|Version 4.0 July 9, 2001||
|Basics of Accessible Design||© Edward Steinfeld and Danise Levine, 2001|
|Contents||2. Policy Issues|
Summary of Design Criteria
Faced with an abundance of laws and regulations on accessibility, stricter compliance procedures, consumer activism and rising construction costs, design professionals need a greater knowledge of accessible design. This knowledge should include an understanding of its purpose, whom it serves, developments in the laws and regulations, and the state of technical knowledge on the subject.
of Accessible Design
The basic objective of accessible design is to provide the same opportunities for people with disabilities as are available to every citizen. The underlying purpose is to shift the “blame” for inability from the person to the environment. Accessible design allows people with disabilities to demonstrate that they have capabilities - to work, manage a household, marry and raise children; they can play a vital role in the community. Not only does this benefit people with disabilities themselves, it helps to change social stereotypes.
The Target Population
Functional limitation, or the ability to do specific physical activities, from the viewpoint of environmental design, is the most appropriate analogue for identifying the beneficiary population. Adequate data is not available to make comprehensive estimates on this criterion except for a limited set of activities. These show a beneficiary population that is quite different relative to the object or part of a building being designed. For example, people with low stamina and those who use wheelchairs and walking aids - approximately 12 million people - all benefit from low gradients on walks and ramps. However, raised numerals on elevator panels only assist people with severe loss of sight - perhaps 1.7 million people.
There are other demographic considerations that also have direct bearing, but have not yet been adequately studied. Many people have temporary disabilities and almost half of all able-bodied people will become disabled to some extent in old age. Thus, accessibility will benefit people who are now able-bodied but may be disabled at some future date (the “TABs” or “Temporarily Able Bodied,” as disability rights advocates refer to them). In essence, accessible design benefits all of us.
Building and product utilization rates are also different among people with disabilities than among the able-bodied population; there are different patterns of participation in certain activities, either because of the limitations of specific disabilities, motivational factors, or both. Utilization rates are complicated further by age, sex, ethnicity, occupation, marital status and educational level of the user. Finally, the proportion of people with disabilities in the population varies from locality to locality based on the degree of urbanization, migration patterns and region of the country. Thus, the population that benefits from accessible design could be considerably different depending on what kind of environment or product is being considered, what type of people are likely to use it and where a building is located.
The incidence of a specific disability is not always a good basis for establishing priorities. Although there are only about one half million people in the U.S. who use wheelchairs, accommodating them is often the lowest common denominator approach to meeting the needs of a much larger group, including people who use crutches, canes and leg braces and people with limitations of stamina, such as those who have heart ailments. In fact, a much larger group of people may use wheelchairs for convenience in specific places (e.g., airports and theme parks).
It has been proven that accessibility to buildings or products improves convenience for the general public—doors that are easier for everyone to open and fewer tripping and falling hazards. The added safety provided indirectly through accessibility features, such as slip-resistant surfaces and elimination of stairs, is well recognized and may even help to reduce insurance costs.
Given this complexity, how can priorities for accessibility be established? Priorities will vary from project to project. In construction of new buildings, the increased cost of meeting reasonable regulations is very low—usually less than 1 per cent of total construction costs, sometimes as low as .1 or .2 per cent. In such projects, priorities are not an issue. In renovation, however, costs can be significant; in these projects, a careful analysis of the building and its potential users must be made.
A voluntary standard is not a regulation but can either be referenced by regulations or used as a model for writing regulations. The original ANSI Standard was only a few pages long and focused on wheelchair access to public buildings. Strict compliance with the Act did not generally take place until the late 1970’s. In fact, a General Accounting Office study in 1975 found that out of 314 Federal buildings surveyed, all built after 1968, not one fully met the ANSI A117.1 Standard.
Over the years, various Federal agencies that sponsor building construction have issued numerous regulations and standards for accessible design. Some of these have been in response to the 1968 Act and others have been in response to specific programmatic needs. Between 1975 and 1980 however, there was a dramatic increase in both the number of regulations and in the degree to which they were enforced.
