Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


20 Years of the ADA
January 4, 2011 4:58 AM   Subscribe

20 years ago, an amazingly comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation was passed in the United States. The law addresses several key pieces of rights and standards for people with disabilities, and laid the groundwork for inclusion as a federal protected class.

The ADA includes references to almost all components of "normal" American life, including but not limited to housing(work begun in the Fair Housing Act of 1968), labor, recreation, transportation, and education, as well as establishing accessibility standards for construction and modification.

The specific standards for construction as designated by the ADA has historically been the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, an easy-to-follow set of rules for Title II (Governmental) and Title III (Privately owned) entities. These rules and all amendments are guaranteed and enforced by the DOJ, with authority granted to the Access Board, a mostly-civilian organization composed of people with disabilities who advise and recommend changes and report to the DOJ with proposed rule changes, etc.

Since the inception of the ADA, the DOJ as repeatedly promised to adopt new rules, however it hasn't changed much since 1994, minus the addition of some new areas of focus. This year was the 20th anniversary of the ADA, and the DOJ has finally added new ADAAG standards to the Federal Register, including new rules for implementing Title II and III, as well as the new standards for construction and modification. The new rules primarily establish compliance ranges instead of absolute values for things like reach ranges, appliance distance from walls, etc. Additionally, formerly ambiguous rules like "Reasonable Modification" have been more specifically defined (PDF).

Just for fun, other rulesets exist, such as the -ADA-ABAAG, the UFAS, and ANSI A117.1, however these rulesets only apply to very specific circumstances. Thankfully, the Access Board has provided a side-by-side comparison.

The ADA often gets a bad rap because it’s not well understood, however as 20 year old civil rights legislation, there is now little excuse for non-compliance. With at least 20% of Americans having a permanent disability (old numbers, census, PDF) , ADA rules will touch most people at some point in their lives. Because the ADA is civil law, not criminal law, there are no ADA police; and as such rules are only enforced following complaints. Some states, like California, allow for individuals to directly sue the owners of properties in violation. This was done as a step to encourage problematic owners to remedy their properties before it directly affects their pocketbook. Otherwise, typically a lawsuit is disallowed pending the opportunity of the property owner to correct the issue at hand. If, however, the DOJ feels that compliance was understood but intentionally disregarded, they may choose to issue fines against the offender (2) . Under the Obama Administration, the DOJ has finally been issued permission to proactively seek egregious offenders, in most cases then awarding the money from the fines directly to local, consumer-driven disability activism centers to further increase accessibility in their towns.

For more information, visit http://www.adadata.org or contact your local DBTAC. These are resources established specifically to increase civilian understanding and compliance of the ADA.

The rules for accessibility under the ADA should not be confused with the rules for accessibility under fair housing. Fair housing, interestingly enough, uses the ANSI standards.
posted by TomMelee (53 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I apologize for the delay on this post for anyone who was looking forward to it...I got it about 80% done and then we went and had a baby on the 15th, not that I think that very many people were looking forward to it. :)
posted by TomMelee at 5:00 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Didn't the act pass in 1990? 21 years ago? Or was there another one before that?
posted by Aizkolari at 5:18 AM on January 4, 2011


Well look at you. You're right, last summer was the 20th anniversary, not the 25th. I promise everything else is accurate, I just fail at maths. In my defense, I just finished looking at a booklet of 25 years of independent living in Germany. :)
posted by TomMelee at 5:25 AM on January 4, 2011


Fixed!
posted by cortex at 5:44 AM on January 4, 2011


...I just fail at maths...

As would most new parents; congratulations!

Looks like a very nice post, look forward to exploring the links. Although it is not perfect, the ADA has done a lot of good and helped people who would otherwise be warehoused in institutions become productive citizens.
posted by TedW at 6:13 AM on January 4, 2011


Some states, like California, allow for individuals to directly sue the owners of properties in violation.

That This American Life kind of made it seem like the whole enforcement side was broken, and that the only reason people follow it at all is that it is required by building codes.
posted by smackfu at 6:14 AM on January 4, 2011


Yea, I wasn't very happy about the TAL episode myself. I intended to Write A Fiery Letter, but I felt like it was worth including because, (GYOFB stance incoming) if you won't do it because it's the law, or because it's the right thing to do, then I'm all for smacking you in the pocketbook.

Really, the complain procedure is kind of crappy. If you find someone not in compliance, your first step is SUPPOSED to be that you complain to the owner. Then if they don't remedy, you complain to your state. Then, if the state doesn't do anything, you complain to federal DOJ.

