a whole lot of trouble in the form a lawsuit.

Now for the sad news……..correct signage for this location will probably cost a total of $150.00 maximum.   In reality if there is a lawsuit, the cost to the business owner will be no where near that amount.  More than likely the owner will pay $4,000.00 to a plaintiff or if the business owner chooses to fight it, the cost of an attorney will exceed the cost of the correct signage.   And to be honest, my fees as an ADA consultant would be far less then both the cost of a lawsuit and the cost of an attorney.

Unfortunately, I see this often where owners are just too stubborn to pay for the services of an ADA consultant and end up in a lawsuit where they ultimately pay the plaintiff and then pay my fee as an ADA consultant and then pay the cost to fix the issue.   Why are business owner not proactive and eliminate the lawsuit by enlisting my services?   Now one will ever know what these business owners are thinking, but one thing is for sure………….it’s costing business owners thousands of needless dollars.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Door Knobs – When and Where?

It’s surprising to me that although door knobs such at the one shown in the photograph above have not been allowed by the code for probably 20 years, I still see them quite often.   Door knobs are not allowed anywhere in a commercial building.    Remember, while most believe the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is only for those individuals in a wheelchair that is simply not true.  The ADA is for anyone with a disability and included in that group would be those individuals with arthritis.  As you probably know, arthritis affects the joints and in some cases, makes it difficult or impossible for suffers to use their hands.

As a result, those with arthritis in their hands can not open doors with knobs.   The ADA requires door hardware that does not require tight grasping, tight pinching or twisting of the wrist to operate.   A door knob requires that someone must tightly grasp the door know and twist with their wrist to open and this can be almost impossible for those with arthritis.  

To solve this problem, most commercial building owners simply install lever hardware such as the one shown in the photograph at the right.   As you can see from the photograph, no tight grasping is required to open the door.   Someone with arthritis can simply hit the lever with their fist to open the   In addition to the requirements for lever hardware, in some building occupancies the lever must return to within ½” of the door to prevent clothing from being caught by the lever as someone is exiting the building.

Building owners should be aware there are certain other requirements for the door hardware including the mounting height of the hardware.    Building owners are advised to secure professional assistance in selecting and installing door hardware.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What’s The Deal at the Bottom of the Door?

Correct Door Bottom

Modified Door Bottom

In my previous blog, I discussed some of the work involved in a California Certified Access Specialist (CASp) Report and I specifically discussed some of the checks that are required for doors.   One of the door checks involves the rail at the bottom of the door.   In general, the ADA requires the bottom rail to be smooth and a minimum of 10” high.   This is mostly a problem for glass storefront doors.   Newer storefront doors easily meet this requirement, but older doors do not. 
The reason behind the 10” bottom rail is simple…………to assist someone in a wheelchair in opening the door.   The issue is that without a 10” bottom rail, the footrest of the wheelchair may get caught on the door frame and make it difficult if not impossible for someone in a wheelchair to open the door and in a worst case scenario, the glass door could get broken.

The picture shown above on the left was taken at a Macy’s Department Store.   I am not sure if the work they have done is the result of a lawsuit, but they recently made one door at each entry into an accessible door by modifying the bottom rail.   In addition, they have added an International Symbol Accessibility (ISA) as required, although it’s located a little too low.

This picture above on the right depicts how the door bottom on an accessible store front should appear.   You will also notice this door does not have the ISA as required, however, that is a simple correction to make.   You can also see from the photograph that it’s easy for a serial plaintiff to “drive by” and clearly see if your door has the required 10 door bottom without even taking a single measurement.

If the doors into your facility do not have the required 10” door bottom, then you should immediately contact a door contractor to get the door modified to include the required door bottom..

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Does It Take So Long?

Clients often ask me………….why does an ADA Accessibility Field Survey & Report take so long??  In the clients mind you simply need to visit a property, look at a couple of items and do a little writing.   How can it take so long??   The answer to this question varies by property; however, to start I usually explain to clients the tremendous amount of information that must be gathered during an ADA Accessibility Field Survey.

