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Medellin: A New Approach to Access and Inclusion

Written by Camilo Vasquez, Accessibility Specialist

A view of the comunas in Medellin, Colombia

There are cities around the world with the potential to conjure up negative images the moment you mention the name. My hometown of Medellin, Colombia is certainly one of those cities. It is no secret that Medellin is synonymous with Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who paralyzed Colombia with constant violence and chaos over two decades ago. In 1988, TIME magazine named it the most dangerous city in the world. By 1991, it became the murder capital of the world. Yet in 2013, Medellin was announced the “Innovative City of the Year” by USA’s Urban Land Institute. How did Medellin go from a haven of narco-terrorism to becoming a hub of innovation? This transformation has been attributed to the use of urban infrastructure as a tool for inclusion, which was very apparent during my recent trip.

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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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Tech Notes – Drinking Fountain Height

Where the 2010 ADA Standards apply, 100% of drinking fountains must comply with criteria for accessible drinking fountains found at Section 602. Of those, 50% must have spout outlets located 36 inches maximum AFF to provide access for individuals in wheelchairs (ADA Section 602.4). The remaining 50% must have spout outlets between 38 and 43 inches AFF to provide access for standing persons (ADA Section 602.7). A Hi-Lo drinking fountain satisfies requirements for both standing (Hi) and seated (Lo) persons.

Where there are an odd number of drinking fountains, the odd numbered drinking fountain is permitted to comply with criteria for seated or standing persons. For example, if there are a total of 9 drinking fountains; 4 can comply with criteria for seated persons, 4 can comply with criteria for standing persons, and the 9th one can comply with criteria for either seated or standing persons. As always, be sure to check local code requirements that apply in addition to the 2010 ADA Standards.

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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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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