The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on someone’s disability. According to Title II of the act, municipalities are required to have a plan to make accommodations for everyone.
Barriers can exist in any public space limiting its usability and access – whether it’s lack of a curb ramp at an intersection, cross slope at accessible parking, or deteriorated sidewalks. Some cities have Transition Plans in place, some do not. Either way, these plans are most often required by law and are living documents that require updating as facilities fall out of compliance, or fail to meet new guidelines, or as facilities are redeveloped.
As city populations age and grow, it’s important to update old facilities and assure new facilities meet current standards. Providing access to and from markets, schools, clinics and parks is key to the health and vibrancy of towns and cities.
Barriers are defined as anything preventing a person with a disability from equal access to a built facility based on existing guidelines. Here, we look at some of the hundreds of possible barrier examples cities can face.
Curb ramps — Is there a lack of curb ramps at intersections or lack of truncated domes at older ramps? Truncated domes are the tactile warning device (the bumpy grid) at the bottom of the curb ramp. They warn that a person is entering a dangerous area with moving vehicles.
Parking — Are the accessible parking spaces closest to the main entrances? There should be at least one eight-foot wide accessible space adjacent to the access aisle for every 25 parking spaces. This ensures all spaces are van accessible, thus not requiring the ‘van accessible’ sign below the accessible parking sign.
Stairs — Stairs are not considered part of the accessible route in Minnesota, however they must follow state and local building codes.
Building access ramps — Also in Minnesota, ramps (eight percent running slope with railings) are not allowed to be used as an outdoor access route to a building. The access route running slope should be no greater than five percent.
Outdoor developed areas — Public outdoor developed areas were added to ADA guidelines in 2004. Those areas include parks, sports facilities, amusement parks, play areas, golf, boating and fishing facilities, swimming pools and shooting facilities. The 2004 guidelines were amended in 2013, adding provisions for trails, picnic and camping facilities, viewing areas and beach access routes. Often times, parks have very dated infrastructure and have multiple barriers that limit access.
To begin the Transition Plan, cities should take stock of what they already have. This first-step is known as the self-evaluation. During this step, cities identify barriers in their buildings, programs and policies.
There are different methods for performing a self-evaluation.
According to Horn, ADA standards are numerous and complex. Barriers can exist in any public space limiting the usability and access. Someone with thorough knowledge of these standards is important in providing cities assistance to complete their self-evaluation.
If a city employs less than 50 people, the self-evaluation, (and a few other minor items), is all that is required by law. However, if the city employs more than 50 people, a formal Transition Plan is required in addition to the self-evaluation.
The Transition Plan is a formal document available to the public outlining the city’s compliance with ADA. A typical Transition Plan Table of Contents includes:
At a minimum, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires cities to know what barriers exist in all facilities, programs and policies. A full Transition Plan is required in larger cities. Some cities may think they’re compliant with a document sitting on the shelf from 20 years ago, but a good Transition Plan changes and evolves with the city. As a city’s boundaries change, so does the plan. Keeping the plan current and timing modifications with other projects help meet Transition Plan goals to remove barriers for everyone. Although guidelines are set by the federal government, there's no one-size-fits all package.
"The nuts and bolts tend to be the same," Horn says. "But things can start to get complicated depending upon which city department is responsible for what, where in the right of way barriers might occur and a host of other things."
Mike Horn is a project design leader specializing in ADA compliant design and construction of outdoor spaces, dedicated to helping communities find smart, accessible solutions to new and renovated facilities. Contact Mike