Special Crazy Person Post

May 21, 2010

Normally I make an effort to avoid any controversy or politics on this blog.  But recent comments from US Senate Candidate Rand Paul and supporting statements from professional mustachio John Stossel have forced my hand.

Rand Paul in an interview with Rachel Maddow declared his dislike for the Title II of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations.

John Stossel said on the May 20 edition of Fox News’ America Live,

And I would go further than he was willing to go, as he just issued the statement, and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law… because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won’t won’t ever go to a place that’s racist and I will tell everybody else not to and I’ll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.”

Ok, so here is their logic as I see it: Businesses should be completely free to discriminate because that equals freedom (for the business owner).  If a business chooses to discriminate, the free market will punish them for their “boorish” behavior and they will lose to the non-discriminatory businesses.  Yeah, that worked really well prior to the Civil Rights Act.

But don’t let facts and history cloud the discussion.

Here are a few of the problems with permitting discrimination in public accommodations:

  • The market will choose to discriminate with the belief that it will benefit the business.  For instance, an apartment complex that wants to appeal to the hip and young may choose to refuse renting to the disabled, families with children or the elderly.  In this example, the apartment owners could be rewarded since young people would probably prefer to live in the complex that was full of young, active people like themselves.  Without the FHA a student with a disability would probably not be able to find private housing close to the campus.
  • Some public accommodations provide essential services.  Buying food is not optional.  In some communities, there may be only one grocery store.  What would happen if the owner of that grocery store didn’t like a particular ethnic group?  Some small communities cannot support more than one doctor.  Imagine if that Doctor thought that people with disabilities were too much risk, could the Doctor just tell them to move out of town?
  • In some cases, an entire community is developed by one private entity.  This entity may sell all of the houses and be the landlord for 100% of the commercial business.   In this situation, there would be no “free market” to prevent discrimination.

Discrimination is wrong.  Morally and ethically wrong.  If you want to do business in the US, then you must follow our rules.  It is because of our self organization as a government that we have the peace, protection and economy to run private business.

Rand and John are wrong on this issue.


FHA Specification A or Specification B Bathrooms

April 7, 2010

Residential dwelling units that must meet the design requirements of the Fair Housing Act are referred to as “covered units”.  The ANSI A117.1 Type B dwelling unit is equivalent to a “covered unit”.

All of the bathrooms within a covered unit shall meet the following requirements:

  1. be on an accessible route,
  2. have 32″ nominal clear width doorways (a 34″ door will suffice),
  3. have switches, outlets, and controls in accessible locations,
  4. have reinforcing around toilets, tubs, and showers for the future installation of grab bars.

Powder rooms (toilet rooms without a bathtub or shower) shall comply with all of the above except the reinforcement in the walls is not required.

In addition to these 4 requirements, the bathrooms must comply with the clear floor space requirements of either Specification A or Specification B.   If Spec A is selected, the clear floor spaces apply to all of the bathrooms in the unit and each fixture in those bathrooms.  If Spec B is selected, the clear floor spaces apply to just one bathroom and to just one of each type of fixture in the bathroom.

In both Spec A and Spec B bathrooms, clear floor space is required at the lavatory, water closet, bathtub and a 30″ by 48″ clear floor space must be provided beyond the swing of the door so that the user can enter and close the door.

Spec B bathrooms require a bit more clear floor space and are usually larger than Spec A bathrooms.   The most noticeable difference is that in a Spec B bathroom a parallel approach clear floor space is required at the control end of the bathtub.

If there is only one bathroom in a dwelling unit, it is permissible to use either Spec A or Spec B.

The following pages are taken from the Fair Housing Act Design Manual

Specification A Example: fairch7 36

Specification B Example: fairch7 37

Powder Room Example: fairch7 38

Note that if a powder room is the only toilet facility on the entry level of a covered multi-story unit, it must have reinforcing in the walls and conform to either the Spec A or Spec B requirements.

Flexible Curbs for Accessible Roll-in Showers

February 13, 2009
The Water Stopper

The Water Stopper

At the Texas Society of Architects convention in Fort Worth last year I came across an interesting product marketed by Best Bath Systems called the Water Stopper.

The Water Stopper is a 1-3/8″ tall rubber fin that can be installed at the entry to an accessible shower to prevent water from flowing out of the enclosure.  The fin is flexible enough that it is supposed to flatten down to 1/4″ when a wheelchair rolls over it.  It seems like a great solution, but does it comply with the ADAAG?

Roll-in showers are not permitted to have curbs and smaller transfer-type showers are permitted to only have 1/2″ high curbs.  If you are retrofitting a shower or if you have a lousy tile guy, you will likely have water spilling from the shower enclosure and flowing into your bedroom.  This is a common problem.

From the ADAAG (1991) – 4.21.7 Curbs. If provided, curbs in shower stalls 36 in by 36 in (915 mm by 915 mm) shall be no higher than 1/2 in (13 mm). Shower stalls that are 30 in by 60 in (760 mm by 1525 mm) minimum shall not have curbs.

