What's New in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines
The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) have not been updated since they were initially published by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) in 1990. The technical provisions of the current ADAAG are based on the 1980 edition of ANSI A117.1, which is now 23 years old. The long overdue updating of ADAAG is finally nearing completion. This article provides a brief history of the updating process that is ongoing, the status of the Access Board's rulemaking process to revise the guidelines, and a summary of some of the major differences between the plumbing provisions in the current guidelines and the proposed revisions for the new ADAAG.
Rulemaking BackgroundThe Access Board began the process to update the ADAAG in 1994. An advisory committee was created by the board to conduct a complete review of the ADAAG and recommend changes. The ADAAG Review Advisory Committee consisted of 22 members, representing the design and construction industry, the building code community, state and local governments entities, and people with disabilities. The committee was charged with reviewing the ADAAG in its entirety and making recommendations for updating it so that it remains consistent with technological developments, changes in model codes and national standards, and continues to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The committee developed a comprehensive set of recommendations that addresses substantive changes to ADAAG scoping provisions and technical requirements, as well as its format and numbering system.
Next StepsThe Access Board's rulemaking process has not been completed at the time of this writing. The Access Board must next submit the final guidelines to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and clearance. The OMB requires that a regulatory assessment be submitted along with the final guidelines. The regulatory assessment, which includes a comprehensive analysis of the cost impact of the new guidelines, is still being prepared. Once completed and submitted, OMB has 90 days for its review. Once cleared by OMB, the guidelines will be published in final form. While it cannot be stated with absolute certainty, the final rule is expected to be published in late spring of 2003.
It also bears mentioning that other federal agencies responsible for the standards used to enforce the ADA, such as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), must then similarly modify their standards so that they are consistent with the updated guidelines. Until then, the current guidelines remain in effect. The DOJ has not given any indication of its plans or timeframe for adoption of the new guidelines.
Differences Between the Current ADAAG and the New ADAAGThe Access Board approved the content of the final rule to revise the ADAAG in September of 2002. In the federal rulemaking process, the content of a rule cannot be disclosed to the public until the final rule is published. A draft of the final rule was "placed in the docket" by the Access Board in April 2002. This was a procedural maneuver that enabled the content of the draft final rule to be made available for consideration in the development process for the 2003 edition of the ICC International Building Code and the 2003 edition of ANSI A117.1. Consequently, this article can only discuss the content of the draft final rule. There are some differences between the draft final rule and the final rule that was approved but not yet published. While the content of the final rule cannot be disclosed here, the differences, if any, between the draft final rule and the published final rule in the plumbing provisions are not expected to be substantive.
FormatThe format and numbering system for the new ADAAG have been completely revised. There are three key differences. First, the scoping provisions (where required, how many are required) have been separated from the technical provisions (how to make an element accessible). Scoping provisions for new construction in the current ADAAG may appear to all be located in Section 4.1.3, but in fact, there is scoping scattered throughout the current guidelines. The new format should greatly improve the ease of use and application of the guidelines. The scoping provisions in the new ADAAG are all contained in Chapter 2. Plumbing-related scoping is addressed in Sections 211 through 214.
Second, the format of the technical provisions very closely matches the arrangement and numbering of ANSI A117.1. This will make it much easier to compare and understand any differences between the ADAAG and the 1998 and 2003 editions of ANSI A117.1. The technical provisions for plumbing are all contained in Chapter 6. The section numbers referred to in the following discussion of differences between the current and proposed ADAAG are those of the draft final rule.
Third, the current guidelines in many cases refer to figures for specific requirements. The new ADAAG will continue to include figures, but they are only provided for informational purposes to illustrate specific requirements. All requirements are spelled out in the text of the guidelines (104.3). One need no longer refer to figures to determine what is required by the guidelines. In fact, while care was taken to ensure that the figures do not show anything that is not stated in the text, if there is any question as to what is required, one must now refer to the text and not the figures to determine the requirements.
Reach RangesA significant change that can affect the design and arrangement of toilet and bathing rooms occurs in reach ranges. The height for an unobstructed high side reach has been reduced from 54 inches to 48 inches maximum (308.3.1). This change was adopted in response to data provided by the Little People of America and is intended to improve access for people of short stature. This change may affect the customary location of many controls, operation mechanisms and elements such as waste receptacles, coat hooks, dispensers, hand dryers, storage shelves and other such elements in toilet and bathing rooms.
Children's FacilitiesThe draft final rule includes the various scoping and technical provisions for children's facilities that were developed and adopted by the Access Board in a separate rulemaking process (102). The provisions for children's facilities typically appear as exceptions to the general requirements that would otherwise be based on adult anthropometrics, although water closet requirements and toilet compartment requirements for children's facilities are contained in their own dedicated subsection (604.9).
Drinking FountainsThe scoping provisions for drinking fountains have been editorially and substantially revised in several ways for clarity (211). Reference to water coolers has been removed, primarily because the guidelines do not cover elements that are not fixed or plumbed. The current guidelines are interpreted to apply to drinking fountains provided on a site as well as on a floor of a building, but lacks specificity with regard to exterior locations. The draft final rule explicitly states applicability to drinking fountains that are provided on a site and within a building (211.1).
The draft final rule no longer makes reference to "hi-lo" drinking fountains but clearly states that no fewer than two drinking fountains are to be provided (211.2). Fifty percent of the total number of drinking fountains provided must be wheelchair accessible, and 50% must accommodate people who have difficulty bending or stooping. An exception specifically allows a single unit that provides both types of access in lieu of a multiple fixture installation. When the 50% rule results in an odd number of fixtures, the draft final rule allows the resulting number to be rounded up or down.
Wheelchair accessible drinking fountains must now provide knee and toe clearance for a forward approach (602.2). A parallel (side) approach is no longer permitted for free standing and built-in units. Side approach will be allowed at certain drinking fountains for children's use.
The details for water flow height and location are spelled out in more detail and no longer refer to being able insert a cup under the water flow (602.6).
The minimum height above the floor for drinking fountains for standing persons has been lowered from 39 inches to 38 inches (602.7). The maximum height of 43 inches is unchanged.
Water ClosetsThe draft final rule changes the distance from the sidewall or partition to the centerline of the water closet from an absolute dimension of 18 inches to a range of 16-18 inches (604.2). This should resolve what has been a difficult enforcement issue that has heretofore been based on the non-uniform interpretation of unstated allowable tolerances for water closet installation.
Figure 28 of the current ADAAG infers that a lavatory is allowed to project into the clear floor space for a toilet, but the text is not specific either way. The draft final rule is now specific as to which elements, such as grab bars, dispensers and the like, are allowed to project into the clear floor space. Lavatories are not included in the list and are therefore not allowed to project into the required clear floor space at a water closet (604.3.2).
TolerancesOn the subject of tolerances, the draft final rule will no longer allow tolerances for dimensions that are stated as a specific minimum and maximum range (104.1.1). For example, the water closet location discussed above is stated as a specific range of 16-18 inches from the sidewall. Because a specific range of dimensions provides more flexibility than an absolute dimension, designers and installers will be expected to strategically detail construction plans and specifications, and provide an installation that falls within the specified range. There will be no tolerance allowed outside the specified range.
UrinalsThe revision process for the guidelines revealed significant disagreement over the need for accessible urinals. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most wheelchair users will not use a urinal, opting for the privacy of a toilet compartment. This raised the question as to whether the requirement for accessible urinals is justified. Comments received by the Access Board indicated that there are some wheelchair users who use urinals, prompting the board to continue to require accessible urinals, but only where two or more urinals are provided (213.3.3).
Current guidelines require flush controls for urinals to be mounted 44 inches maximum above the floor. The draft final rule provides somewhat more flexibility by requiring controls to be within any of the allowable general reach range dimensions without specifying a particular dimension (605.4).
Current guidelines require an accessible urinal to have an elongated rim but do not provide any guidance as to what constitutes an acceptable elongation. The draft final rule replaces that statement with a specific minimum dimension of 13 1/2 inches measured from the outer face of the rim to the back of the fixture.