ADA Access: Project Retrofits and Upgrades

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

ADA-compliant residential boardwalk and ramp / image: Coastal Engineering Company, Inc.

Providing access and inclusion, to accommodate people of all abilities, continues to be a challenging proposition with many previously developed spaces. In 2013, the United States Access Board drafted guidelines for federally developed projects to harmonize with the International Building Code and to follow up on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The criteria developed from this process became mandatory in late 2013 and were incorporated into the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) accessibility standards. Amenity areas covered by these access requirements include camping facilities, picnic facilities, viewing areas, trails, and beach access routes. The requirements were not limited to only federal lands, but also covered federally funded projects.

Criteria and ideals developed during this process are great for addressing new projects, but what about previously developed spaces and retrofitting access and infrastructure to conform to the new standards?

Upgrading previously developed projects to meet codes and regulations of new construction can be an arduous task and tough to achieve in retrofit projects. Site constraints, costs, available revenues, end user input, and key stakeholder input can influence programming and inform which existing facilities are or are not upgraded. Inclusion goals and providing ADA access to previously developed sites can also vary widely from one municipality to another, and one region to another.

One constant is that individuals with disabilities are well aware of which facilities were designed for inclusion and which ones have not been upgraded for ADA access, inclusion, and mobility.

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