ADA is not sexy… (part 1)

I recently found out that NYC will become an International Building Code (IBC) jurisdiction; adopting an enhanced version of the 2003 IBC.  The new NYC Construction Codes took effect July 1, 2008.  The new NYC Construction Codes now includes guidelines for Accessibility, which it didn’t have before.  So basically, all new construction must accommodate handicap accessibility.

As I understand it, single residences are not mandated to meet accessibility requirements.  However, if the project is for a multiple family residence, the residences must meet ADA requirements.

I am managing a project for a new residence that is being constructed over an existing building.  It’s an interesting project, and very complicated.  I can’t go into great details but the residence is for a single family.  The residence has a huge square footage for a single family, and should the client decide he wants to move his family elsewhere, very few people would be able to afford to buy it as a whole.  So as a contingency, the client would sell each floor as single and double residential units; depending on the floor.

The single family residence was not designed with accessibility in mind.  There are varying floor height changes within some of the floor plans to accommodate the client’s request for double and mezzanine heights.  As a result, there would be a maximum of 3 steps to get from one area to the other on the same floor.  This was fine and acceptable to the client as this will be his home.  However, in the event that he should sell it, he would not be able to do so given the varying level changes on some of the floors.

The only elements that we (the architect) tried to maintain was a consistent stair run within the elevator and emergency exit stair core.

I was asked by my boss to review the floor plans and report which areas had issues and what can be done to either comply or adapt for future accessibility.

The client also reviewed the plans and apparently forgot that he had asked for certain rooms and areas to maintain specific maximum ceiling heights which affected the floors above and below as well as the mezzanines.

In order to adapt the floors for ADA accessibility, the client would have to put in ramps.  The ratio for a ramp is 1:12; which means for every 1″ in height difference equals 12″ of ramp length to meet that height.  For instance, one of the height difference is 24″ from level “A” to level “B”.  That means the ramp would be 24′-0″ in length; there was no room for a 24′ foot long ramp.  

The client wasn’t happy about that and decides that varying heights needed to be eliminated and even out as much as possible.  He could live with putting in an 8′-0″ ramp if it comes down to that but ideally, he’d like to level out the floor.  

While he was describing to me how and where we can adjust floor and ceiling heights, I was thinking that this is a lot of work to do.  It’s basically a redesign, and my boss would not be pleased at all about diving into this when we were supposed to be working towards 100% CD’s.

So, I made a suggestion of putting in a wheelchair lift that was collapsible.  He was not keen on that.  He thought they were unattractive and installing them in these would be multi-million residences would not sell.  He added that he’s never seen an installation of one of those wheelchair lifts that either concealed their unattractiveness enough, and thus it was not an option to explore.

At that moment, I just thought, “ADA is just not sexy.  Good-bye.”  

And it’s true, ADA is very institutional looking – cold, and uninviting.  In fact, if one of the purposes of having the American Disabilities Act is to provide equal opportunities and treatment to those who are physically challenged, then why can’t accessibility be attractive and sexy, too?

For more information on NYC Building Code on Accessibility, click here.
To learn more about the American Disabilities Act, click here.

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2 thoughts on “ADA is not sexy… (part 1)

  1. Hi, I enjoyed reading your blog. I’m an architect too and I often work on accessibility improvements. I created the ADA Design Reference Poster http://www.adaposter.com back in 2006 to help save time and avoid mistakes.

    In my research I interviewed people with disabilities and learned that most are not happy about the ADA. The ADA and ANSI A117.1 establish a bare minimum for legal compliance but fall short making environments great for the disabled, young and old. I encourage my fellow architects, whenever possible, to go for “great” and not just compliant. I also agree that ADA work can look attractive. It’s a challenge but we can do it. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for your contribution. It’s much appreciated. And thank you for sharing your ADA poster with LFA.

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