Steps Toward Compliance

Accessibility consultant William Magazine of Employabilities Accessibility and Accommodation
Services suggests that businesses owners approach ADA compliance with a four-step plan:

  1. Analyze barriers--You can attain a barrier-removal checklist free of charge from the Great Lakes
    Disabilities and Business Technical Assistance Center: 800/949-4ADA. Local organizations also can
    send representatives who can help you identify barriers. Some examples: Allen County League for
    the Blind, 219/745-5491; Breaking New Ground, 313/444-5088; Everybody Counts,
    219/769-5055; Indianapolis Resource Center for Independent Living, 317/641-0611,
  2. Get cost estimates--Speak to two or three contractors. Make it the contractor's responsibility to
    comply with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, so that if completed work is unacceptable, you will
    not be financially responsible for making changes.

  3. 3. Determine in what order you will remove barriers--Use Department of Justice priorities and your
    own budget to decide which modifications to undertake first. For example, you may be able to make
    your entrance accessible simply by replacing doorknobs with levers.

    4. Remove all barriers--If you can't afford a complete overhaul immediately, set up a plan. You may
    want to put aside a percentage of your profits regularly for this purpose. At the very least, take
    temporary alternative measures.

    As a final tip, Magazine adds that your clients may be your best guides: "Speak to your disabled
    customers. Interact. Meeting their specific needs may be much less complicated than you think."
    With this detailed report in hand, Finke's work began. Instead of handing the instructions over to the
    plumbers and construction crews, Finke carefully considered the best way to meet every

    His role was to act as an advocate for the owner by searching carefully for the best solution to every
    issue, starting with the parking lots and working his way along each path of travel. The major part of
    this job involved finding the least expensive, working alternative.

    Parking issues dealt mainly with where to put the disabled spaces and how to fit them in. In addition,
    sidewalks near the entrances of the buildings had to be reconstructed because they did not have
    acceptable cross slopes.

    Bringing the entrances of the building up to compliance was one of the major tasks of the rehab
    project. The building had a revolving door which obviously limited accessibility.

    Finke recommended electrically-assisted door operators, although a little more expensive, because
    he says, "Although the ADA doesn't specify a maximum allowable force to open exterior doors, the
    Illinois Environmental Barriers Act incorporates the American National Standards Institute standard
    of not more than 8.5 pounds."

    Typical exterior doors are set to operate with 15 to 20 pounds of operating force, but when the
    closers are adjusted to limit the force they would not allow enough strength to hold the doors closed
    in a stiff wind.

    The company also decided to add a vestibule to cut down on the draftiness at the entrance. Because
    seven feet of separation is required between the inner and outer entrance doors of the vestibule, the
    glass line at the front of the building also had to be changed. Just the redesign of the entrance alone
    cost the owner $75,000 for each building.

    The next step was to redesign the elevators. Each cab needed updated interior walls, carpet, and
    handrails. The cab control panels were rebuilt to put operating and alarm buttons at ADA-specified
    heights, and emergency speaker phones were brought into compliance. A total of $200,000 was
    spent to renovate four elevators, but the premium spent on ADA compliance was only about

    As in many renovation projects, the restrooms required the most careful planning. When the
    buildings were built, code only required accessible washrooms on every third floor. And although
    sometimes removing a toilet will solve space constrictions, plumbing codes for the area did not allow
    Finke to remove any of the stalls.

    A comprehensive survey of every washroom provided Finke with measurements of every element in
    the 24 washrooms in both buildings. He then drew up 30 pages of drawings for the washrooms
    alone. The drawings covered everything, including the door entries, urinals, toilet paper dispensers,
    grab bars, mirrors, and lavatories.

    Of the 24 toilet seats, the team will only end up having to rip open the wall to adjust the height for
    five. The other toilets will be brought into compliance using less expensive measures, including
    grinding the floor down, adding toilet seats that were not more than 1 1/2 inches high, or using offset
    bowls. Comparison shopping really pays off here. Finke says, "Where we could have easily have
    spent $30,000 to $40,000, we only spent $4,000 to $5,000 total."

    Other ADA modifications involve smaller investments such as ADA-compliant fire alarms and
    adding cup holders to the drinking fountains.