Update from the Texas Architectural Barriers Advisory Committee Meeting

November 9, 2010

I am guest blogging for the Texas Society of Architects.

Check it out here: New Accessibility Standards, Part I


Update on revising the Texas Accessibility Standards

September 30, 2010

If you are not subscribed to the TDLR List Server, do so now to keep up to date with the latest on revising the Texas Accessibility Standards.  Here is the link: http://www.license.state.tx.us/newsletters/TDLRnotificationLists.asp

Here is the latest from the Architectural Barrier List Server:

New Federal Accessibility Standards – The U. S. Department of Justice published the final rule which revises the regulations that implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with an enforcement date of March 15, 2012. The new federal accessibility standards will be known as the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (SAD). For more information about the new ADA final rule, visit the U.S. Department of Justice website or the U. S. Access Board’s website.
Plans to Update State Accessibility Standards – TDLR plans to hold an Architectural Barriers Advisory Board meeting on November 5, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. to discuss adopting new state standards based on the federal 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (SAD). The meeting will be broadcast and available to view live with RealPlayer. If you are interested in keeping apprized of these matters, you may wish to monitor TDLR’s Architectural Barriers web page or subscribe to TDLR’s E-mail Notification List for future updates.
Applicable State Accessibility Standards – In accordance with the Texas Architectural Barriers Act, Texas Government Code, Chapter 469, the applicable state standards are still the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS) which became effective April 1, 1994. TAS will remain effective until new state standards are adopted.

The Verti-Foot: A novel architectural invention.

July 21, 2009

While doing some research on architectural barriers, I stumbled upon this fascinating letter written by an architect in an old copy of “Latest Erections of Architects” magazine:

“I have devised an amazing assembly that will revolutionize the architectural world.  It’s described as a series of horizontal planes or “footpads”, each vertically offset a standard height from the adjacent plane.  Each footpad would be the depth of a normal human foot and of sufficient width to allow passage of at least one but probably not more than 4 adult humans.  This series of footpads will be called a “verti-foot”. Imagine that a pedestrian approaches the verti-foot and places his right foot (or her right foot, there is nothing to suggest that this novel invention could not also be operated by women) on the first footpad. By shifting his weight completely to his right foot, he would increase his vertical elevation by the elevation of the footpad.  The left foot is now free to move to the elevation of the second footpad and the process of shifting weight and increasing his elevation would continue, alternating right and left feet.  Those who are clever and architecturally literate will now begin to see how this contraption could be useful.  For if a significant number of footpads were joined together to create a verti-foot of sufficient vertical elevation, the pedestrian could elevate himself above the height of other pedestrians.  “What usefulness!” I’m certain the police and others involved in security may exclaim as they could elevate themselves to a better viewpoint to keep an eye on crowds or to watch for provocateurs.  But there is another clever potential use that only the more resourceful or commercially minded would recognize: if the roof of a building could be lifted and in its place an additional floor of sturdy wood slats and planking constructed above the “lower” floor leaving enough vertical clearance between to allow passage of a sizable male, a verti-foot could be conveniently located to provide a vertical passageway to the “upper” floor.  Now the floor area of the building has almost doubled without need for more real estate.  I’m afraid that the poor realtor may now see his profits cut in half, but such is progress.  The only possible limiting factor to the verti-foot is that only pedestrians will be able to appreciate its benefits.  Sadly, our brave war veterans and the infirm who find themselves restrained by wheeled chairs will not find much use for the verti-foot since the vertical changes would create a sort of “architectural barrier”.  Perhaps a modified verti-foot, called a “verti-lever”, with slightly angled and continuous footpads that did away with the sudden vertical changes may act as a sort of lever to allow even a wheeled chair to ascend, but this technology is probably not possible even within this industrious century.”

Unfortunately, the author’s name was obscured by a cigarette burn and we will never know the name of this architectural genius….unless I try to find another copy, but really, who has time for that?

Disabled Access Tax Credit

April 17, 2009

Did you know that there is a tax credit available for small businesses that remove architectural barriers. That’s a tax CREDIT, not just a deduction, equal to half of the expenditures for eligible accommodations that are above $250.  The maximum credit is $5000.

The following is excerpted from: Center for Disabilities Issues and the Health Professions

The credit is available every year and may be used for a variety of costs such as:

  • Sign language interpreters for employees and/or customers who have hearing impairments;
  • Readers for employees and/or customers who have visual impairments;
  • Purchase of adaptive equipment or the modification of equipment;
  • Production of print materials in alternate formats (e.g., Braille, CD, audio tape, large print); and
  • Removal of barriers, in buildings and transportation, that prevents a business from being accessible to, or usable by, people with disabilities.

“Most importantly for the purpose of the practitioner, Code Section 44 requires that eligible access expenditures must be reasonable and necessary to comply with the ADA requirements.”

My focus is on the removal of barriers.  For instance, a lawyer could use this tax credit, to build a ramp to the front entry and an accessible toilet room in an existing office space.  But the bigger issue is providing service to individuals with hearing or vision impairments.

A recent Freakonomics article “The Price of Disability Law“, concluded that the added cost of hiring a sign-language interpreter for a patient with a hearing impairment was a disincentive for a doctor to provide services for people with disabilities.  The article also references a lawsuit where a Dr. was ordered to pay $400,000.00 to a deaf patient. The doctor was probably not aware of the tax incentive that could have gone a long way to covering his expenses related to serving this particular patient.

Thanks to www.jenxer.com for reminding me of this tax credit.

The Convention – Fiction

December 31, 2008

I am a bit over six foot tall, bipedal, and sighted. These aspects I had always taken for granted. 