However, in a state like mine (fair housing outdates ADA), there has never once been an accessibility-related fair housing complaint pursued by the state DOJ, ever once ever. Tons of complains, zero pursued. Finally, the feds are catching on that the good 'ol boy network is as effective as ever, and they're cracking down on municipalities and states who have willfully disregarded the law.

Another link that I couldn't figure out where to place, but that is EXTREMELY important in understanding the Independent Living movement and the status of the rights of people with disabilities, is the Olmstead Decision, which effectively states that forcing people with disabilities into nursing homes against their will is legal segregation and in violation of human rights. That was 1999, and most states have adopted resolutions to fully adopt the Olmstead Decision but very few have actually implemented it. I could diatribe here all day, but that's another post for another day. I include it here because again, Olmstead and ADA are civil rights legislation, carrying the same weight as any and all anti-discrimination law. The difference being that if your local drycleaner put up a sign that said "No Whites" it would attract a lot of attention, whereas the 3 steps into your local municipal building that prevent access by anyone with a mobility impairment pretty well goes unnoticed.
posted by TomMelee at 6:42 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry for being a jerk/pedant above. I was a math major and also frequently suck at arithmetic.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:51 AM on January 4, 2011


Don't forget the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which significantly strengthens the provisions of Title I (employment protections), reversing 10 years of really lousy interpretations of the ADA by the Supreme Court and appellate courts (notably, the Fifth Circuit).
posted by seventyfour at 6:52 AM on January 4, 2011


...and now all the best parking spaces are taken. and empty.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:37 AM on January 4, 2011


With at least 20% of Americans having a permanent disability, ADA rules will touch most people at some point in their lives.

Not to mention the even larger percentage of us who are pushing a stroller at some point in our lives.
posted by escabeche at 7:41 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google "ADA class action lawsuits" and it is obvious that the ADA was also an enormous earmark for for trial attorneys.
posted by three blind mice at 7:42 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yea, I wasn't very happy about the TAL episode myself. I intended to Write A Fiery Letter, but I felt like it was worth including because, (GYOFB stance incoming) if you won't do it because it's the law, or because it's the right thing to do, then I'm all for smacking you in the pocketbook.

Why did you not like the TAL episode? I thought it put the "surprise! the only way to enforce things is by suing!" a little late, but it seemed to support those who sue, if not the system that forces it to work like that.
posted by jeather at 7:44 AM on January 4, 2011


In the words of our Veep, "This is a big F******* deal." It has opened access to many people who otherwise would not have had it both in public accommodation and employment. Most of the list of horrible expenses and unintended effects predicted by the haters at its inception have not come to pass.
posted by caddis at 7:49 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The difference being that if your local drycleaner put up a sign that said "No Whites" it would attract a lot of attention, whereas the 3 steps into your local municipal building that prevent access by anyone with a mobility impairment pretty well goes unnoticed.

except that it doesn't cost $10,000 to take down the 'Whites Only' sign. ADA compliance imposes significant costs on construction not to mention renovation when required. by construing accessibility as a purely moral issue you avoid the fact that it has costs and those costs are entirely borne by the private sector. this is a less of an issue for large corporations but a significant issue for individuals trying to start a small business that interacts with the general public: bars, restaurants, stores, etc.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad ADA passed. I'm deaf, wear a hearing aid, and I rely on telephone-relay services (especially the AT&T Relay service on AIM) that are mandated by Title IV of the ADA. Otherwise I'd have a hell of a time calling a taxi or scheduling appointments.

The ADA, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (which mandated captioning for video programming), has really improved the life of deaf individuals.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 7:59 AM on January 4, 2011


The ADA really has not been a boon for trial attorneys. Before the ADAAA, it was one of the most restrictive of the civil rights statutes, due to very strict interpretations of what constitutes a disability under the statute.
posted by seventyfour at 8:02 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google "ADA class action lawsuits" and it is obvious that the ADA was also an enormous earmark for for trial attorneys.

Google "ADA class action scam" or "ADA class action fraud" and it is obvious that most anything that will attract tort actions will also attract the pitchforks of those who believe that trial attorneys are a plague run amok.
posted by blucevalo at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The law has existed for 20 years, and only applies to to buildings made since then, and buildings getting "significant" renovation. Reaching accessibility standards at the point of construction adds a negligible cost to construction. Yes, renovations are expensive. However, the law doesn't require that you make your building 100% perfect, it requires a percentage of total project cost and 1/3 path of travel. There are dozens of ways to get compliant that won't ruin your project budget. Beyond that, there are SIGNIFICANT tax breaks to corporations and businesses for money they spend on becoming accessible.

