So, you’re an architect and you think you know all about ADA…until you’re an injured architect!

Up to that point, the American with Disabilities ACT, or ADA, which became the law in 1990, is a list of requirements and guidelines you follow and check off – you consult the manuals, you think these requirements – Titles II & III – make good sense and you incorporate them without question into the buildings you design and document.  You may even go a step further, adding a ramp where it’s not required, or thinking about how a restroom or a kitchen sink might be used.

And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, you’re the injured party.

You quickly learn which transit stops have elevators and escalators – oops, wait, you can’t use an escalator, they move too fast, you just can’t step on quickly enough – never thought about that before.  Boy, even though they open with a push, those exit doors are heavy – never thought about that before.  Why do elevator doors close so quickly – don’t they know I need to get there first?  How does one sit with a backpack – easier to carry all your stuff – on a typical bus or train seat?  And why can’t the person next to me let me know in plenty of time that they need to get up – they saw me limp on – they know I need to time to maneuver arms and legs (and backpack) to stand up.  Without poles or straps or handholds on seat edges to hold onto, how do I maneuver up the aisle?

The street’s an issue – cracked streets, uneven sidewalks, curb cuts that vary in size and height from block to block – you are always scanning to make sure the walker, the cane, the foot, doesn’t get caught. And boy, that bubbled pavement in the curb cut sure hurts the bottom of my feet…

The office is an issue – canes and shoes can catch on the carpet.  How on earth do I prop my leg below the desk – oh, I know, overturned wastebasket – oh wait, I overturned the wastebasket! These ubiquitous high chairs around the ubiquitous high table in the ubiquitous open office – I’m not even going to attempt it – meeting moved!

In 1990, ADA changed the landscape of accessibility for the better. It’s an ongoing process. In subsequent years, we’ve learned so much about how grab bars are actually used.  The first grab bars were designed for male wheelchair users who had a certain amount of upper body strength that would allow them to transfer up and out of the chair.  Today, the predominant population using grab bars is elderly, and most lack upper body strength.  In 2010, additional guidelines were issued that addressed changes to restrooms that allow for easier maneuverability and transfer, as well as provide additional space for caregivers.  It’s an ongoing process.

I’m better, I’m back, but, boy, I learned a lot, and I’m grateful that the ADA’s small mercies were in place when I needed them.

By: Joanne Pizzo, AIA
Market Segment Leader
L.R. Kimball