The morning of the convention I arrived early just to make sure everything was ready to go. The attendees would be arriving in a few hours expecting copious amounts of food, entertainment, SWAG1 and if they must, a bit of education. This wasn’t the first event I had planned, but it was certainly the biggest and most complicated. Based on the comments from last years convention, I would be OK if I provided both types of coffee morning and afternoon with lactose free creamer and blue, pink and yellow sweetener, both types of soda, also morning and afternoon, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, nut-free lunches, iced tea (sweet and unsweet) and an afternoon cookie snack. The evening would include BBQ and entertainment and I knew that the comment cards would give me plenty of pointers on how the convention could be made better next year. For a volunteer job it was surprisingly un-rewarding.

Like most hotel convention centers, there was an abundance of parking. Still, I found myself parking by the dumpster. The entry was easy to find but a bit a unusual. As I approached, I realized that the doors were closer than they first seemed. And quite a bit smaller. It reminded me of that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wilder not Depp, where as they enter the factory the hallway seems really long, but it’s an illusion, a tiny door at the end of a narrowing hallway. I actually had to duck to go through. I suppose the local building officials were quite lenient.

Just inside a receptionist-slash-security guard sat at a modern brushed steel and synthetic stone desk.

I’m not capable of leaving-well-enough-alone, so I inquired, “Why are these doors so short?”

“Good morning,” she responded politely to reinforce my faux pas. “These doors are plenty tall for most of our guests.”

“What? I had to duck to get inside and I’m not THAT tall. How could this not be inconvenient for most of your guests?”

“It’s obvious. The mean height of our guests is exactly 5′-6”. 50% are shorter than the mean height. Add all of those who are in wheelchairs or walk with a stoop and more than 50%, or put another way, MOST are under 5′-6”. She said this with too much delight. “So you see, we just can’t accommodate everyone. The problem is not that our doors are too short, but that you are 6” too tall. Frank Lloyd Wright would agree with me.” This said as though Wright was some authority on architecture.

I wandered off without asking for directions. All of the events were to be held in the Grand Ballroom, so I headed down the widest corridor expecting to easily find it. Unfortunately there were quite a few meeting rooms, all of which seemed quite grand but there were no signs. Finally, I found someone replacing light bulbs, also no taller than 5′-6”.

I interrupted his work,”Excuse me, can you direct me to the Grand Ballroom?”

His look was response enough but still he replied, “Why don’t you just read the sign? You’re standing in front of it.” He gestured towards a cream colored placard almost invisible on the cream colored wall. At first it appeared there were no words on the sign, but on closer inspection there were placard-colored raised letters with Braille characters beneath. The raised letters spelled “Bag of Sand”.

“Hey, this says Bag of Sand.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “It’s Cockney rhyming slang. Bag-o-sand….Grand. Obviously.”

“O.K….., “ I let this sink in, “But the Braille doesn’t seem to match, I know enough Braille characters to guess that the Braille spells Grand.”

“Look if you knew how to read Braille, why are you bothering me?”

“I’m just confused. The signs are almost impossible to read since they are all one color and for some odd reason are written in an obscure street slang and only the Braille has the correct room name.”

Another responsive expression, “Hey Mister, what do you want? It’s not practical for us to try and accommodate every sighted, non-Cockney visitor. The signs would be 6′ tall.” He quickly vanished with his light bulb cart before I could challenge this further.

I ducked into the “Bag of Sand” and began scraping the wall for a light switch. My eyes adjusted to the dim light from the few windows and rare emergency lights just in time to be startled by Victoria, my event coordinator. Also no taller than 5′-6”. I was beginning to suspect that this was a prerequisite for employment (Would that be covered by the ADA2?).

“Good morning,” she sang. “How does it look?”

“Hi Victoria, it’s a bit dark. I was just feeling around for the light switch.”

“That wouldn’t do you much good since there are no light bulbs.”

“er,” I wittily retorted.

“You should have let us know that you would be having sighted guests. I’ll have to check with Robert, he’s responsible for accommodating our special needs guests.” She needled out a message on her mobile, presumably to Robert.

“…er, special needs?” actual words this time.

“I just hope that the bulbs aren’t being used already. You really should have given us advanced notice,” without allowing further interruption, “the tables are all set-up and the banquet has both kinds of soda and coffee, all three kinds of sweetener, does anyone use sugar anymore, and the cookies are baking. What else?”

“Chairs?” I said with all the hope I could muster.

“Oh, you didn’t bring any? All of our guests in wheelchairs bring their own, but since you are bipedal and probably don’t like crouching for hours on end I suppose we will have to order some chairs. I’ll inform Robert.”

“Please do,” I pleaded risking a glance at my watch.

Victoria furiously tap-tapped to Robert.

“Thanks. One more thing,” cautiously now, “I’m a bit of a safety wonk, could you point out the emergency exits?”

“Why? Are you planning on starting a fire?”

Despite all of the setbacks, the convention was a success. Or not a complete disaster. The bulbs didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon and the chairs were being unloaded as we left for the evening. At least we could sit on day two.

The kudos/complaint ratio on the feedback forms was similar to previous years. Surprisingly few complaints about the lack of signage, chairs, light or fire exits, but several complaints about the sugar-free cookies.

There was one very complimentary response from Sean, the blind, Cockney arsonist in a wheelchair. He had a great time.

1Convention freebies or Stuff We All Get.

2Probably not, since being 6′ tall is not a disability as defined by the ADA….in the real world, but in this fictional story it apparently does affect a major life function.