For the first time in two decades, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been revamped, meaning it is time again for retail owners to size up their properties accordingly and steer clear of costly noncompliance sanctions. Because the ADA is a civil-rights law, not a building code, there are no local inspection or enforcement bodies charged with educating property managers on compliance. “There’s a disconnect, and it’s left to the owner and the tenant to understand what their deficiencies are,” said Ken Mitchell, vice president of operations at ADA Compliance Consultants, in Fulson, Calif.
The revisions were made law last July to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ADA’s enactment. The law mandates that public venues provide the handicapped with access to “goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations.” There is still time for owners to complete any adaptations they wish to make to their properties under the law’s less demanding specifications of 1991, but not for long. Any work conforming to those guidelines must be finished by March 15, 2012. After that, the new specifications will take effect, including requirements for restrooms, parking and more.
The range of accessible equipment such as bathroom fixtures has been reduced from a maximum height of 54 inches to a maximum of 48 inches, and raised six inches to a minimum of 15 inches. Access routes for the disabled that lead to a retail building’s arrival points must now be at least roughly parallel to the general pedestrian paths. Parking garage levels directly connected to the shopping center must be accessible to the handicapped as well. Seating for the disabled must be dispersed throughout the assembly areas, which must provide companion seating and take sightlines over standing spectators into account. The height and reach requirements apply also to ATMs, which also must contain revised voice-guidance and braille equipment and the like.
Some municipalities are interpreting the 2012 compliance deadline as the date that a certified building permit is needed for work using the old guidelines, sources say, but they should take care. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t in violation,” said Kevin Hughes, vice president for project and development services at Jones Lang LaSalle. Businesses cannot cite local or state laws that may conflict with the new federal requirements, according to the ADA Web site.
Owners of shopping centers that meet existing standards will not have to worry about these new regulations until such time as alterations or additions are needed, says Hughes. “But if a center manager doesn’t have a lot of confidence in what they have,” he said, “they need to get an expert out there. There are a lot of tools to help them become compliant.”
Compiled by the staff of Shopping Centers Today. © May 02, 2011 International Council of Shopping Centers.