Momentum e-Newsletter Featured Article
To some, it is a series of legislated requirements through the American with Disabilities Act, adopted Codes, and local regulations that impact the design, operation, and performance of facilities. To others, it represents what many take for granted – the ability to live lives and use sometimes essential services despite physical disabilities.
Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for Buildings and Facilities
In the past, I, like many of my peers, have turned to the ADAAG for Buildings and Facilities, ICC\ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, related Codes, and local building Codes to learn the minimums required for accessible services.
The minimums required were used as the starting points for design and, all too often, ended up being the final details of the end design. Even when design migrated to the bare minimums, I'd always felt that I'd done my part and helped create part of the facility that would serve accessibility needs. Why wouldn't I? Sketches depicting people in wheelchairs in the various Codes and handbooks pretty clearly showed that the systems could be used in the minimum configuration.
Understanding the Need
However, there is nothing like face-to-face interaction with the people who actually need the design features of a product to help understand their needs. Most elevator and facility designers I know never have the opportunity to really interact with people having physical disabilities and come to understand how designs affect them. Sure, the minimums usually can be used with a little extra effort, but that doesn't mean it is the best solution. It was pretty obvious fairly quickly, not just from communicating with them, but observing the challenges in their locomotion that the minimums would often be extremely cumbersome to use. The observations, more than anything, helped me understand why they were communicating the need to have more space, larger operating buttons, more light, etc.
Here are some of the things that can be done to make systems that are more truly accessible in the nobler sense of the word rather than the strict regulatory minimums:
- A facility that looses accessible paths with the failure of a single elevator is not accessible. Strive to ensure that multiple elevator paths are available to help assure service is sustained when you can.
- Meeting the minimums for door width and cab interiors is not the best solution – it's the minimum. To personalize this, think back to the last time you were stuck on a narrow street and had to make a 10-point turn to get out. This is what often happens with powered wheelchair systems.
- Use pass-through cabs wherever possible to eliminate the need to maneuver within the cab with a wheel chair.
- Work with 42" or larger doors for all configurations and not just centered doors.
- On standard entry cabs with a single door, try to integrate auxiliary car operating panels on the right wall or rear wall to reduce the need to turn around within the cab with a wheel chair.
- Maintain consistency in car operating and hall call station layouts – separating operating buttons from service and fireman's buttons as much as possible.
- When designing, reviewing designs, or providing other professional services related to the facility – try to remember the old adage about walking a mile in another mans shoes to understand him. A little extra space, a wider door, larger operating buttons – they will add a little to the cost, but in my opinion, it is well worth it if you can make someone's day just a little easier.