As an example, for every door in the building I must check about 10 separate items.   This list includes, but is not limited to the following:
1.       Width
2.       Height
3.       Threshold
4.       Kickplate
5.       Door Lever
6.       Lever Height
7.       Closing Speed
8.       Push/Pull Force
9.       Strike Edge Clearance ( Interior & Exterior )
10.     Required Signage

For a high rise office building there can easily be 20 to 30 doors per floor with each door taking 10 – 15 minute per door.  This could result in a door survey that takes several hours especially if there are many different types of doors.   And this is just the time necessary to survey the doors.   There are many other items that must be checked during an Accessibility Survey that can also take a number of hours to survey including the toilet rooms where there is an endless list of items that must be checked.

In addition to the field survey, there can be a number of hours spent in the preparation of the data into a format for presentation to the client depending on what type of report the client is requesting.   In California, the “gold standard” is the Certified Access Specialist Report.   This report is the most inclusive and best report for the client; however, it takes a number of hours after the field survey to complete.  Time estimates vary by CASp, but the office time to complete the report is often a multiple of the hours spent in the field.   And in addition, a CASp may need to spend a number of hours in researching a particular issues as the accessibility requirements are general in nature and don’t address specific issues as they relate to a specific property.

All in all, the hours needed to survey and prepare the data for a client can often equal several days for even the smallest project.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Parking Must Be Level

Businesses all over California are being hit by lawsuits for nonconforming accessible parking stalls.   While most of these stalls may appear to be in compliance, most are not and even if the accessible stall is the correct size and has the proper signage, there are still hidden nonconforming conditions on the ground in the form of the accessible parking stall level.   

Accessible parking stalls and the adjacent aisle must be level.   If not, those disabled individuals that use a specialized van can not load and unload via the ramp or hydraulic lift that many of the vans have on the passenger side.   This is a really big issue as it really makes no sense to have an accessible stall with the proper signage that the disabled can not use because they can not get out of their van.

I wrote about this issue in detail in my blog on December 9, 2013 at which time I showed an example of a nonconforming stall and discussed the issues related to stall level and despite my warnings, businesses are continuing to have lawsuits filed against them for accessible parking spaces that are not level.   Drive around town as I do and it’s easy to spot businesses that have received lawsuits………….they have a brand new completely regarded and repaved accessible parking stall.   The photograph above shows just such case. 
Previously the parking lot shown in the photograph had an accessible parking stall at the other end of the parking lot that was not level.   To get this parking space level, the new accessible space needed to be completely regarded and a retaining curb was installed to deal with the grade difference.   Not necessarily the best situation, but always better than a lawsuit.

As many of the ADA lawsuits that my clients receive are for ADA violations in the parking lot, I can not stress enough that accessibility in parking lots must be PERFECT.    Having a parking lot with perfect accessibility is one of the best ways to avoid ADA lawsuits although it’s also important to address ALL of the ADA issues on a property to be completely secure.  Also, please remember when making ADA improvements, you must consult your local building officials as to any permits or approvals that may be required.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Don't Use The Word Handicapped

I was meeting with a client the other day and as we were discussing the improvements that he needed to make to his property, he kept referring to them as handicapped improvements.   After a couple mentions of the word, I explained to him the word handicapped was demeaning to those with disabilities and he should use the word disabled instead of handicapped.

The reason we use the word disabled instead of handicapped is because many individuals in the disabled community do not consider their disability a handicapped.   Many in the disabled community can have completely normal lives despite their disability so to describe them as handicapped would be totally inaccurate.

Using the word disabled instead of handicapped is hard for many of those in the design profession including architects, building officials and contractors because when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first sign into law, many would refer to the improvements as handicapped improvements and as time went on, the word stuck.

Now in 2014, we and I specifically need to make sure we all use the correct nomenclature and refer to individuals as disabled and the improvements that are made for the disabled are referred to as accessibility improvements.