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ADA Compliance: What All Facility Managers Should Know

ADA Compliance: What All Facility Managers Should Know

The Americans With Disabilities Act is designed to make buildings safe and accessible for everyone, including people with limited mobility. Unfortunately, making a facility accessible for people with disabilities isn't always intuitive. It can be tough to stay up-to-date on what's required and implement these measures. Before undergoing an ADA compliance check, there are a number of things facility managers should know.

Keeping Up-to-Date on ADA Requirements

It's important to realize that ADA regulations are not the same as building codes -- while building codes are for everyone's safety, the ADA is a civil rights law that ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to public spaces. Depending on the location of the facility, different state and federal standards might come into play. The best way to stay on top of current regulations is to know exactly which rules apply to a given location, confirm which plan the city or county has chosen to adhere to, and make an effort to keep abreast of any changes.

How to Audit Facilities for ADA Compliance

Facility managers can self-audit their buildings to spot minor problems. The best way to go about this is to:

  • Become very familiar with ADA regulations. Know exactly what you need to be on the lookout for.
  • Get a copy of the facility's floorplan.
  • Pick out spots that are likely to have issues with compliance. Is there an entrance that isn't wheelchair accessible? Are the doorways and halls wide enough to allow someone with mobility aids to pass through? Are there handrails?
  • Perform a thorough walk-through. Pay particular attention to all of the areas highlighted in the previous step.
  • Make a list of all of the areas that are non-compliant.
  • Prioritize this list. Basic accessibility needs, like the need for handrails, should be at the top of the list.
  • Create a plan of action for tackling this list and bringing these areas into compliance.
  • Follow through. It may not be possible to handle every item on the list right away, but having a prioritized list and working through it will help make a facility more usable for visitors with disabilities, and decrease the likelihood of lawsuits.

Getting and Staying Compliant

When it comes to accessibility, the onus should not be on visitors with disabilities to complain about problems they face using a facility. ADA infractions should not happen, and it's the owners' and managers' responsibility to make sure that they don't. As better information becomes available, ADA regulations change over time. Unfortunately for facility managers, there's no such thing as "grandfathering" -- if a building felt out of compliance when the rules were updated, it must be brought back into compliance or face legal trouble. When it comes to getting in compliance, it's important to adhere strictly to the ADA rules for that location. If a building design requires some customization, like aesthetic modifications to an entry ramp, work closely with a contractor who has experience with ADA regulations to avoid mistakes. It's also a good idea to stay near the middle of required ranges for dimensions like slope or distance -- this will ensure that a minor measuring error doesn't throw the building out of compliance. The best way to stay in compliance is through thorough employee training. A building can be completely within regulations when it's built, but it's up to maintenance crews to keep it that way. The trouble is, it's often difficult for able-bodied employees to intuitively know how to stay ADA compliant -- through no fault of their own, they aren't used to seeing the world through the eyes of someone with a disability. Maintenance staff might unwittingly create problems by hanging coat hooks too high or place objects in the path of wheelchair users. Maintenance personnel needs to thoroughly understand ADA regulations since they'll be the ones cleaning and repairing things impacted by them.

What Happens if Buildings Aren't Up to Code

While ADA compliance might be the last thing on most facility managers' minds, that doesn't make it any less important. Spending some time and money bringing buildings up to code can end up saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in the long run. Since the ADA is a law, not just a building code, not being up to standard opens a facility up to potential liability. Lawsuits can end up costing defendants over $5k per each complaint, and that's if they don't involve personal injury. While it might not be possible for a facility to remove every obstacle to accessibility right away, it should be an ongoing effort. Roughly 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. alone suffer from a disability. Adhering to the ADA should be about more than just liability -- poor accessibility can drive away a significant portion of a facility's potential users. Good accessibility and a welcoming attitude brings in more visitors and can go a long way toward improving a business' image in the community.

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