Hell, in the municipal building example, all they'd have to do to make it compliant is prop a sign with an arrow that points to an alternative entrance.

And, regarding the statement about the small business man---I hear what you're saying. However, if the construction is new, it shouldn't be an issue. ~1% of project cost is average. If you're moving into rented space that's less than 20 years old, it's not your issue, it's the property owners and/or you shouldn't buy a building that was built out of compliance just the same as you shouldn't buy one with significant foundation faults. If you're moving into a space that's been occupied by someone else for less than the previous 20 years, you should be demanding that the property owner fix it before you move in (because really, they have to) or you should be demanding money in credit to do the modifications yourself.

Seriously, the bulk of what you have to do in a private establishment is make it so folks can get in or out one door, any door, and get to the bathroom. Bathrooms are really where cost starts to go up---but again, it's NOT inherently expensive to modify most bathrooms to compliance level if you know what you're doing.
posted by TomMelee at 8:05 AM on January 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


[...] those costs are entirely borne by the private sector.

As they should be. That's the whole point of ADA. So Americans with DISABILITIES are still able to live and work and function and prosper in society without being unable to get into your store because you were too cheap to put a ramp in. We must raise every single one of us up, or else we all fall. It's not all about "me".

The reason it is a law and not just a moral imperative is because some people would cheap out and not do it. So thank you, ADA, for helping to level the playing field which is "life" for many Americans. :)
posted by cavalier at 8:07 AM on January 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Some states, like California, allow for individuals to directly sue the owners of properties in violation. This was done as a step to encourage problematic owners to remedy their properties before it directly affects their pocketbook. Otherwise, typically a lawsuit is disallowed pending the opportunity of the property owner to correct the issue at hand.

This is not correct:
The ADA allows private plaintiffs to receive only injunctive relief (a court order requiring the public accommodation to remedy violations of the accessibility regulations) and attorneys' fees, and does not provide monetary rewards to private plaintiffs who sue non-compliant businesses. Unless a state law, such as the California Unruh Civil Rights Act,[26] provides for monetary damages to private plaintiffs, persons with disabilities do not obtain direct financial benefits from suing businesses that violate the ADA.
Cite.

So private plaintiffs can sue property owners under ADA Title II (governments) or III (non-government), but only their attorneys make money doing so. I could tell you stories about the unscrupulous individuals who make a living suing businesses for having paper towel dispensers half an inch higher than the ADAAG prescribes, but the best summation I have seen was written by a District Court Judge in Rodriguez v. INVESTCO, LLC:
Congress did not, however, create any sort of administrative process to ensure compliance with the ADA's public accommodation provisions. Rather, the ADA contains a private right of action, id. § 12188(a), and right of action for the Attorney General, id. § 12188(b). Although the ADA's private remedies are limited to injunctive relief, id. § 12188(a), the ADA, nevertheless, contains an incentive to private litigation — an attorney's fee provision.[9]

This statutory scheme has resulted in an explosion of private ADA-related litigation. For example, in this District alone, there have been hundreds of Title III cases filed in the past three years. These cases have been filed by a relatively small number of plaintiffs (and their counsel) who have assumed the role of private attorneys general.[10]

This lawsuit is a case in point. Here, suit was filed less than a week after Plaintiff's counsel verified the ADA deficiencies. There was no effort to communicate with the property owner to encourage voluntary compliance,[11] no warning and no offer to forbear during a reasonable period of time while remedial measures are taken.

Why would an individual like Plaintiff be in such a rush to file suit when only injunctive relief is available? Wouldn't conciliation and voluntary compliance be a more rational solution?[12] Of course it 1282*1282 would, but pre-suit settlements do not vest plaintiffs' counsel with an entitlement to attorney's fees. Buckhannon Bd. and Care Home, Inc., v. West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 605, 121 S.Ct. 1835, 149 L.Ed.2d 855 (2001). Moreover, if a plaintiff forebears and attempts pre-litigation resolution, someone else may come along and sue first.[13] The current ADA lawsuit binge is, therefore, essentially driven by economics-that is, the economics of attorney's fees.
I fully support facilities being accessible to the disabled, but the current enforcement mechanism encourages inefficiency and abuse.
posted by ND¢ at 8:10 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for doing this. In my previous life, I worked for organizations that made grants for rehabilitating historic buildings, and it was amazing to see the range of misunderstanding that historic property owners (including state and local governments) have about the ADA and historic buildings. It ranged from "We are a historic building, we are exempt from the ADA" to "The ADA is going to make us install an elevator in our one room schoolhouse". The National Park Service's Preservation Brief is a good place to start to get a handle on how historic structures are actually affected by the ADA, and provides a lot of examples of how to creatively and sensitively provide access.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:24 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, the bulk of what you have to do in a private establishment is make it so folks can get in or out one door, any door, and get to the bathroom. Bathrooms are really where cost starts to go up---but again, it's NOT inherently expensive to modify most bathrooms to compliance level if you know what you're doing.

