Ensuring Upgrades Meet ADA Standards

Your school might have the most innovative programs, but they won't be successful unless you can get people into the building.

That means doors that are accessible to everybody, especially people with disabilities. As more schools renovate and upgrade their facilities, planners need to be aware of the accessibility standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"When a lot of these schools were built in the 1930s and 40s, nobody was thinking about this stuff," says Kathy Gips, director of training for Adaptive Environments Center, Boston.

Through its ADA National Access for Public Schools Project, funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Adaptive Environments provides training to help schools meet ADA regulations.

Maximum extent feasible When it is not technically feasible to meet the accessibility standards, alterations "that could affect the usability of a facility must be made in an accessible manner to the maximum extent feasible."

The regulations define "technically infeasible" as building alterations that have "little likelihood of being accomplished because existing structural conditions would require removing or altering a load-bearing member which is an essential part of the structural frame" or that have other physical or site constraints that prohibit modifications.

In new construction, ADA guidelines call for all internal doors and 50 percent of external doors to be accessible. For retrofitting of older buildings, the standard is enough accessibility to allow participation in the programs being offered.

"You don't have to change every door," says Gips. "And if you have five elementary schools, you don't necessarily have to make all of them accessible." Gips also notes that schools have to consider more than students and staff in determining where buildings need accessibility.

"You have to think of the whole community-parents and the public, as well as students. You need to look at where you hold your events."

Other regulations to be familiar with:

-A door must have at least 32 inches of clearance when it is open at 90 degrees. If doorways have two independently operated door leaves, at least one of the doors must meet the 32-inch guideline.

-A doorway threshold should be beveled and no higher than one-half inch.

-Round doorknobs are not considered accessible. Use handles that are easy to grasp and do not require tight grasping, tight pinching or twisting, such as levers, U-shaped handles and crash bars.

-The force needed for pushing or pulling open a door in a building's interior must be five pounds or less. ADA does not place pressure limits on exterior doors, but Gips recommends trying to have doors to the outside meet the same pressure standards as interior doors.

-If a door has a closer, then the sweep period of the closer shall be adjusted to allow a person with disabilities to get through. From an open position of 70 degrees, the door must take at least 3 seconds to move to a point three inches from the latch.

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