The change was due to the enactment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973-74 (PL-93-112). This law became the most important item of Federal legislation on accessible design. Section 503 of the Act specifies that employers of 15 or more people who hold Federal contracts in excess of $2500 cannot deny employment solely on the basis of disability.
Section 504 specifies that programs supported by Federal funds providing services to the public (including schools and hospitals) cannot exclude people from participation solely on the basis of disability. The act also set up the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB, or Access Board) and gave it power to review and coordinate the regulatory activities of the Federal agencies. Sections 503 and 504 of the Act were not implemented until 1977 when regulations were issued. Section 503 requires an employer to make work place accommodations when needed. Section 504 requires government agencies and other providers of federally funded services to develop transition plans for making their programs accessible within three years. The ANSI A117.1 Standard was again referenced as the design criteria. The concept of program accessibility defined in Section 504 allows service providers to make just enough of their physical plant accessible so that people with disabilities can receive services on an equal basis with other participants. It does not require total accessibility. Optional methods for service delivery are also allowed if they are not discriminatory. Legal interpretations give some specificity to the rather general concept of program accessibility and describe actions that are allowed and not allowed under the regulations. Compliance actions take place as a response to complaints lodged by employees and service recipients.
Another Federal law, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL-94-142), focuses on access to public education systems. The law insures that education for children with disabilities takes place in the “least restrictive” environment. It mandates the mainstreaming of children with disabilities into regular public school environments where the program accessibility requirement of Section 504 is applied.
Two important new pieces of Federal legislation were passed within the last ten years that extended the scope of accessibility even further. The first is the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and the second is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. T
he Fair Housing Amendments Act mandates accessibility of all newly constructed multi-family housing starting on March 13, 1991. Regulations and Architectural Guidelines were issued for meeting this law. The regulations did not require compliance with the ANSI A117.1 Standard. Although meeting the Standard is an acceptable way to comply with the Act, the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines are a much more limited set of design criteria that can be used instead.
Title I of the ADA requires all employers with 15 or more employees to make existing facilities and equipment accessible for employees with disabilities who need them. Since the law prevents discrimination in hiring and promotion, this Act will have the greatest impact on the work place.
Title II of the ADA applies to state and local government. It re-affirms the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act on program accessibility as they apply to government agencies.
Title III of the ADA requires commercial and business establishments, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, doctor’s offices and theaters, to remove architectural barriers under certain conditions. New buildings and any renovations must be accessible from the start.
State and Local
All states have laws on accessible design. Most of these laws are similar to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, but the design standards are treated in different ways. Some states include the actual design standards in the law; others have sections of their state building codes on accessibility. Still others have special accessible design codes. A number of states have established accessible design boards that have power to issue standards, hold hearings and enforce compliance. In these states, administration of the regulations is controlled by the boards rather than in the hands of local building inspectors.
The scoping provisions of state regulations vary greatly but there is a definite trend toward more inclusiveness. Whereas early state laws covered only publicly owned buildings, most of the newer and newly revised state laws cover not only privately owned but publicly used buildings and rental housing as well.
A few municipalities also have accessible design laws or regulations incorporated in local building codes or other ordinances. This is more common in large urban areas like New York City where consumer advocacy groups are very active; New York City maintains its own building code rather than using a state or model code.
The sponsors of the original ANSI A117.1 revised the standard during the years 1976 - 1980. A research and development project compiled the most carefully developed set of design criteria available on the subject. The research knowledge base was used to establish design criteria wherever applicable. There was also a great deal of input from practicing professionals, consumers and industry groups.