except when you are renovating and or trying to open a business in 19th century buildings in towns built largely in the 19th and early 20th century. it may actually impossible to have an entry be ADA compliant (and lets not even get into parking, which has nothing to do with ADA.) and bathroom stuff can force huge changes renovating an old building.

if i were in charge of things there should have been low/no interest financing available from the government for making things ADA compliant. instead it becomes just one of many things imposed from above whose cost falls disproportionately on a small business. just because the right-wing in the US are nut jobs doesn't mean that some of their rhetoric isn't based in reality.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:24 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the guy in the TAL episode suing because the coat hook in the bathroom was too high? It seems like without a proper enforcement scheme, you end up with a one-size-fits-all response which can be quite disproportionate.
posted by smackfu at 8:29 AM on January 4, 2011


I do ADA design work for a living. It's a good law. There are however, many cases where it is poorly enforced by local municipal agencies.

As for the costs, in new construction the costs are relatively minimal. In existing construction, they can run up to the relatively astronomical, especially when being enforced by agencies who do not understand the design and technical issues they are enforcing.

There are numerous facilities that get zero ADA adaptation/renovation/rehabilitation, because the owners cannot afford to "trigger" ADA - in many cases, the same public agencies who do the enforcement. They do nothing, because if they do something they have to do everything.

Ask an architect, especially one who specializes in adaptive re-use. You'll get an earful, though I can't think of any that think ADA is a bad idea.
posted by Xoebe at 8:41 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and now all the best parking spaces are taken. and empty.

If handicap parking spaces are always full, that means there aren't enough of them. The whole point is to set a side just a few spaces so that people who actually truly need them can have a pretty high likelihood of being able to park close enough to be able to get inside. If you're able to walk a few more feet, big fucking deal, you walk a few more feet. But for someone for whom walking is a challenge, it's the difference between being able to participate in the world and deciding you may as well stay home, because chances are the only place to park will be a quarter-mile from the door.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


another side. i would rather they get rid of the personal damages awards to supposed victims and require that such awards be put toward compliance and enforcement.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:48 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


also, i wonder if we'll get to the point where having an online shop or presence would be considered a reasonable accommodation.

If handicap parking spaces are always full, that means there aren't enough of them.

this doesn't really apply when there are policies as in san francisco, where metered parking is limited (and now rates are being adjusted automatically based on demand) and where someone with a placard can park in any metered space (and many others) free of charge. i don't have a car and wish they could be banned from the city, but i've felt the frustration of drivers who can't find parking in remote areas during non-business hours, where/when accessibility would not be an issue, because there are dozens of cars with placards taking advantage of free parking.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:06 AM on January 4, 2011


The whole point is to set aside just a few spaces so that people who actually truly need them can have a pretty high likelihood of being able to park close enough to be able to get inside.

Some cities and states have rampant handicap-placard abuse, San Francisco being one of them:
[...] The proliferation in placards has occurred for several reasons, including an aging population and a liberal definition of the disabilities that qualify for the special parking privilege, said Mike Miller, a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
...which can, and does, stir up resentment for a policy that should be seen as a public good.

On preview, what fallacy said as well.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 9:07 AM on January 4, 2011


I'm always stunned at the hostility some people have to punitive damages.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2011


Really? It seems fairly reasonable that the civil system should be for making people whole, while the criminal system is for punishing people.
posted by smackfu at 9:16 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm always stunned at the hostility some people have to punitive damages.

i'd say the hostility is more toward the lowlife element who seek monetary damages without being actually damaged, and the attorneys in sympathy and symbiosis.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:22 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The US has made a decision to have less stringent governmental regulation than, say, Europe. Instead, in the US, private plaintiffs are given incentive (through money/attorneys' fees/punitive damages) to make a legal claim against a corporation in order to further social interests. In theory, companies that make bad products, builders who make bad houses, doctors who make bad decisions, etc., are sued and change their behavior as a result (or because they're worried about being sued). That's part of the system and that's why we have punitive damages. Take punitive damages and attorneys' fee shifting away and you've lost much of the regulation of the US economy. You could, in their place, significantly increase regulation, but that's not going to happen, is it?
posted by seventyfour at 9:24 AM on January 4, 2011


Many cities just have specific street parking places reserved for people with placards, but those spots have the exact same parking meters as any other ones (or lower, for wheelchair access). Just because one system is done poorly -- unlimited free parking anywhere for people with placards! -- doesn't mean that the general case (all reserved spots are full = insufficient reserved spots) is wrong. Handicapped access is a public good, not some particular implementation of it.

