Go to previous article
Go to next article
Return to 2002 Table of Contents
Alliance for Technology Access
San Rafael, CA
Disability Policy Consultant
Playa Del Rey, CA
There are many inexpensive adjustments that can be made or alternatives that can be considered when reviewing physical, program, and technology access. These include purchasing a portable ramp for a small number of steps for building access, re-arranging the furniture to make room for a wheelchair, scooter, or walker or simply having pen and paper available for someone who does not speak.
The ADA requires that buildings be accessible. What does this mean for existing buildings and new buildings? For existing buildings, modifications must be made for accessibility if they can "be accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." New buildings have more stringent requirement criteria for accessibility.
Other options might be considered on a case-by-case basis. For instance, if a meeting room is inaccessible to a participant, perhaps the meeting can be held in a different office or building near by.
Access to a program can often be accomplished with similar creative brainstorming and flexibility. To learn more about physical access in Facilities and Program Access, consult the Access Aware Manual available from The Alliance for Technology Access, www.ataccess.org.
Roger uses a wheelchair for mobility. He wants to attend a meeting at the local community technology center. This is on the second floor in an old building. There is no elevator in the building.
What do you think the solution is for Roger?
Roger contacts the staff at the center and explains his mobility needs. The staff arranges to hold the meeting in an accessible building on the next block.
Bear is a Guide Dog who has been trained to assist Jim in activities of daily living and mobility. Jim is blind. Bear travels with Jim everywhere he goes. Jim wants to enroll in a word processing class at the local community center.
Jim is concerned that Bear will not be welcome at the site. He is also worried that he will not be able to access a computer. He can touch type but is afraid that he will not be able to find menus on the screen and that keyboard shortcuts for commands are different from ones he may be familiar with in other programs.
He is also concerned that even if he could work at a computer, he would fall behind as his typing speed is typically very slow. The instructor for the course tells him that if he can't keep up with the class, Jim will be frustrated and will probably be asked to leave so he does not hold up the rest of the class.
What should Jim do?
Jim calls the community center to raise his concerns. The person responsible for ADA compliance tells him that the instructor would be informed that since Bear is a service animal, according to the ADA, he can accompany Jim anywhere in the building. He is also told that he can request to use a work station which has been adapted with a screen reader so that he can hear all text displayed on the desktop and in windows and menus spoken. If he chooses, he can come in ahead of time and try the system out, in order to familiarize himself with the equipment. Scheduling extra time at this work station will let him complete assignments and practice the new skills he will be learning in class.
Finally, Jim is assured that accommodations will be made for him to be able to keep up with the class as long as he is communicating his needs to staff.
Marie wants to have her 10-year-old daughter attend a "Computer Club" meeting for kids at the local computer access center. Her daughter, Melanie, has a computer at home and will spend hours working on her favorite programs. The computer club will give her good social interaction with other children her age. Melanie has Down Syndrome.
Marie is worried that Melanie might not be able to attend because of her disability. Although Melanie is very independent, she does not always understand complex directions, and she has heard that children with disabilities are not accepted into programs at the access center unless they are accompanied by a parent.
Marie felt this was unfair and eliminated the independence and social interaction she was seeking for her daughter.
What can be done for Marie & Melanie?
After questioning this policy, she was told that accommodations would be made to include Melanie in all activities. They discussed how instructions could modified, broken down into smaller steps and given one or two at a time so that Melanie could be successful on her own.
Regulations and guidelines for facility access have been well developed as a result of the ADA and state law.
Point of Law - ADA
There are three different standards for barrier removal. They
apply to existing facilities, new construction and facilities
that are altered.
• Existing facilities must remove barriers where the removal is "readily achievable."
• In facilities that are altered, where the alteration affects usability, the altered area must be accessible. If the alteration is in a primary functional area of the building and it affects usability, an accessible path of travel to the altered area must be provided. The services provided to the altered area (e.g. drinking fountains, cafeteria, restrooms, telephones, etc.) must also be accessible, when the cost would not be disproportionate to the cost of the overall alteration.
• New construction must be built to be accessible to and useable by people with disabilities.
What is "Readily Achievable?"
Point of Law - ADA
Organizations are required to remove architectural barriers - those elements of a facility that impede access by people with disabilities - to ensure access for clients where it is possible to do so in a readily achievable manner.
* furniture which blocks access
* curbs and steps
* narrow exterior and interior doorways and aisles
* rest room doorways and stalls that are too narrow for use by a person who uses a wheelchair
* inaccessible drinking fountains and telephones
Point of Law - ADA - Readily Achievable
The ADA defines "readily achievable" as "easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense."
Examples - barrier removal
* a ramp for one or even several steps
* widening doorways
* changing display shelves to increase aisle width
* widening bathroom doorways
* moving toilet stall partitions
* installing grab bars.
The readily achievable standard does not require barrier removal that involves extensive restructuring or burdensome expense. Required barrier removal for a particular organization will depend on its financial and other resources.