From the revised ADA/ABAAG (2004) – 608.7 Thresholds.  Thresholds in roll-in type shower compartments shall be 1/2 inch (13 mm) high maximum in accordance with 303.  In transfer type shower compartments, thresholds 1/2 inch (13 mm) high maximum shall be beveled, rounded, or vertical. EXCEPTION:  A threshold 2 inches (51 mm) high maximum shall be permitted in transfer type shower compartments in existing facilities where provision of a 1/2 inch (13 mm) high threshold would disturb the structural reinforcement of the floor slab.

My thoughts on the Water Stopper:

  • The ADAAG does not prohibit new technologies.  We should always be on the lookout for creative solutions.
  • The prohibition on curbs was intended for hard curbs.  The old ADAAG refers to curbs, the revised ADAAG calls them thresholds and is a bit less restrictive, but neither guideline refers to flexible or removable systems.
  • The Water Stopper does not seem to limit the function of a wheelchair.  Although I did not perform any scientific studies, I shared the product with several wheelchairs users who had no problems rolling over it.
  • The Water Stopper is supposed to be easy to remove (It attaches with a pre-installed glue strip).  The fact that it can be removed isn’t a plus for transient lodging, but in assistive living or within a residential facility where the occupant is more permanent the adaptability is a good thing.
  • The only reservation I had was that the 1-3/8″ height could be an issue if individuals trying to transfer into a shower get their foot hung up on the fin, but if the revised ADAAG will permit a 2″ hard curb in existing conditions, then this must not be too much of a problem.  None of the wheelchair users I spoke with had any concern about it.

Best Baths has a verbal interpretation from the Access-Board that the Water Stopper is in the “spirit of the code” [sic] and I would agree with that assessment.

In my opinion, this flexible curb should be accepted as equivalent facilitation.  Let me know what you think.

103 Equivalent Facilitation

Nothing in these requirements prevents the use of designs, products, or technologies as alternatives to those prescribed, provided they result in substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability.

Advisory 103 Equivalent Facilitation.  The responsibility for demonstrating equivalent facilitation in the event of a challenge rests with the covered entity. With the exception of transit facilities, which are covered by regulations issued by the Department of Transportation, there is no process for certifying that an alternative design provides equivalent facilitation.

Godzilla vs. Disability Law

February 6, 2009

I bet you did not know that Godzilla was a civil rights pioneer.  Before President Johnson signed the Architectural Barriers Act in 1968, Godzilla was crushing people with disabilities without prejudice.  Before we had the Fair Housing Act, Godzilla was indiscriminately destroying the homes of people regardless of their abilities, race, religion or familial status.

Click on the little one to get the big one.

A timeline comparing Godzilla Movies and Disability Law

A timeline comparing Godzilla Movies and Disability Law

Type A, Type B, Spec A, Spec B

August 8, 2008

No, the title of this post is not a Dada Poem.

These are terms used to describe dwelling units subject to the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  And they are some of the most confusing terms, but confusion keeps me in business so who am I to complain.

In a typical apartment complex, if you are using the IBC 2006 as your safe harbor code for complying with the design requirements of the FHA, 2% of the units are required to be Type A units.  A Type A unit requires more clear floor space, maneuvering clearance at doors and other features that are not required in a Type B unit.

If you are using the FHA Design Manual as your Safe Harbor, Type A Units are not required.  In a non-elevator building, except for the Type A units, all ground floor units are required to be Type B units.

Now here’s the confusing bit: Type A units only have one set of rules for the bathrooms, but in the Type B Units, you can have either Specification A or Specification B bathrooms.  I’ll explain the difference in a later post.

Fair Housing Act – Covered Units

July 21, 2008

Question: Do all apartments have to comply with FHA requirements and clearances or can apartments funded with private money be exempt? For example, would all interior apartment doors need to comply with the 2′-10″ door width even for apartments funded with private money?

Scroll to the bottom for the short answer…

This is a common question.  The FHA design requirements apply to multi-family housing regardless of how it is funded.  There will be additional requirements for some federally funded facilities.  In a multi-story building without an elevator, the design requirements apply only to the units at grade (CAUTION: some buildings may have more than one floor at grade).  In a multi-story building with an elevator, all units on all floors are subject to the design requirements.

Dwelling units subject to the design requirements are referred to as “covered units”.  Covered units must comply with Design Requirements 2 thru 7.

Requirement 3 is “Usable Doors”.  Unlike an accessible door, a usable door does not require lever hardware or accessible maneuvering clearances.  Additionally, while an accessible door must have a clear width of 32″ minimum, a usable door has a clear width of 32″ nominal.   This permits the use of a 2′-10″ door with a 31-5/8″ clear opening.

Nom-i-nal, adj.

1. Not really.  The architect had a nominal understanding of the building code.

Actually, nominal is better defined as “so-called”, such as a 2×4 is actually 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″.

All doors that require user passage within covered units shall be usable.  Doors serving shallow closets or other spaces that do not require user passage may have smaller doors.

I know this is a long way to answer the question above, but in short:

Yes, Yes.