I am unclear why, if you rent a place, you are responsible for making it accessible, not the owner.
posted by jeather at 9:25 AM on January 4, 2011


I'm always stunned at the hostility some people have to punitive damages.

Heh. More like hostility to the privately owned, for profit corporations (a k a law firms) who explore and cultivate opportunities for punitive damages imposing an enormous and costly overhead on "justice".

Compare this to the hostilty to bankers for the cost of the "useful" services they perform to society and maybe it makes more sense?
posted by three blind mice at 9:28 AM on January 4, 2011


Three blind mice, the "justice" that you invoke would, in some significant part, disappear if the law did not give incentive to plaintiffs. And punitive damages are limited in many circumstances. Certainly, under the ADA, and in the State of Texas, and in many other jurisdictions as well. Many (if not most) of the outrageous awards you hear of are reduced or killed on appeal.
posted by seventyfour at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's NOT inherently expensive to modify most bathrooms to compliance level if you know what you're doing.

Well, it really depends on the bathroom. I was working on a project where the bathrooms mostly complied with California's accessibility standards (typically much more stringent than basic ADA), except for the fact that there was only 26" between the edge of the sink and the edge of the toilet instead of the required 28", and we didn't have full access spaces in front of the sink and toilet with the door swinging into the bathroom. The door swing is easy enough to fix, but achieving the 28" clearance would require rebuilding the bathroom and replumbing the sink, which would not be a trivial expense in a slab-on-grade structure. Taken over the three bathrooms affected by our project (basically just a change in designation from take-out restaurants to sit-down with no actual work to be done other than accessibility requirements and the addition of a parking space), that was a bit of an excessive expense compared to the cost of the project. As such, stipulations in the code allowed us to get out of that requirement. But, it would have killed the project if we had to do it.

Ask an architect, especially one who specializes in adaptive re-use. You'll get an earful, though I can't think of any that think ADA is a bad idea.

OH HAI! Basically I agree with Tom Melee - universal design for a new building is a trivial thing; you just have to know the requirements and make sure they're met. Adapting existing buildings can be a horror show once you break the threshold.
posted by LionIndex at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2011


I'm always stunned at the hostility some people have to punitive damages.

IAAL, and the hostility does not stun me in the lightest because I feel it, too. A civil lawsuit is intended to compensate the plaintiff. In other words, to place them where they would have been had the alleged wrongdoing never occurred. This can most easily be seen in a breach of contract action, where in most states (including mine, Florida) punitive damages are not recoverable. Instead, the plaintiff can either be placed where they would have been had the contract never been entered (reliance damages) or if the contract had been performed (expectation damages). (there is also restitution, which is a bit lengthy to discuss here) In any event, the plaintiff does not get placed in a better position than they would have been if all had gone according to plan.

My general objection to punitives is that if we are punishing this person, why are we in civil court? We should be in criminal court, with its "beyond a reasonable doubt" burden of proof. (In Florida, the burden of proof for punitives is "clear and convincing", which is somewhere between "preponderance of the evidence" and "beyond a reasonable doubt")

In the case of the ADA, it is worth noting that punitives are generally not available for Title III violations, which are those regarding places of public accommodation. This makes sense. After all, if the local pub is in violation of the ADA because it has round doorknobs, what do we want? We want the public to be compensated by having complaint doorknobs installed, not a windfall of megabux for a single person whose disability prevents them from using a round doorknob. (yes, a round doorknob is considered an architectural barrier under the ADA)
posted by Tanizaki at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2011


I don't know about California, but you know how you make your bathrooms ADA-compliant in other jurisdictions? Hang a sign that says "No Public Restrooms."
posted by ND¢ at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2011


I don't know about California, but you know how you make your bathrooms ADA-compliant in other jurisdictions? Hang a sign that says "No Public Restrooms."

That happens plenty here too, but as with a lot of things, that only works until you hit a certain point with occupant load or if you have a certain type of business or any other number of odd criteria. Probably OK for a convenience store, shop in a strip mall, or a taco shop in a 30 year-old building, but hard to achieve otherwise.
I know you're not entirely serious
posted by LionIndex at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2011


Although I love the idea behind ADA, most of the implementations that I've seen have been less than faithful.