The resulting standard, ANSI A117.1 (1980) received widespread support and eventually was adopted in almost all 50 states, replacing many of the varied and inconsistent codes with a uniform set of design criteria. Model code groups also either adopted the Standard by reference or used it as a basis for their own criteria. In addition, the Federal government used the ANSI Standard as a basis for Federal regulations. The U.S. Access Board is the agency designated to play a coordinating role in development of Federal regulations on accessibility. The Board is also charged with compliance activities related to the Architectural Barriers Act. The Board issued their Minimum Guidelines and Requirements for Accessible Design in 1982 that were almost identical to the ANSI technical criteria.
Two years later, the four Federal Standard setting agencies (Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration and the U.S. Postal Service) issued the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard (UFAS). This document was even closer to the ANSI Standard and finally brought uniformity to the Federal regulations. The Access Board eventually adopted UFAS to replace MGRAD. After six years of use, the ANSI A117.1 Standard was revised slightly again in 1986. The most important change was the elimination of all “scoping” criteria. This change allowed the states and regulatory agencies to develop their own scoping criteria more closely suited to their needs and political context.
The standard was revised again in 1992, when the Secretariat of the Committee became the International Codes Council (ICC). The designation was also changed to “ICC/ANSI,” reflecting the new Secretariat’s role. In 1998, another revision was completed with major changes in organization and improvements in clarity. Information was incorporated from new research, lessons from practice and new initiatives in disability rights area. For example, the 1998 version also includes the design criteria in the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines as an optional approach to accessibility in housing.
Since the adoption of the ADA, many states have adopted the ADAAG in place of the ICC/ANSI Standard. The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) have also replaced the UFAS as the federal criteria. The U. S. Access Board produces additional materials in order to help address other mandates of the ADA and other Federal legislation. For example, they have produced or soon will produce guidelines on design of children's facilties, play areas, recreation facilties and public rights of way. The ADAAG is being substantially revised based on the ICC/ANSI 1998 and other comments from the public. One gap that will remain, however, is that the ADA revisions will not include design criteria for dwelling units. Thus, even though the UFAS is over 20 years old and has not been brought up to date like the ANSI Standard and ADAAG, it is still the only Federal criteria that can be used for housing that is covered by Title II of the ADA.
Since the mid 1970’s, there has been a significant increase in research on the human factors requirements and the economic impact of accessibility to buildings. Most of this work has been well documented and carefully designed to produce reliable data. Although much research still needs to be done, there has been a substantial improvement in our knowledge. One exception is in the area of social impact. Here, there are many gaps. For example, we have no research-based data to prove how effective accessible mass transit facilities are in increasing mobility among people with disabilities and no survey data to demonstrate how many accessible parking units are necessary to meet the need or demand; we do not know if people with severe visual limitations actually use tactile signs (raised characters) even though they are required.
While our knowledge is increasing, many regulatory decisions are still being based more on opinion than on fact. Improving our knowledge base can help to establish a common base for design criteria, hopefully leading to more consistency, less controversy and more reliability. Most of the research completed so far is on subjects related to building design. Although there is a growing knowledge base in the area of product design, it is being established primarily through practice in design of new products and assistive devices.
Mechanisms are in place at the Federal level to improve the regulatory process through planning, coordination and interpretation. States have also developed regulatory mechanisms although they differ considerably from each other. The passage of recent legislation has expanded the Federal control over access to buildings greatly—to all multi-family housing, commercial and business establishments and places of employment.
On the whole, the trends in accessible design over the last thirty years have been toward more laws and regulations, and controversy over the impact on society in general. The number of laws and regulations will probably not be reduced in the future, but experience in implementing the laws and better knowledge about the subject should lead to greater consensus, less controversy and ultimately, more effective accessible design.
Although the l970’s brought great diversity in the development of design criteria, the 1980’s brought uniformity through the widespread acceptance of ICC/ANSI A117.1. The 1990’s, particularly through the ADA and Fair Housing Act Amendments, brought an expansion of scope and more detailed technical concerns. Most of the research in this field has focused on building design, although attention has been given to building products. Our knowledge base in product design evolves through design practice.