Congress adopted the readily achievable standard as a compromise between the extremes of requiring retrofitting of all existing buildings and allowing all barriers to remain.
When funds are not available to remove all existing barriers, the Department of Justice recommends that an organization follow an order of priorities for barrier removal. These priorities are:
* Provide access from public transportation, parking areas, sidewalks, and entrances to the facility so a person can "get through the door" (e.g., install an entrance ramp, widen entrances, and provide accessible parking spaces).
* Provide access to those areas where goods and services are provided (e.g., adjust the layout of display racks, rearrange tables, provide Braille and raised character signs, widen doors, provide visual alarms, and install ramps).
* Provide access to restroom facilities when they are open to the public (e.g., remove furniture or vending machines that are in the way, widen doors, install ramps, provide accessible signs, widen toilet stalls, and installation grab bars).
Point of Law -ADA - Landlord and Tenant: Allocation of responsibility for Compliance
Both the landlord who owns the building where an organization is located and the tenant who owns or operates the organization are fully responsible for ADA compliance. Tenants should review ADA obligations with their landlords. Failure to determine, allocate, and execute ADA responsibility may result in both the tenant's and the landlord's liability for non-compliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) issued by the Access Board (Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board), can serve as a guide for identifying the various kinds of measures that can be taken to remove barriers and as a guide for how best to remove them. Information on where to get the complete ADAAG is in the Facility Access Resources section at the end of this article.
If there are steps to the front entrance and the front door is very narrow, facilities must provide a ramp and widen the door according to ADAAG standards if it is readily achievable to do so. If it is not readily achievable to follow the ADAAG standards for ramps and doorways, organizations must take other safe, readily achievable measures, such as installation of a slightly narrower door or a slightly steeper ramp than that permitted by the ADAAG. Although these barrier removal measures would not meet the ADAAG standards for alterations, they would nevertheless afford significant access for many users.
Point of Law - ADA - Alterations
Physical alterations to facilities must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities to the maximum extent feasible.
The term "alterations" refers to changes an organization is undertaking for its own purposes, such as renovation, and does not refer to steps an organization takes to comply with the ADA's requirements for barrier removal. Alterations do not include normal maintenance, that is minor changes such as painting or papering walls, replacing ceiling tiles, and similar alterations that do not affect usability.
Point of Law - ADA - Path of Travel
When alterations are made to "primary function areas" - work areas and areas used by the public - alterations must also be made to provide an accessible path of travel to the altered areas.
A "path of travel" includes a continuous, unobstructed way of pedestrian passage by means of which the altered area may be approached, entered and exited, and which connects the altered area with an outside approach, an entrance to the facility, and other parts of the facility.
• walks and sidewalks
• curb ramps and other interior or exterior ramps
• clear floor paths through lobbies, corridors, rooms, and other improved areas
• parking access aisles
• elevators and lifts
• a combination of these elements.
"Path of travel" also means access to restrooms, telephones and drinking fountains serving the area as well as the altered area.
Point of Law - ADA
In providing an accessible path of travel the organization is only required to spend up to 20% of the total cost of the original alteration.
An accessible entrance would generally be the most important path of travel feature, since without it the facility will be totally unusable by many people with disabilities. An accessible restroom would have greater priority than an accessible drinking fountain.
Point of Law - ADA - New Construction
All newly constructed facilities must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, following the technical standards for accessible new construction set out in the ADAAG.
The ADA requires that all new construction of places of public accommodation, as well as of "commercial facilities," such as office buildings, be accessible. Elevators are generally not required in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center or mall; the professional office of a health care provider, a terminal, depot, or other public transit station, or an airport passenger terminal.
The cost of incorporating accessibility features in new construction is less than one percent of construction costs. This is a small price in relation to the economic benefits to be derived from full accessibility in the future, such as increased employment and consumer spending and decreased welfare dependency.
The technical standards for accessible new construction and alterations are found in ADAAG and state laws.
Are organizations required to remove barriers posed by sidewalk curbs? Curb cuts, also known as curb ramps, enable people who use wheelchairs, use other mobility devices, or have walking related disabilities to have access to facilities. If the only parking available is on a city street and the organization does not own or control the sidewalk, the municipality, not the organization, is responsible for providing curb ramps. The organization should, however, contact the municipality's public works department requesting the necessary curb cuts and continue to follow up on the request until the ramps are installed.
If an organization owns or controls the sidewalk, it must provide curb ramps if readily achievable. If the organization is a tenant, responsibility for providing curb ramps rests with both the landlord and the tenant.2
Must all entrances to an existing facility be accessible?
No, but one entrance, preferably the main entrance, must be accessible, making it possible for people with disabilities to get through the door.
If there are steps up to the entrance, ramping one step or even several steps will be readily achievable for most organizations.
Installation of a permanent ramp, rather than a portable one, is required unless such an installation is not readily achievable. If an organization cannot meet the ADAAG's technical requirements for ramps because of space or other limitations, it can deviate slightly from these specifications as long as the ramp is still safe.
