Accessible Design: Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Part 1: Public and Common-use Areas

After years of inspecting multifamily housing developments across the country for compliance with regulatory requirements for accessible design and construction, our accessibility group has compiled a list of common violations – violations that could easily have been avoided before construction even began. By addressing requirements for accessibility in the early phases of a project, designers can preempt the need for costly remediation during construction and greatly reduce the possibility of potential litigation.

Here are just a couple of examples of common violations that we come across on a regular basis:

  1. Slopes of Accessible Routes
    At least one accessible route is required to connect site arrival points, accessible building entrances, various site and building amenities, and dwelling units in the project. All too often, we arrive on site to find that the slopes of these accessible routes are not compliant (sometimes more than twice what is allowed), necessitating the ripping up of sidewalks and flooring materials – an undertaking that can quickly become expensive. When considering an accessible route, there are two important slopes to keep in mind: cross slope and running slope.

    — Cross slopes of accessible routes must be no more than 1:48 (2%). Areas where two accessible routes intersect, as well as the clearance at doors, must not exceed 2% when measured in any direction.
    — Running slopes of accessible routes must be no more than 1:20 (5%). If the running slope of an accessible route exceeds 5%, it is then considered a ramp and all ramp criteria apply, including the requirement for handrails on both sides of the ramp.

    By identifying the required accessible routes on the drawings, and providing notes and slope indicators along these routes rather than spot elevations, it is possible to greatly increase the chances of compliance once the concrete is poured and the building is constructed.

  2. Protruding Objects
    Sconces are common examples of protruding objects.

    Sconces are common examples of protruding objects.

    Accessible design isn’t just about ensuring equality for those with mobility impairments. Another important, and often missed requirement, applies to those with visual impairments. A protruding object can be something as basic as a wall sconce, bar countertop, or drinking fountain; and as seemingly innocuous as a piece of artwork on the wall. Any element that is located 27-80 inches AFF and projects more than 4 inches from a wall can prove hazardous to someone who does not have the ability to see it. The projecting objects themselves may seem small, but the cost of replacing hundreds of lighting fixtures throughout a building can be astronomical.

    While the best method of avoiding protruding objects is to specify wall-mounted sconces and other fixtures with a low profile, there will of course be situations that require other solutions. Where a protruding object exists, a cane-detectable barrier must be provided below it to ensure that a person with a visual impairment will be able to identify and avoid the potentially hazardous object. This can be as simple as positioning a planter or built-in piece of furniture below a wall sconce or piece of artwork, or installing a foot rail or knee wall below projecting bar countertops. Locating drinking fountains within alcoves is another method of achieving compliance.

By addressing these common violations in the design phase of a project, it is possible to greatly reduce the need for change orders and costly delays once construction begins. A little planning ahead can save a lot of time and money in the long run.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Dwelling Units – coming soon!

The Access Files – The Truth is Out There

Peter Stratton

Peter Stratton, SWA’s Director of Accessibility Compliance and Consulting

SWA Access is the quarterly publication created by SWA’s Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group to convey the importance of, and help  demystify the often complex world of accessible design, construction, and compliance. After all, as the group’s director, Peter Stratton, often says, “Sustainable Design is Accessible Design.”

Each edition of the newsletter features a section that answers specific questions asked during project work or public seminars. We will periodically post these items to Party Walls, but if there’s something you would like answered now, you can post your question in the comment section below and someone from SWA’s accessibility team will answer them (and in a timely manner!)

Q: Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, are multifamily housing developments that utilize valet parking still required to provide a total of 2% accessible parking spaces serving covered dwelling units?

A: Yes. the guidelines require that accessible parking be provided for residents with disabilities on the same terms and with the full range of choices that are provided to all residents. Providing valet parking in lieu of self parking does not change this requirement. A minimum of 2% of the parking spaces that serve covered dwelling units must be accessible. Local code requirements may be more stringent when it comes to requirements for accessible parking. Find more information by visiting:
Supplement to Notice of Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines: Questions and Answers about the Guidelines.

Q: Is it true that HUD now accepts the 2010 ADA Standards (2010 Standards) as an alternative to the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) for compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)?

A: Yes. HUD issued a Notice, effective May 23, 2014, that permits recipients of Federal funding to use the 2010 Standards as an alternative to UFAS on projects subject to Section 504. However, HUD has deemed certain provisions of the 2010 Standards to provide less accessibility than is currently required by UFAS. So, be sure to learn about the exceptions if you choose to apply the 2010 Standards to your next project. HUD’s Notice remains in effect until the agency formally adopts an updated accessibility standard for compliance with Section 504.