Engineering and best practices provide practical accessibility

William A. Verkest, P.E.
APWA President

  William A. Verkest, P.E.

One of the areas of concern to APWA members for which the Engineering and Technology Committee is responsible is monitoring and making recommendations relative to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility requirements for the public right-of-way. APWA believes that all communities should provide a safe and inviting environment with facilities and amenities accessible to all, including those with disabilities. Infrastructure within the public right-of-way is rightfully intended to serve the needs of and provide a benefit to entire communities. At the same time, communities have the responsibility to balance their needs and requirements against available resources as part of their overall service delivery mission.

APWA has had the opportunity to represent its membership at key points during the development of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. When the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), an independent federal agency responsible for developing accessibility guidelines, determined in 1999 that requirements for accessibility in the public right-of-way should be developed, APWA was represented on the Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC). Michele Ohmes, ADA/Disability Specialist, City of Kansas City, Mo., and Mary O'Connor, Transportation General Manager, City of Scottsdale, Ariz., represented APWA on PROWAAC.

Based on the report developed by PROWAAC, the Access Board made draft guidelines available for public comment in 2002. After receiving over 1,400 comments on the draft guidelines, the Access Board issued revised draft guidelines in November 2005. The Access Board is now in the process of conducting a cost impact analysis of the guidelines. Once completed, the Board will publish the guidelines in proposed form and once again make them available for comment. The Board will revise the guidelines according to the input received, and then publish them in final form.

In March of this year, APWA was once again asked by the Access Board to designate and send a representative to participate in a meeting that included several organizations representing the design and construction industry (Mark Macy, Assistant Director of Public Works, City of Nashville, Tenn., represented the association). The purpose of the meeting was to assist the Access Board in a current effort to develop guidelines for dimensional tolerances in the design and construction of curb ramps, sidewalks, and walkways. Discussion focused on available measurement protocols for surface flatness, smoothness and slope in relation to construction materials and methods.

APWA has adopted a position paper advocating the support of regulations and legislation that:

  • Sets out guidelines and best management practices for accommodating the needs of those pedestrians with disabilities;

  • Provides reasonable processes for the review of decisions relating to the manner in which accessibility accommodations are made;

  • Recognizes the need to balance the diverse needs of users of the public right-of-way and takes into account the costs of making the accommodations for specific users, including those with disabilities;

  • Provides for reasonable flexibility, creativity, and professional judgment in the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of public right-of-way infrastructure; and

  • Supports the concept of best management practices as the preferred guideline to the decision-making process for accommodating users of the public right-of-way and discourages the concept of a prescriptive "one-size-fits-all" approach while ensuring the spirit of the ADA PROW Standards.

APWA recommends advocating for the needs of the pedestrians with disabilities through adherence to best management practices as determined by professionals serving its member organizations; the guidelines proposed by the Access Board ad hoc committee form the basis for such best management practices.

The full text of the advocacy position paper can be found on the APWA website. In addition, the Access Board maintains an excellent website ( with extensive information concerning the guidelines it develops and current efforts to ensure accessibility. The Access Board is available to answer specific questions you may have—their website provides a contact phone number and e-mail address.

A practical guide to understanding the ADA Access Guidelines and practical approaches to meeting those guidelines titled ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical is available through the APWA bookstore. From alarms to ground surfaces to telephones, there are over 300 pages of illustrations and commentary on how to make the best design decisions for overcoming barriers to accessibility. The book offers an understanding of why the regulations are important and how design errors can cause problems for those with disabilities as well as those without.

Please let me encourage you to use the resources described above to better understand the ADA Access Guidelines and then to implement reasonable, practical measures to ensure accessibility for all users of the public right-of-way. APWA will continue to represent its membership on this issue through continued dialog with the Access Board and other appropriate government agencies. I would also encourage you to provide feedback concerning ADA accessibility design and construction issues to the Engineering and Technology Committee by contacting either Gordon Daring, Committee Chair, at or Carol Estes, Staff Liaison, at