Since it’s inception in 1990, the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been a powerful legal tool in the fight to increase wheel chair accessibility in public buildings. As our society continues to grow in its acceptance of people with disabilities and as we come to understand that those people not only need, but deserve, the same rights of accessibility as anyone else, businesses and public facilities are scrambling to meet the requirements laid out by the ADA. The opportunity to live independent lives is what is at stake for those who rely on wheelchairs for mobility.
As publicly accessible buildings in America seek to comply with the specifications laid out by the ADA, it is now required that all new buildings are designed with these specifications in mind.
Architects work with wheel chair accessibility needs worked into building plans and as a rule, blue prints that do not meet ADA requirements will not be issues building permits. These stringent requirements are working to ensure that going forward; all of the public buildings that are constructed will be fully functional for wheel chair users.
The biggest challenges to becoming ADA compliant are those faced by the owners of older buildings. Many older buildings, especially in urban settings, have almost no wheel chair accessibility. The owners of these building are, in some cases, forced to add on to the building so that they have room to house an elevator unit. In other instances, building owners install custom machinery that carries a wheel chair and its occupant up flights of stairs.
Residential property owners face their own set of unique challenges when faced with the need for wheel chair accessibility. The biggest of these challenges is usually cost. Public buildings generally have a larger financial base from which to work that the typical homeowner.
There are countless stories about community service organizations that are willing to lend a hand with these projects. All of the specifications for size and slope are available on the ADA website and make it so just about any group of volunteers can put together a very sturdy and serviceable wheelchair ramp in a few hours. The specifications can be found at www.disabilitysystems.com/ada/adaag.htm.
The push for greater wheel chair accessibility is only the first step in the journey towards equal access for all. Even though it does not fix all of the accessibility issues that we are facing, it is helping to get folks to pay attention to the needs of those around them.
Architects, designers and developers are beginning to think with the disabled at the heart of their plans instead of as an afterthought. The process will be a slow one but gradually, new doors will continue to open and one day we will all be free to go where we please.