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Safety And Security

Americans With Disabilities Act

November 10, 2011
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As an able-bodied person, there are certain things that can be taken for granted.

When a building is designed, constructed or altered in some fashion, it can be all too easy for the individuals in charge of that design or alteration, who is most likely without disability, to forget a small yet important group of people who may utilize or function within the building: The handicapable.

Because handicapable people make up such a small percentage of the population, many facilities neglect to cater to their needs.

However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 makes neglecting various aspects of a facility''s accessibility and function illegal.

The Beginning

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted by the 101st U.S. Congress and signed in to law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush.

The ADA is, in essence, a civil rights law that, under certain circumstances, prohibits discrimination based on disability.

The law offers similar protections for disabled persons as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin illegal.

Conceived by Lex Frieden and Mitchell J. Rappaport, the ADA was an attempt to "create a civil rights law for people with disabilities that would be permanent, would not be able to be reversed or weakened and would prohibit all discrimination."

The law was designed to be a flexible set of laws that could be strengthened but never weakened by future case law.

Full And Equal Enjoyment

You may think, of course, that as a human being you consider yourself above discrimination; it''s not something you would ever do.

At least not consciously.

If you are in any way responsible for a facility, your facility could actually be making you look bad and you might not even know it.

In such cases, Title III of the ADA is extremely important and pertinent.

Title III is very specific in its language, for both new construction and when it comes to existing buildings.

Just because a building has been around doesn''t mean the proprietors and caretakers are exempt from providing each and every person who uses their facility with a comfortable and accessible building.

According to the stipulations of Title III, "No individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to) or operates a place of public accommodation."

As it pertains to existing facilities, "One of the definitions of ''discrimination'' under Title III of the ADA is a ''failure to remove'' architectural barriers in existing facilities."

It is important that facilities, both old and new, are well within compliance of this rule.

According to Frank Bowe, who was the Dr. Mervin Livingston Schloss Distinguished Professor for the Study of Disabilities at Hofstra University, "The fact that Title III calls for accessibility in, and alterations to, thousands of stores, restaurants, hotels, etc., in thousands of communities across the U.S. means that Title III probably has had more effect on the lives of more Americans with disabilities than any other ADA title."

Barrier Removal

What the ADA means for facilities can be summed up in one word: Accessibility.

If you are going to find your facility in complete compliance with ADA standards, the ability for workers or patrons who are considered to be disabled must not be impaired.

There are four priorities, which are recommended under Title III, that are related to one of the more important aspects of complying with ADA standards: Barrier removal.

Priority 1: Accessible approach and entrance

  • People with disabilities should be able to arrive at, approach and enter a building as freely as someone without a disability
  • At least one route of travel should be accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities, and should not require the use of stairs.
Priority 2: Access to goods and services
  • The layout of a building should allow people with disabilities to obtain materials or services without assistance
  • The accessible entrance should have direct access to the main floor, lobby or an elevator
  • Controls for public use, including electrical and mechanical, should be located at an accessible height
  • The maximum height for a side reach is 54 inches; for a forward reach, 48 inches; the minimum reachable height is 15 inches for a front approach and 9 inches for a side approach.
Priority 3: Access to restrooms
  • If a facility has a restroom that is open to the public, it must be accessible to individuals with disabilities
  • At least one restroom — one for each sex or unisex — must be fully accessible.
Priority 4: Any other measures necessary
  • This priority covers any item that is not already required for basic access under the first three priorities, including but not limited to drinking fountains and public telephones.
Do Your Part

When someone is blessed with all of their faculties and the ability to get around completely on their own, it can be hard to think how it might be for someone who has some sort of disability, no matter how slight it is.

Anyone who has been temporarily immobilized has an inkling of an idea how someone with a disability might feel, but at the end of the healing process, complete mobility will be returned.

The temporary feeling of helplessness and inconvenience that one might feel while in a cast or wheelchair or other such hindrance is a feeling that a person living with a disability often feels every day.

Make sure your facility is as welcoming and accessible as possible; it''s not only the right thing to do, it''s the law.

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