ADA Scoping and Tech Requirements

ADA Scoping and Technical Requirements: Two Birds of a Different Color

By Rick Hinrichs, President, Compliance Support Associates, Inc.

With the passage of the ADA in 1991, the U.S. Access Board issued the original set of accessibility guidelines known as the 1991 American’s with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, (1991 ADAAG). These standards were then codified into law as the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (28 C.F.R. Part 36, Appendix A). In the years following, the 1991 ADAAG standards quickly became outdated when compared to faster moving developments in the model building code industry, particularly the ICC A117.1 Standards for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, which are referenced by the International Building Code (IBC).

It wasn’t long before the need for harmonization was realized. By the end of the decade, restructuring of the 1991 ADAAG began and later came to fruition when the U.S. Access Board issued a revised set of guidelines in 2004 (aka, 2004 ADAAG), containing some 68 changes. However, it would take another eight years and some 20 years after the original enactment of the ADA for Congress to finally place the 2004 ADAAG into law as the newly revised 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The revised 2010 Standards became effective on March 15, 2012. With this official move by Congress, the ADA is now more harmonized than ever before with the model building code industry.

One consistent theme throughout both sets of ADA Standards has been the application and use of separate scoping and technical provisions. The 1991 ADA Standards accomplishes this in scoping section 4.1 and technical sections 4.2 through 4.35 (including special application sections 5 through 10). Similar to model building code, the 2010 ADA Standards provides scoping information specifically in Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements) and further technical provisions in Chapters 3 through 10.

A common error is for design professionals to concentrate solely on the technical requirements without determining first what the general “scoping” provisions are for a particular element design. ‘‘Scoping’’ is a term used to describe requirements that prescribe which elements and spaces—and, in some cases, how many—must comply with the technical specifications. Once this is accomplished and an initial scoping determination is made, technical requirements then tell the designer how the accessible element should be constructed and what finished specifications need to be applied in order to meet the stated objective criteria for access and overall use of the element. Simply put, scoping is the “what,” technical is the “how.”

For a design professional or ADA consultant to be truly accurate in determining building compliance, it is important that the specific scoping criteria be researched, understood and correctly applied to an accessible element prior to proceeding with other technical aspects of design. When determining whether scoping was correctly applied in older buildings, this can mean researching original construction dates and reviewing design standards in force at time of construction. For example, when performing a facility ADA review, designers or consultants may find themselves applying the technical requirements to just one accessible building entrance, when scoping provisions in the 1991 ADA Standards requires at least 50 percent of a buildings entrances meet the technical provisions. The 2010 ADA standards now require at least 60 percent of building entrances to be accessible, including at least one restricted entrance, previously viewed as exempt under the 1991 ADA Standards.

In the years to come, compliance with the American with Disabilities Act may only get more complex as universal design theories and inclusive philosophies focus on the central belief that all spaces should be inherently accessible for all users. As for now, designers and access consultants would do well by focusing on correctly identifying and applying both aspects of the ADA scoping and technical provisions to ensure that each newly constructed building and facility is constructed according to current ADA guidelines and in the most beneficial way to ensure disabled access.