The ADA Standards are not a building code.
High achievement is the product of high expectations.
At the RMADAC, many of the requests for information that we receive about the 2010 ADA Standards get routed to my desk. This is my area of expertise. The overwhelming majority of questions that people have about the Standards are honest in nature. We do get the occasional call from someone who doesn’t love our, but that is a very small minority. There is a common thread that I follow to debunk most questions about more nuanced issues. This line of thought is not about skimming through the minutiae of the technical provisions, although that does have its place. The ADA is about Civil Rights, meaning equal opportunity for public access. The ADA Standards are simply the manifestation of civil rights in the form of minimum requirements for access.
The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design strictly outline the minimum requirements a public area should follow to ensure most people with disabilities can access that area. When we were all in elementary, middle, and high school simply meeting the minimum criteria of any assignment was the way to earn a “C” as a grade. I understand that many people are perfectly OK with earning “C’s,” but if you operate a place that’s open to the public, like a business, do you want your facility to reflect a “C” or “A+” standard? Do you want your business to survive or to thrive? The largest minority group in the United States is that of people who live with disabilities. And, we spend money! Why not exceed the minimum standards where it is possible to get more people to enjoy spending their money at your business?
More people than those with disabilities benefit from the physical access requirements of the ADA. How many parents who have stroller-aged children walk by coffee shops with steps before they find one that they can access a lot easier? These people may remember that experience and continue to go to the accessible shop. They are creating habits that likely last beyond the years of using a stroller. Does your business receive a lot of deliveries from suppliers each week? Could that process be streamlined to take less time if your business had accessible elements? Elements such as ramps, wide interior routes, and wide doorways that aren’t hard to open? I don’t know one small business owner who doesn’t work their tail off day in and day out. So I can only imagine how much nicer it would be for them to have more time to address the needs of the customers and less time fiddling with getting shipments in and out.
I know I’m preaching to business owners, which few of the readers are likely to be. But, you never know, you may be one in the future.
The ADA Standards are not arbitrary rules and measurements which were pulled out of a hat. The ADA Standards took several years of research and development by the US Access Board to create. This involved countless studies, drafts, public input and comment, and committee reviews by panels of experts on accessibility. It is not to say the ADA Standards are absolute and perfect. Rather a lot of thought and energy went into everything that is in the book. When I receive a call from a business owner who seems annoyed at the provisions of the ADA Standards, I let them know that the RMADAC does not make the rules. We just know them well and communicate them to people who contact us. If someone really disagrees with the requirements, they should go through the proper channels and contact their congressional representative. Yes, the ADA is an Act of Congress, remember civil rights? The ADA Standards do get updated from time to time, so if you have a strong opinion you should let the right people know what you think.
As any consistent readers may have noticed by now, I enjoy action just as much as theory. My call to action this time is more of a challenge for anyone who owns a public space that feels limited by the ADA Standards. My challenge is to be as creative as you possibly can to create your unique experience alongside following at the ADA Standards. If you don’t like the look of protected pipes under a restroom sink, how creative can you get in deciding the best way to fulfill that requirement which also sets your establishment apart from others? The ADA Standards don’t say “this is what you have to do,” rather it says, “you can do what you want to do, keeping this (civil rights) in mind.” Think bigger, expect more.