Specifying for Accessibility In Schools By Tom Shield, President and Founder, Modular Elevator Manufacturing, Inc. Specifying products to improve accessibility in educational facilities can be overwhelming and challenging due to the variety of products available and accessibility guidelines that must be followed. New construction and renovations in education must be undertaken in accordance with established accessibility standards. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 established minimum guidelines that must be followed when undertaking new construction or renovations in schools. These guidelines are called the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), and while they have been adopted by most jurisdictions, some state and local building standards are more stringent. If this is true for your jurisdiction, the ADA requires that the state or local guidelines for accessible design be implemented. Accessibility solutions for students, facility, staff and visitors with mobility limitations that meet the ADA’s ADAAG include ramps, vertical platform lifts and elevators. Ramps Ramps are ideal accessibility solutions for low-rise applications in school facilities, such as, entrances and exits. The ADAAG specifies how steep the ramp can be, ramp width and length, ramp landings, handrail installation and surfaces. A ramp is defined as any part of an accessible route with a slope greater than 1:20 (one inch rise for every 20 inches of run) by the ADAAG. The least possible slope should be used when building a ramp. In new construction, the maximum slope is 1:12 and the maximum rise for any uninterrupted run is 30 inches.
For existing facilities with space limitations that do not allow the installation of a 1:12 slope, the guidelines are:
- A slope between 1:10 and 1:12 is allowed for a maximum rise of 6-inches.
- A slope between 1:8 and 1:10 is allowed for a maximum rise of 3-inches. A slope steeper than 1:8 is not allowed.
Ramps should also meet the following standards as set by the ADAAG:
- Minimum surface width of 36 inches
- Constructed from an anti-slip surface and prevent water accumulation if outside
- Level landings at the bottom and top of each ramp and each ramp run
- Landings need to be at least as wide of the ramp leading to it
- Handrails should be installed if the rise is more than six inches or a horizontal of more than 72 inches.
- Handrails should be on both sides of the ramps mounted between 34 in and 38 in for adults. In schools or other buildings, where children are the principal occupants, a second set of handrails at a more appropriate height for children should be installed, at maximum height of 28 inches.
Vertical Platform Lifts Where a ramp is not the ideal solution due to space limitations, a vertical platform lift may be used. A platform lift is limited to 12-feet of travel and they are ideal for access to a stage or other small elevated surfaces. Lifts that carry wheelchairs up and down stairs are known as inclined platform lifts. The ADAAG standards for lifts are as follows:
- Positioned to meet floor and ground space requirements to accommodate a wheelchair
- Less than ½ inch level change between the floor of the lift and landing floor
- Stable, firm and slip-resistant surfaces in the lift and surrounding floor space
- Control mechanisms must be operable with one hand and do not require excessive force to operate
Conventional and Modular Elevators If more than one story of travel is involved, an elevator is the ideal mobility solution for accessibility. A relatively new solution growing in popularity is the modular elevator, which has many advantages over a conventional elevator. Many schools don’t contain more than two or three stories and don’t need the complexities of a conventional elevator. A modular elevator is constructed of nonproprietary, high-quality components and manufactured in a plant-controlled environment, which results in a high-quality product that greatly minimizes design and engineering costs. Priced below conventional elevator systems, modular elevators typically take one day to install and require very little maintenance. Like conventional elevators, modular can be customized and designed to fit in with the existing structure. Modular elevators can be used in new and retrofit projects from two to seven stories. Modular elevators are commonly used to improve accessibility in stadium press boxes and parking structures and in applications of ADA remediation. All elevators, conventional and modular, must also meet the following standards as set by the ADAAG:
- Automatic operation
- Hall call elevator buttons should be accessible and indicate when each call is registered and answered
- Doors shall open and close automatically
- Doors contain a reopening device that will stop and reopen a car door and hoistway door automatically if an object or person obstructs the door
- Doors should remain fully open in response to a call for a minimum of three seconds
- The floor area shall provide enough space for wheelchair users to enter the car, maneuver the controls and exit the car
Implementing Accessibility Solutions Before purchasing an accessibility solution for your school, make sure the product is intended for commercial use and meets all accessibility guidelines. Do not solely rely on vendor claims that the product meets ADA guidelines and compare guidelines with product specifications. If possible, visit other facilities that use the product you are considering to make an informed purchase. Review the warranty and maintenance requirements of accessibility products. The ADA requires that products remain in working condition. Can your facilities management staff handle routine testing and maintenance or will you need to set up a service contract with a third-party? While ramps are low maintenance, lifts and elevators are more complex solutions due to their mechanics. Once the product is installed, demonstrate proper usage to facility and staff so they can help students and visitors. Ramps, lifts and elevators can be visually pleasing while fitting in your school environment. The ADA standards provide guidance on material characteristics for accessibility solutions, leaving the choice of materials up manufacturers. This provides flexibility in choosing materials that are appealing and appropriate for the space. For example, products used outdoors should resist weathering and prevent water from collecting on the surface. With careful planning, education facilities can be accessible to people with and without disabilities. Not all of the ADAAG standards are covered in this article, so it is important to work with an architect or ADA consultant that understands these complex standards as well as the standards in your jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, state officials must also view and approve plans, as well. With the right research and guidance, your project can be completed on time and within budget while improving access for all.