Accessibility and wise spending

Check out the products—believing a manufacturer's claim that a product is ADA accessible will come back to haunt you

Michele S. Ohmes
ADA Specialist
City of Kansas City, Missouri
Member, APWA Facilities & Grounds Committee

One of the greatest concerns with federal regulations is cost. The passing of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in 1990 was no different. The rally cry was "Regulation without Compensation." Since then, as the ADA Specialist for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, I have learned that wise choices and thoughtful spending can benefit our users, our budgets, and our end-maintenance follow-up.

Parking signage
All too often, in the middle of parking lots, the required upright accessible parking signs are just iron posts placed into the ground with no protection around the post. This is destruction waiting to happen and usually within the first hour of installation. Place your parking post beyond a tire stop, behind a curbed sidewalk, in the center of a large barrel of concrete or sand, or surrounded by four bollards. The driver will need to hit the obstacles if he/she pulls up too close, thus protecting your signpost and decreasing your cost of constantly replacing the signposts.

For parking spaces next to sidewalks there should be a level space at the access aisles. Therefore, it is a common practice to have the complete sidewalk level with the parking lot. The problem with this approach is that the vehicles encroach into the sidewalk space leaving the pedestrian or wheelchair user with no choice but to go off into the grassy area (or even worse, if there is a building in the way, into the parking lot or street) to continue. If you are retrofitting or designing for new construction, build in curbs at the parking location and slope down at the access aisle. If the sidewalk has no green space to separate the vehicle from the sidewalk, then install tire stops. A poor design at these locations defeats the purpose of the sidewalk and sets you up for a legitimate Department of Justice complaint or even lawsuit. The cost is minimal to design upfront to address this situation.

Strong post, good location and recessed large button decrease vandalism while still being accessible for using the fist to push the button.


Power-assist doors
Even though the ADA does not require power-assist doors, they can be the best investment for the upkeep of your exterior and interior doors where the following are concerned: delivery personnel; people with children in strollers; office personnel using the rolling attache cases or delivering mail with carts; or wheelchair, crutches and walker users. The power-assist door successfully protects your doors from dents and scratches and the hinges and frames from being jarred or broken by users being forced to bang, push or becoming trapped in the doorway with their packages or assistive devices.

My first purchase of power-assist doors turned into a fiasco, since I did not put the salesperson on notice that reliability was the first priority. The doors were out of order more than in use, due to breakdowns every few weeks. We now pay more upfront, but maintenance is almost at zero, including battery replacement. Our new construction projects use direct wiring. Learning to state clearly what outcome performance is required has increased the upfront cost while greatly reducing the long-term maintenance shut-down time, labor cost, and repair/parts cost to almost zero. Also, we are able to comply with the ADA mandate that all accessible amenities must be kept in working order to the maximum degree possible.

  • Strong support bollards with a large square recessed push button for the freestanding power-assist button will decrease vandalism and repairs dramatically.

  • Installing a light switch-style on/off button on an adjacent wall or a key-lock switch on the frame at a normal height will decrease the need for staff having to reach above the overhead door control to flip the on/off switch. So often I have been at buildings where the staff wasn't tall enough to reach the on/off switch above the door and had to get a chair or just keep the opener off. This leads to lawsuits for the door not being activated or injuries for the person retrieving a chair standing on it to flip the switch, etc.

Height and reach ranges
The common practice is to design, attach and position fixtures at the minimum or maximum height and reach ranges shown in the ADA Acceptibility Guidelines (ADAAG). If you think about it, the outcome is similar to having a borderline high or low medical test result. Often a doctor prescribes medicine to lower or increase a person's outcome back to the middle range. This is exactly what we should be doing in our design practices. The extreme positions of minimum and maximum ranges are the worst allowable by the law. Always install at the middle range and you will increase the usability factor to almost perfect. By going down the middle range you will also avoid installations that go beyond the minimum-maximum allowance through installation carelessness. Such errors are not acceptable, forcing you to correct the errors, waste labor costs, repair holes in the walls, and destroy what could have been a beautiful one-time effort to a frustrating redo, repair, and patchwork mess.

Restroom fixtures
The ADAAG clearly states in 4.27.4 OPERATIONS: "Controls and operating mechanisms shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist." An excellent approach decreasing cost and saving on supplies is the use of infrared products, examples of which follow.

  Simple three-minute-installation auto flush

  • Infrared automatic toilet flush decreases misuse and replacement of the flush handles and washers. There is an adapter that takes about three minutes to install. Just remove the existing flush handle and screw in the new infrared control. A suggestion is an override push button for the times the auto flush battery is dead or during electrical failure.

  • Infrared towel dispensers eliminate your old roll waste since the almost finished roll sets up in front of the new roll, allowing the unused roll to finish before automatically engaging the new roll. They also dispense only one sheet at a time, thus decreasing waste and cost. Install these dispensers so the bottom is no higher than 44", which brings the paper to 42", a range most adults and children can use.

  • The in-the-lavatory infrared soap dispensers decrease waste, accommodate people with restricted reach ranges, remove the plethora of dispensers on the mirrors and walls, remove cleanup of dripping dispensers, and improve the appearance of the area. Warning: The non-automatic, in-the-lavatory soap dispenser is not ADA-compliant.

  • I've heard there is a toilet tissue paper dispenser that is infrared. I haven't seen it. If you know about it please pass on the information.

Exterior ramps
Exterior ramps with the built-up curb require greater maintenance due to buildup of leaves, mud, snow, etc. at each side. This also becomes a safety hazard. Using the same style of handrail across the bottom to higher than 2" from the surface allows the debris to blow away or drain off the ramp. These designs require less time of the maintenance crew for keeping the ramps clear and decrease the chance of falls, or obstructions for wheelchair users.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most important is to rethink your efforts and look at the whole picture. Demand the same of your design consultants. Always feel free to call me if you have questions or want feedback on a design or product.

Michele Ohmes can be reached at (816) 513-2533 or at