If a permanent ramp cannot be installed, the organization must provide a portable ramp if readily achievable. Portable, i.e., moveable, ramps must also be safe. Most portable ramps are relatively inexpensive to purchase or construct. An organization using a portable ramp should install a doorbell (with appropriate sign) to summon an employee to bring the ramp to the door, if readily achievable. If the accessible entrance is one other than the main entrance, a sign at the main entrance should indicate where the accessible entrance is located.
If none of these barrier removal options is readily achievable, alternative methods to provide services must be considered, such as curbside service or home service at no additional charge. If curbside service is an option, remember to install a doorbell or some other notification device, if readily achievable, so that people unable to enter have a method of alerting the organization that they are outside and need assistance. Such a device also needs a proper sign, such as the International Symbol of Accessibility (wheelchair) with text explaining "please ring for assistance."
It is extremely helpful to conduct physical access surveys with people with disabilities who have a user's perspective and who know about cross-disability issues, meaning experience sufficient to consider the needs of those with different types of disabilities. Surveying demands strict attention to detail. Items that may seem minor to a person without a disability can really be quite major. Something that seems like a minor detail could make a person's participation in an organization inconvenient or impossible.
If an organization does not have people with access expertise readily available, they can contact a disability-related organization such as an ATA Center or independent living center (ILC). ATA centers are community-based, consumer-directed centers focusing on technology. Many ATA Centers and ILCs have people with disabilities who are qualified to do site inspections and are knowledgeable about the relevant state and local accessibility building codes. To contact an ATA Center or independent living center in your area, see the Facility Access Resources section at the end of this article.
Ideally although sometimes not possible, a site survey team should include surveyors with a variety of different disabilities: hearing, visual, environmental sensitivities, physical (i.e., wheelchair or scooter user and a cane, walker, or crutch or brace user). These individuals need to be knowledgeable about a variety of physical and communications access issues versus just being able to speak to their own needs
Guidelines for Program Access
Point of Law - ADA - Program Access
Under ADA's program accessibility standard, publicly funded organizations are prohibited from denying people with disabilities equal access to programs and activities because facilities are not accessible. This does not mean that every part of every facility needs to be made accessible. It means that these organizations must operate the program so that when viewed in its entirety, it is readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Program access can be achieved by both creating physical access through structural methods and non-structural methods.
* Nonstructural methods might include meeting in an alternate
location, providing interpreter or assistive listening services
or collaborating with other organizations for support
* Structural methods might include a ramp, electric door opener or restroom modifications.
Point of Law - ADA - Integrated Setting
ADA requires that organizations provide their services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible. People with disabilities may not be placed in a segregated or separate section solely because of their disability.
Organizations are required to make reasonable modifications to the policies , practices, and procedures in order to make their goods and services available to people with disabilities unless the organization can demonstrate that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services provided.
* It would be a violation of the ADA to require a person using
a wheelchair to use an accessible workstation in a separate room
instead of with other computer participants.
* Programs with blanket "no pets allowed" policy must modify the policy by making an exception for guide, hearing and companion animals used by people with disabilities
* Organizations that require a driver's license as proof of identity must modify the policy by accepting another form of identification because some people with disabilities cannot obtain driver's licenses.
* An organization has a complex and lengthy application process, which many people with learning or cognitive disabilities cannot complete on their own. This organization has the obligation to modify the application process to ensure that otherwise eligible individuals are not denied services. Modifications could include simplifying the process or providing applicants with assistance.3
Point of Law - ADA - Eligibility Criteria
Organizations are not allowed to apply eligibility criteria for their goods or services that tend to, or actually do, screen out people with disabilities except when the criteria are necessary to provide the goods or services that are being offered.
* A social service establishment cannot, for example, say or
have as a policy that it "does not assist people with physical
disabilities" or that it "does not assist people with psychiatric
* A program director cannot prohibit people with cognitive disabilities from participating in a PowerPoint class because he believes these users cannot understand well enough to participate. This would be a blanket exclusion, which violates the ADA. (Golden, p. 123)
Point of Law - ADA - Assumptions of Eligibility
The ADA also requires that any criteria used be applied fairly and equally to all members of the public. It prohibits organizations from basing their eligibility criteria on assumptions that would unnecessarily exclude individuals with disabilities who, in fact, are eligible to participate in an activity.
It is recommended that all organizations assign an ADA Coordinator to oversee the development and implementation of a policy statement on nondiscrimination and publicize the policy with all program materials.
1 Material for this session is from the Access Aware:
Extending your reach to People with Disabilities manual by the
Alliance for Technology Access, available for preview and
purchase on the ATA web site at www.ATAccess.org.
2 Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation, Access Equals Opportunity: Medical Offices - Your Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1992. p.14-15.
3 Golden, M., Kilb, L., & Myerson, M. The ADA: An Implementation Guide,. DREDF's ADA Manual (also known as "The Blue Book"), p. 124, by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, 1992, DREDF, 2212 6th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. To purchase, call 510.644.2555 voice & TTY)
Go to previous article
Go to next article
Return to 2002 Table of Contents
Return to Table of Proceedings