A few years ago, I lived in a newly-constructed college dormitory, which was obviously built with ADA compliance in mind. I lived on the 4th (and top) floor. For safety purposes, it seems fairly obvious that anybody with preexisting mobility issues would want to live on the ground floor, and those rooms were equipped with automatic doors, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, and other architectural features to that effect.

Unfortunately, many of the hallways on the ground floor were far too narrow to fit a wheelchair through, and contained a maze of doors (some automatic, some not) that almost certainly would not function in an emergency.

My room, on the other hand, was even more of a farce. Apart from the implications of being on the 4th floor, although my room itself wasn't designated as one of the ADA-compliant dwellings, the (private) bathroom was, in order to make the quota. This meant that my shower (which was normal-sized) had a huge seat crammed into it, and had no threshold between the shower basin and the rest of the room (which meant constant flooding). The toilet stall was HUGE, which seemed a bit silly in a private bathroom, but I digress. There were also various handholds placed seemingly arbitrarily throughout the room. The room may have followed the letter of the building codes, but certainly didn't follow the spirit of them.
posted by schmod at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2011


the labor provisions of the ADA have done a lot for me over the past few years, after the consciousness -raising experience of being fired when my assistive device broke and aI couldn't make it to work because I couldn't walk. THANK YOU ADA~!
posted by jtron at 11:15 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm always stunned at the hostility some people have to punitive damages.

I'm always stunned at the hostility that some people have toward making (their part of) society accessible to people with disabilities because it's inconvenient and expensive, as if it's not inconvenient and expensive to have a disability that requires accommodation.

Signing the ADA instead of fighting it is one of the best things George Bush the elder ever did. It saddens me to consider the idea that we probably couldn't get this kind of civil rights legislation passed today.
posted by immlass at 11:55 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been on the nightmarish end of adapting existing buildings to ADA. I agree it's easy for new construction, but for old buildings it can be insane...

I'm a member of a cooperative community at the University of California, which (as a user of federal funding) actually has somewhat more stringent ADA rules than private businesses. I won't bore you with a list, but suffice it to say that our residents have spawned piles of programs that have contributed to the university and the city immensely over the years.

Our cooperatives consist of three farm houses built in the 1920's (known as the Tri-coops) and fourteen fiberglass domes built in 1972, The student housing department (supposedly our friends in long term planning) completely failed to plan for ADA compliance in the long term, and so we've been putting together a plan for compliance this year. Initial estimated cost for the tricoops: $1.2 million, initial estimate for the Domes: $800k. The University's initial response was to advocate for closing the community after this year instead of sinking $2m into compliance. We've since managed to cut the estimate by quite a lot, pledging student labor to do a great deal of the work and convincing the compliance officers that of the three houses, only one needed to be accessible.

A couple years prior to this, some renovations at the tricoops ran over budget and triggered ADA, forcing an additional $300,000 to be tacked onto a loan that had been meticulously planned for sustainability. This increased loan caused the houses to nearly be shut down last year, a fate averted by increasing rent by $50/mo.

I agree with the spirit of the law, but the requirements on existing structures are draconian. The reason that it's 20 years after passage and we still have non-compliant buildings is simple: it's often astronomically expensive to retrofit buildings, and even figuring out what needs to be done can be a nontrivial expense. The rules really aren't that simple to follow, especially once campus counsel get involved. The viewpoint changes from 'is this something that is a problem' to 'is this something we could get sued for?' We had extreme difficulty with the program accessibility portion of Title II. As a living sustainability research area, we do a LOT of things here; program accessibility is very loosely defined, and the campus counsel spells ambiguity with the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T and Y. It's a major hurdle to student-initiated advances, as students are generally not experts in ADA law and likely to run afoul of this code; the campus response is to limit student autonomy as much as possible: Get a strictly defined program, and don't allow deviation or amendment of that program...

I have a strong sense that this wouldn't be as bad of a situation if the mandate for accessibility in existing buildings were federally funded, and weren't enforced purely by the mechanism of impending private lawsuits. As it is, we've twice now narrowly avoided closure of some really good programs due to ADA issues.

bleh. YMMV.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:05 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's kind of funny when you really start to work in this field, especially as someone without a physical disability, is how you start to look at every trivial aspect of a building and notice the failures to comply. As someone said upstream, the bonus about universal/compliant construction is that it doesn't just benefit people in wheelchairs, it benefits everyone---especially folks with things like strollers.

