Property owners must be aware of the standards required by the American with Disabilities Act or ADA whenever new sidewalks, walkways, parking lots and other areas of accessibility are designed and created. The ADA was created as a set of specific guidelines designed to ensure that commercial, residential and public facilities are built according to a set of standards that will ensure accessibility and safety for the disabled.
The number one area of contention for most disabled persons are sidewalks, which often pose the greatest risk of danger and some of the most difficult challenges to those who use a wheelchair, crutches or other mobilizing equipment to get around town. While there are other important areas of your property that will need to be considered, this article will focus on creating and maintaining ADA compliant sidewalks, as they can be the biggest challenge for property owners to date.
All new construction must adhere strictly to the standards set by the ADA. However, all public entities are required to retrofit their facilities to ensure accessibility for all visitors and citizens. Many of these requirements include the addition or alteration of sidewalks, curbs and ramps. When non-compliant facilities are discovered during road re-surfacing, construction or alterations, they must be upgraded to meet ADA standards or face certain legal risks, which can lead to fines and other punishments.
According to ADA requirements, individuals who use a wheelchair to get around must have a sidewalk with a minimum width of three feet or 36 inches. Sidewalks can be made wider than this, but the minimum width at any point of the sidewalk can be no narrower than three feet. It is also important to note than sidewalks that stick to this minimum and are less than five feet or 60 inches across, must also provide “passing space” at set intervals, giving users a minimum of 60 inches around all sides every 200 feet. This ensures proper passing of other pedestrians and individuals who are also using the sidewalk.
In addition to ensuring proper usage and passing width, property owners must also provide sidewalks that are safe for disabled persons to use. The texture of the surface itself greatly enhances the safety of the sidewalk for individuals with mobility devices that can slip or skid on smooth and slick surfaces. In order to meet ADA regulations, a sidewalk’s texture must be firm, slip-resistant and stable. Any grates built-into the sidewalk must also comply with ADA standards, having openings that do not exceed a half inch across to prevent mobility devices from getting stuck during use.
The sloping or grade of the sidewalk must also be carefully considered as well. The slope of a sidewalk must be less than 1:20 in order to meet ADA requirements. If the slope exceeds this figure, it will become subject to different ADA standards that pertain to ramps. This means that all changes in elevation in the sidewalk must be considered carefully. Increases of more than a half an inch will require the addition of a ramp, elevator or other accessible aid. All ADA-compliant sidewalks must provide users with accessible alternatives to escalators or stairs to ensure safety.
Whenever a sidewalk crosses a curb for a driveway or another street, particularly in situations where individuals will come in close contact with traffic, the slope of the ramp must be less than 1:12. The ramp must be a minimum of three feet or 36 inches in width and must also include a warning device. This device must be easily detectable, using a raised dome surface with a contrasting color for ease of use.
It is also important that ramps do not project out into the street. Curb ramps that lead to a marked crosswalk must be contained entirely in the width of the crosswalk for safety purposes. The width, slope and length of the ramp will determine how easy it is for disabled persons to use it. The length of the run for the ramp cannot exceed 30 inches, regardless of the steepness of the slope.
Who Must Comply?
Just about every area of our society must comply with the guidelines set by the ADA to ensure proper access. This includes private employers, as well as governmental entities locally, statewide and federally. Sidewalks and ramps are found in just about every type of property development, including commercial, professional and residential. That means housing, transportation, workplace and commercial areas must accommodate ADA standards in order to provide safe access to all.
Additional considerations must be made for landings located at the top and bottom of ramps; handrails, which are used by disabled persons, children and elderly individuals in various locations; and any obstructions that might cause unsafe passage. These obstructions include telephone poles, utility boxes, traffic signal cabinets and other types of equipment used on city streets and properties. Sidewalks must be widened when obstructions exist to continue providing a minimum of 36 inches or three feet around the obstruction for proper passage. In some cases, the obstruction must be re-located in order to comply with ADA regulations.
Failure to comply with ADA standards can result in legal issues, which can require court-ordered remedies. Some of these remedies include compensatory damages and penalties up to $55,000 for the first violation, with larger penalties, up to $110,000 for additional violations beyond the first warning. As a property owner or property manager, it is in your best interest to hire a company that specializes in ADA standards and compliance to complete your next project.
ADA Compliance in New England
Sandstone Construction serves clients all over the New England states and has extensive experience and knowledge of ADA standards and ADA-compliant construction. Sandstone works with many unique materials and methods to design and create sidewalks, pathways, ramps, curbing and other essential accessibility options for property owners and managers. Contact Sandstone Construction today for more information on their full line of ADA-compliant options and services.