Accessibility Best Practices + Trends for the Built Environment

Ashley Pitts, AIA, CASp

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month — learn where we have come from and the work left to be done.

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As we close out this month, we wanted to acknowledge and celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. And last year, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that strengthens the inclusion of people with disabilities. After its passage, other countries began writing and enacting their own laws guaranteeing equal rights and equal access to their citizens with disabilities. The ADA serves as a reminder of both where we have come from, as well as the work left to be done.

The total number of individuals with disabilities and their proportion of the total population has continued to increase over recent decades. And, with longer life expectancies than in the past, many individuals remain in the workforce longer. In order to better serve a more diverse group of employees, companies need to be at the forefront of best practices for accessibility to uphold a consistent and progressive level of accessibility in their built environments — mitigating risk of receiving future claims.

Navigating Global Accessibility Code Compliance

Currently, global accessibility trends and best practices for built environments appear focused on the following areas:

  • Exterior routes and areas: including wider clear width of pedestrian walks, marked crossings to improve pedestrian safety, compliant curb ramps, detectable warning surfaces adjacent to hazardous vehicular areas, tactile warnings and audible signaling for people who are blind or who have low vision, larger accessible parking spaces and additional parking spaces designated for employees with temporary disabilities and for expectant mothers.
  • Entrances: including making a larger quantity (if not all) entrances accessible and providing automatic openers even where not required by code.
  • Interior accessible routes: including wider clear width of corridors and other circulation routes, larger turning spaces, larger clear floor spaces at accessible elements, wider clear width of doors and doorways, automatic door openers, vision panels within or adjacent to doors and tactile/visual flooring differentiations.
  • Toilet rooms: including a greater number of wheelchair accessible toilet compartments and ambulatory accessible toilet compartments, accessible gender-neutral single-user toilet rooms adjacent to multi-user toilet rooms, space designated for a diaper changing station so its use will not impede on accessible routes and other accessible elements and larger toilet rooms to accommodate larger mobility devices, assistance from a companion or caretaker, or additional features such as adult changing tables.
  • Work areas: including adjustable height workstations to accommodate both seated persons and standing persons, sound attenuation materials and varied lighting levels.
  • Signage: including improved directional and informational signage to indicate locations of accessible routes and accessible features and coordination of tactile room designation signage with the organization’s scheduling software and accessible communication materials.
  • Existing buildings: including requirements to maintain accessible features, improve existing non-compliant features and make accessibility upgrades during alterations and additions.
  • Service animals: including built-in accommodations for service animals such as a pet relief area and a watering station.
  • Technology: including sensor-operated devices and accessories and touch screens with both audible and visual interfaces.
  • Implementing Universal Design principles: to promote inclusivity and participation, better serve a diverse group of users and provide increased flexibility over time.

Looking Ahead

While the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia and other developed countries and continents already have some laws or codes in place to require accessible accommodations in the built environment, not every country does. In some cases, the laws or codes cover more than one type of ownership entity (e.g., public, private), multiple occupancy types (e.g., commercial, government), and both new construction and existing buildings. In other cases, the laws or codes, if they exist at all, might apply only to government buildings or only to new construction.

As we look at the ADA, awareness of the need to provide access in our built environment and infrastructure, effective communication for people of varying abilities and accessible technology continues to grow across the world. Our team understands the latest in accessibility requirements and can perform detailed accessibility assessments of existing facilities and new sites to evaluate compliance.

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