I mean, if parking lots were designed with protected access aisles instead of access aisles running behind cars (new adaag change), we probably wouldn't worry so much about kids getting smooshed. If the bathroom at the local gas-n-munch actually had closed-fist-accessible handles on the doors, you could get into it carrying that diaper bag. If your curb cut had its truncated domes indicating a surface change and audible alerts for safety, you probably wouldn't worry as much that that guy up ahead chatting on his cellphone was going to wander into traffic. If your elevators actually made their respective dings or announcements, you may not miss your floor while you chat with that sexy boyfriend of yours. If your new apartment had a zero-entry doorway and a 36" wide true-clearance, you'd sure be able to get that sofa in a lot easier. If, and this is a crazy one, your governmental facilities run by your tax dollars met the marginal guidelines for accessibility, we might actually see EVERYONE have ACCESS if not the WILL to participate in local government and, oddly enough, their community.

For those complaining about the specific bits of measurements and things making spaces non-compliant, I really encourage you to check out the new ADAAG. Most things that were absolute are no longer absolute. You also really, really need to discuss with a laywer who knows wtf they're talking about regarding those things---courts define "Reasonable".

Another thing I'd like to recommend to people who are having really bad experiences with ADA compliance---there are those of us who legally survey compliance, those for whom it is a job. A lawyer can lawyer all day long, but chances are he's not going to know the 27" rule, and/or he's going to miss some tidbit that may cost you a ton of money. I'm not going to put any links here, because it would be too close to self-linking, but a good ADA survey will not only include your fails, but also your passes and recommendations for compliance in good faith.

The Access-Board publishes some really great checklists, it may be worth checking those out. ADA.gov has some here.(PDF) (The Access-Board resources are generally better.) Their publications page is also pretty awesome.
posted by TomMelee at 12:36 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


27 inch rule. Chances are your water fountain is in violation.
posted by TomMelee at 12:39 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those complaining about the specific bits of measurements and things making spaces non-compliant, I really encourage you to check out the new ADAAG. Most things that were absolute are no longer absolute. You also really, really need to discuss with a laywer who knows wtf they're talking about regarding those things---courts define "Reasonable".

The non-absoluteness is actually part of the problem. For a new building, accessibility is pretty easy because you're basically just meeting a checklist. You make sure you're covering all the items and meeting all the clearances (which we almost do automatically anyway), and you're fine when you go in for a building permit. For existing buildings however, the whole thing ends up being an argument with the governing jurisdiction over what exactly is "reasonable", and we have to come up with a strategy for providing certain aspects of accessibility while deciding which others are "technically infeasible" based on our projected cost, which at that point is really just pulling numbers out of the air because almost no one has a contractor bid the project before getting most of the way through permits. We then have to try to convince the building department of our arguments, and if they fail, have to increase the construction budget and redraw plans, etc. Getting into courts and legalese for a tenant improvement to a 1200 s.f. space in a strip mall is kind of a ridiculous venture, and will just plain stop someone from pursuing a project in the first place.
posted by LionIndex at 12:53 PM on January 4, 2011


Non absolutelness is a godsend. Previously, a toilet had to be 17" on center from the wall. 17 1/4 was a fail. Now it's a range, I believe 16-19 in the new adaag. Reach ranges were hard too, now they're softer. So goes with all kinds of mounting heights, etc. Maybe we're arguing different points.
posted by TomMelee at 1:32 PM on January 4, 2011


I don't know about america, but in britain they constantly mend the roads because car drivers can sue the council for damage which they could, but don't, claim from their insurance, because their insurance costs go up with each claim. Nonetheless, the pavements are too narrow, wonky and full of holes to push wheelchairs safely, and carpeted in ice each winter, but they don't mend them because you can't sue for being caged up. I never understand why equality for disabled people is viewed as some kind of expensive privilege. Under our government's current cuts, benefits funding transport for disabled people have been removed, on the grounds that 'we're all in this together' but they don't take away other people's cars/legs/buses, so it's not equal. Some stuff is need, is equality, and should be mandatory, other stuff is just likes and wants. Disabled people need, say, wheelchairs, and it's a disgrace that councils save money by refusing them, when in Holland you're eligible for one plus one sports one by right, as a human right, from the government. I lived there, so i know the majority of their health care is inefficient and expensive, yet they're ahead of us on that one. It's so shameful.

In the UK most prosecutions for violations of building accessibility are taken by disabled rights organisations, members of whom - disabled people - work as activist volunteers testing out all the targeted public buildings, but the legal cases are taken and funded by the charities.

