Americans with Disabilities Act: Replacing a $25 door handle could save you over $50,000.00

Most of us have heard of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s a set of laws to help prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. Part of those laws deal directly with construction. If you own or are a tenant in a commercial building, then you better pay attention because most likely, you aren’t as compliant as you think you are.
I’d first like to explain why it’s important for your building to be in compliance with federal and local ADA codes. Here is an excerpt from the Department of Justice Code of Federal Regulations:
35.504 Relief.
Any person who is being subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Act may institute a civil action for preventative relief
Authority of court. In a civil action under §36.503, the court may grant any equitable relief that such court considers to be appropriate
May award other relief as the court considers to be appropriate, including monetary damages to persons aggrieved when requested by the Attorney General; and
May, to vindicate the public interest, assess a civil penalty against the entity in an amount
Not exceeding $100,000 for any subsequent violation
That means that for the very first violation, no matter how small, can earn you a fine of up to $50,000.00.
During an ADA inspection, we find every type of violation from every section in Chapter 11 in the Florida Building Code (The chapter dealing with accessibility). However, I’ve attempted to put together a list of the most commonly found violations we see at our commercial inspections. Whether it’s the spaces not being the correct size, or not having any spaces at all, this is a very common violation. Next time you’re out at a restaurant or doctors appointment (or anywhere for that matter), try counting the parking spaces. Up to 25 spaces, you are required to have 1 ADA space; 26-50, 2 ADA spaces; 51-75, 3 ADA spaces; 76-100, 4 spaces.

You’ll be amazed at how many, even extremely large corporations don’t meet the parking requirements.

Bathrooms: There are numerous requirements when it comes to bathrooms. However, most violations have to do with the clear width. There is supposed to be a clear turning width in the bathroom of 60 inches. To test for this, simply pull out your tape measure to 60 inches and rotate it around in the bathroom. If you hit something, you’re in violation. Another common violation is not having insulation round the plumbing lines under a sink.

Doors: Not all doors are required to be accessible, a good way to figure out which doors need to be accessible is to ask yourself. Would I ever allow someone from the public to travel this path? This still won’t cover all of the required accessible doors, however it is a good start. The three violations we see with doors are as follows:

#1: The clear width of the door needs to be a minimum of 32 inches.

#2: The force required to open an exterior door cannot exceed 8.5 lbf, 5 lbf for interior doors.

#3: Door handles cannot require any grasping or twisting to operate the door.
Floors: The one violation, probably more than any other violation is improper changes in level at floors. Whether it’s a door threshold, or going from a wood floor to a carpet floor, most likely, there’s a violation. Only changes in level up to ¼ inches are allowed without any edge treatment.

If you have any concerns about your building’s compliance, my suggestion is to buy chapter 11 of the Florida Building Code and review it. It is extremely inexpensive (under $20) and could save you millions later on.

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