ADA Compliance & Site Development

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ADA Compliance & Site Development

July 26th, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The act was a monumental step in providing protections for Americans with disabilities and had a large effect on businesses and land development. ADA requirements promote inclusivity in areas of employment, public accommodations, public service, transportation and telecommunications. 

The Americans with Disabilities act impacted the role of civil engineers through regulated standards for accessible design known as ADA Accessible Guidelines (ADAAG). The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are derived from both this act and the subsequent amendment in 2008. State and local governments are also allowed to prescribe their own standards so long as they provide a greater level of accessibility than the federal standard.

The ADA standards outline site accessibility requirements, and how they are interpreted comes from years of case law and government guidance. So, anyone looking to develop a site would do well to recognize the impact of these standards. Federal, State and local jurisdictions all have specific requirements for accessible design and building standards. When investing in your next development or redevelopment project, it's important to talk to an engineering team with the experience necessary to guide ADA compliance practices. 

The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. If you are looking to develop or redevelop a site, you should seek guidance from a professionally licensed engineer or architect. Every site is different and carries its own set of unique challenges and requirements.

ADA Compliance
ADA structures that promote accessibility within development design.



Understanding ADA Standards During Site Design

Civil engineers have the responsibility of implementing ADA development standards throughout the design process, and serve as a resource for clients who have compliance concerns. With ADA lawsuits on the rise and a societal push toward greater corporate social responsibility, the emphasis on site accessibility continues to grow. Part of this emphasis includes hiring a qualified civil engineer to ensure sites are meeting accessibility requirements to the maximum extent feasible.

Many site features have to be reviewed for ADA compliance, and it’s worth looking at some common areas where problems can arise.

Pedestrian Access

Depending on the site use, pedestrian amenities and access may be required. This can include connections to public frontage and walkways to adjacent lots, these features help with pedestrian circulation and accommodate the use of public transportation.

Pedestrian access ways will have to be assessed for accessibility requirements. This can sometimes mean constructing a structure, such as a switch-back ramp, or strategically placing connection points to best work with site grades.

Parking Stall Placement & Layout

Accessible parking stalls, signage, and access aisles all require careful consideration. Accessible stalls must be placed as close to the primary building entrance as possible, be properly marked with paint striping and signs, and graded to less than 2% slope in any direction.

It is also important to ensure a sufficient number of accessible stalls are provided. This includes van parking and any stalls that provide access to other on-site amenities.

Accessible Ramps

Curb and sidewalk ramps are a common sight on any developed property. They may appear simple and straight forward, however ramp designs require a lot of consideration.

For example, if a sidewalk ramp exceeds a vertical elevation change of 6-inches, then an ADA compliant handrail must be provided. Other ramp considerations include landings, slopes, access widths, and use of truncated domes.

Potential Barriers

Even though a path of travel may meet general accessibility requirements, barriers could create a situation where a site is no longer in compliance with ADA standards.

This can include a scenario where a portion of a vehicle overhangs the sidewalk from an adjacent parking stall. If the sidewalk otherwise meets the minimum width requirement, this sidewalk would now be out of compliance due to the vehicle protruding into the sidewalk area.

Other potential barriers may include signs that are mounted too low, store front vending machines, or wall-mounted fixtures.

Ensuring Your Site is ADA Compliant

In addition to hiring a qualified civil engineer or architect, many companies are taking additional steps to ensure their sites are meeting accessibility requirements.

Some companies have gone as far as creating their own ADA compliance programs. These programs include training and corporate design standards that often exceed federal and local standards.

Developers will also contract to have post-construction ADA surveys completed. This provides a measure of assurance and they can make any necessary corrective measures prior to opening.

Looking Ahead

All site developers must consider accessibility in their site layouts, not doing so can result in higher costs down the road in the form of lawsuits and site remediation. Sites will continue to receive a high degree of scrutiny, and this is why it is important to be mindful of the challenges and involve a civil engineer or architect early on.


Want to talk to a civil engineer about your site? Contact us to get connected with a professional!


Written by Jason Carey, Senior Project Engineer.