Most disability rights legislation in the UK is copied from pioneering work in the USA and Canada, but EU human rights law has lead to a lot of implementation too. Most learning disability rights legislation is due to Barbara Castle MP RIP. (For some reason always commemorated for everything except this.) Most EU countries except Scandinavia in theory have the same laws but in practise don't implement them - the UK is the place which implements law the most of any country i've been to, i've decided - and are also very behind the times because most of the research and legislation inspiring change is in English, so isn't read by the ordinary careworker. For instance, in Italy, my fellow workers were officially 'volunteers' so they could be paid half the minimum wage per hour - they were wonderful people, but obviously had to work other jobs and stuff, didn't spend their free time mugging up on foreign legislation from the eighties, whereas in London we did, but then we were paid double the minimum wage and saw ourselves as having to work to a very informed standard, not a sort of cleaner. I still believe that translating the basic texts, like King's Fund research in the UK, into European languages is important to spread the ideas; people who work with disabled people of all types are usually the most open minded and willing to change.
posted by maiamaia at 2:00 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe we're arguing different points.

Oh, yeah, I think so. I'm talking more about meeting regulations when remodeling existing buildings, which is a whole different ball of wax than just meeting the standard because there's so much procedural mumbo-jumbo with the building department and approvals that are more discretionary in nature than simply based on a strict interpretation of the code like in new construction. All I'm saying is that a strict interpretation of the code is nice sometimes because you know exactly what you're dealing with instead of having to cite precedent or make an argument that you hope the reviewer buys into. You have a well-defined target to hit.

California has its own standards based on ADA regs, but clearances and other specified measurements are usually a minimum, maximum, or range rather than a certain hard dimension, so I think the problems you're talking about generally haven't been problems here. For existing buildings, there's an order of priority to what accommodations must be made for projects that otherwise propose no accessibility work, which generally starts with a path of travel, then bathrooms, and then other stuff.
posted by LionIndex at 2:30 PM on January 4, 2011


I have a pretty significant physical disability and was 17 when the ADA was passed. Its passage was pretty big news in our house because it seemed to offer some hope that my future might not necessarily be defined by poverty and social isolation. In subsequent years, I attended college and law school, entered the workforce, and bought a house. I now have a fairly well-paying job as a policy analyst and there are many days when I can't believe how well my life has turned out.

All of this might have happened without the ADA, but I'm doubtful. By the time I entered the job market in 1999, employers already had some experience with the equal employment provisions of the ADA. They weren't hiring people with disabilities en masse, but the idea of making a job offer to someone who can barely move his little finger didn't seem quite as outlandish as it might have a few years earlier. The ADA opened the employment door just a crack, but it was enough for me to squeeze through.

Of course, much more needs to change. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still unacceptably high and the Social Security/Medicaid safety net is still heavily biased towards a view of disability that precludes the possibility of work. The ADA can't address all these problems, but it's monumental for the simple fact that it codifies the idea that people with disabilities have the right to find a place in the world, just like everyone else.
posted by wintermute2_0 at 6:06 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Our cooperatives consist of three farm houses built in the 1920's (known as the Tri-coops) and fourteen fiberglass domes built in 1972

Hey, you're at UC Davis! I knew that even before looking at your profile. I used to work for a band that toured through there many, many times in the '90s. The Domes was our favorite spot.

Totally OT, but I don't see that mentioned every day.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:31 PM on January 4, 2011


Thanks for putting this together TomMelee; I've been watching for it.

Xoebe writes "As for the costs, in new construction the costs are relatively minimal."

It really is amazing how cheap it is and how much better it makes even non disabled person access. I know I'd much rather deliver a fridge to wheelchair accessible location than to a business that has a dozen marble steps between my truck and their kitchen.

fallacy of the beard writes "i've felt the frustration of drivers who can't find parking in remote areas during non-business hours, where/when accessibility would not be an issue, because there are dozens of cars with placards taking advantage of free parking."

So which is it? Either accessibility isn't a problem or there wasn't any parking. Because if there wasn't any parking accessibility sure would be a problem for someone like my father who can only walk short distances before experiencing crippling pain.

schmod writes "This meant that my shower (which was normal-sized) had a huge seat crammed into it, and had no threshold between the shower basin and the rest of the room (which meant constant flooding)."

I agree that this is plain and simple incompetent construction. A properly constructed zero clearance shower won't flood the floor anymore than a properly constructed berm shower.

schmod writes "The toilet stall was HUGE, which seemed a bit silly in a private bathroom, but I digress."

You probably would have appreciated it if you'd spent 6 months in a cast after breaking your hip in an automobile accident.
posted by Mitheral at 8:19 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


« Older Handy hints for your home. A selection of the best...  |  In 1719, Louis Renard publishe... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments