The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is about to be recodified, the result of an arduous four-year effort led by the disabled community, builders, architects, and developers that will extend the law's reach; miniature golf courses, for example, will now have to be ADA compliant, as will many other types of spaces. The new rules also clarify the ADA's often unrealistic construction formulations, such as the centerline distance of water closets to walls, which will henceforth have some latitude: 17 inches to 19 inches rather than a strict 18 inches. These are but two of the myriad changes expected once the Department of Justice adopts the revised rules, which are now open for public comment.
Since the law took effect in 1992, the world of the disabled has changed significantly: Not only has the Iraq war produced a new generation of severely disabled veterans, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 50 million Americans, almost 20 percent of the population, have some type of disability. Meeting the updated regulations will cost an estimated $25 billion, although the new rules will also "save" $54 billion under a complex formula that determines the value of public benefits to the disabled.
Even as the business world complains about the costs, some architects applaud the rewrite, saying it provides better details about specific building elements and more guidance about when the new regulations must be applied. "Basically, the whole mishmash of the ADA is much clearer than it was the first time around," says Dave Collins, president of Cincinnati-based architectural consulting firm The Preview Group. "This is a better set of regs than we had before?more comprehensive, more detailed, clearer, and easier to understand."
The new proposals would also make it easier to know when an ADA upgrade is necessary. "The language in the proposed rule allows you to use the last published guidelines as a safe harbor," said R.K. Stewart of the San Francisco office of Perkins+Will. "If you met them, there's some certainty that you'd be interpreted as having met the guidelines. They finally recognized grandfathering," he says. "This is a major step."
The period for public comments on the revised guidelines began on June 17 and will last for 60 days, ending in mid-August. The new guidelines will have the force of law once they are formally adopted by the Department of Justice sometime after that.