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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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60 Minutes on ‘Drive-by’ ADA Lawsuits: On Point or Missed Opportunity?

60 Minutes recently aired a story on what it referred to as “drive-by lawsuits” filed against businesses for failing to comply with the design and constructioninsiders-guide-ada-image requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The piece showcased stories of people who essentially “drive” around on the hunt to find ADA violations, including ramps that are look like they’re steeper than what’s permitted by the ADA, parking spaces that are not designated by required signs, missing pool lifts, etc. Before you know it, the attorney files a case against a business for design and construction violations of the ADA. What results? The establishment that is sued typically settles out of court and has to fork over thousands in court fees, which are theoretically divvyed up by the attorney and the plaintiff all in an effort to make money. Can this be possible? Yes, it can – and these “drive by” lawsuits happen all the time. So, in this instance, the 60 Minutes story was on point – people take advantage of “the system” for personal gain all of the time and in many different ways.

Here’s the missed opportunity – the 60 Minutes piece did nothing to highlight the incredible opportunities that have been opened up to people with disabilities as a result of the passing of the ADA. The story failed to mention that there are an estimated 53 million Americans with disabilities who, as a result of the ADA, now have the ability to work, shop, live, and play on the same terms as everyone else. The ADA leveled out the playing field and provides equal access to the built environment – equality; isn’t that what we’re all about?

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Wayfinding: An Interview with Katie Osborn

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective; expert wayfinding strategist

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective and expert wayfinding strategist, took some time out of her busy schedule to connect with SWA’s Victoria Lanteigne on the importance of wayfinding and to debunk the myth that wayfinding is just signage!

Victoria Lanteigne (VL): Can you define wayfinding?

Katie Osborn (KO): At a basic level, wayfinding is utilizing tools and cues to help people navigate seamlessly from point A to point B. However, wayfinding strategies are complex and can include signage, maps, architectural features, lighting, floor patterns, customer service representatives, digital apps, and more. Proper wayfinding will enhance a visitor’s experience based on the sense of ease with which they can access all points, elements, and features of a space.

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The Reasons Behind the Requirements

Written by Theresa D’Andrea, Accessibility Specialist

This month, several members of the Accessibility Team had the unique opportunity to experience navigating architectural barriers commonly faced by people who use wheelchairs. We attended a seminar held in New Jersey that involved actually getting into a wheelchair and going through a series of obstacles to experience just how challenging it is to navigate environments that do not meet (or just barely meet) the minimum standards of accessibility compliance. The experience of using a wheelchair to negotiate common obstacles brought to light the rationale behind accessible design and construction requirements that we deal with on a daily basis.
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Accessibility’s Top Five from 2015

As we wrap up another successful year here at SWA, the Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group would like to take a moment to reflect on some memorable achievements from 2015. Here are a few SWAwesome things we want to celebrate:

  1. An Anniversary. On July 26th, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) officially turned 25, providing an opportunity to reflect on how this law has changed the face of accessible design and continues to promote equal access for people with disabilities. SWA marked the milestone with a hugely successful twitter campaign #ADA25 SWAnniversary, led by our in-house expert Tweep, Theresa D’Andrea, Accessibility Specialist.

    UD Kitchen

    Universally designed kitchen showcasing products for enhanced accessibility.

  2. Accessible Products. We kicked off the year by rolling out SWA’s Product Guide for Enhanced Accessibility which was developed as a direct response to the needs of our clients. This guide showcases potential product solutions that can improve access to and usability of spaces and features contained within them for a wide array of building occupants. We’ve also recently established partnerships with more than a dozen new vendors. Stay tuned for more products to be added in early 2016.
  3. Health and Accessibility. We’ve made serious headway in championing the idea that designing for health is linked to designing for people with disabilities. SWA was appointed as Lead on Accessibility for AIA|DC’s Design + Wellbeing Committee and debuted our new role with a blog post published in Architecture DC. SWA was also invited to present next year at the AIA 2016 National Convention on the relationship between healthy design and accessible design. Be sure to come see us next spring in Philadelphia.
  4. Travel USA. This year, our accessibility consultants had the opportunity to travel to projects all across the country, from California to Florida. Particular travel heroes were Senior Accessibility Consultants, Harold Bravo, Certified Access Specialist in the State of California; and Jeff Heitert, Registered Accessibility Specialist in the State of Texas. And let’s not forget the countless industry presentations led by Senior Accessibility Consultant, Mark Jackson, who presented at Design DC in Washington, DC; the Build Expo in Dallas, TX; the 2015 AIA National Convention in Atlanta, GA; among many other.
  5. YOU. Last, but never least, we are grateful for another successful year with our clients, partners, and colleagues. Because of our diverse set of clients, we’ve had the opportunity to work with state and local governments, builders and architects, and others to create accessible homes, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and more. The Accessibility Group wants to thank clients, new and old, who have helped us achieve our mission of creating safe and equitable spaces for people with disabilities.

Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy, and accessible Holiday Season!Overview1-01 (2)

SWA Accessibiltiiy Group Photo_small

-The Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group