The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, is a federal law preventing the discrimination of anyone with a disability. It's a serious matter, and if you're a business owner today with 15 or more full-time employees, you must comply - or accept the consequences. It requires that reasonable accommodations for handicapped people's accessibility to the business be made, including handicapped bathrooms, ADA compliant signs, and yes - elevators. And as with anything requiring federal guidelines, there are specifications for everything. Everything must meet these specs, and there are hundreds of pages of indecipherable legalese that most people cannot navigate. So, you ask the legitimate question, when is an elevator required by the ADA? In this article, we will attempt to make sense of some of the guidelines.
First of all, take note of the fact that just because a building may be exempt from having an ADA elevator, as described next, this does not mean they are exempt from meeting other ADA requirements. That said, private buildings with less than 3 floors or less than 3,000 square feet per floor, are not required to have an elevator, unless they are a shopping center or a professional office for a health care provider or public transportation facility or station, in most cases. This logically dictates that every other business must have an ADA elevator. Right? No, not exactly. This goes for any business constructed from 2010 until the present, and all new construction. All other older businesses are also obligated to meet all ADA requirements, or else have very good reasons why it would be impossible, or much too costly, and they still must make "reasonable accommodations" in lieu of the elevator, or similar reconstruction requirements. Although this is sort of a "gray area" that leaves a lot of room for opinion and/or conjecture, if you're a business owner trying to get around it, you better have an excellent, well thought out alternative. Liability lawsuits and federal fines can bankrupt your business quickly, if you're not extremely careful.
ADA Elevator Specifications
If you are a business that operates with 3 floors or more, you are required to have a public elevator, which is also required to be ADA accessible. So exactly what does that entail? Well, you're about to find out. Just like everything else with federal guidelines, these elevators must adhere to strict specifications. First, the elevator must be placed in a spot that is public and easily accessible. The cart in the elevator must be 51" deep X 68" wide, minimum, as it needs to be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair and the person needs to be able to turn around inside of it. The door must measure at least 36" wide, and must remain open for at least 3 full seconds in response to a call, as well as have a reopening device that detects when something is in the doorway.
Elevator Buttons & Signs
It gets a lot more specific when it comes to the elevator buttons and signage that is required. All buttons must be easily reached by a person in a wheelchair, first of all. They should not be higher than 48", and that includes the two-way communication system, used in case of an emergency. The "open" and "close" buttons should be placed above the emergency alarm button, and additionally, must be accompanied by symbols that are easily identifiable. The buttons themselves must be 0.75 inches in diameter minimum, and are to be centered at 42" from the floor.
Braille should be in textile lettering, placed either below or next to the floor buttons on the control panel. In any set of numbers, they must be in ascending order, to correlate with the ascending elevator. There also must be clear indicators of when the elevator arrives at a floor, like a flashing green light, and a recorded announcement, as well. There must be two-way radio communication available in the ADA accessible elevator, and the emergency controls must be in a group at the bottom of the control panel. But wait! There's more… These emergency controls are to be installed with their centerlines no less than 35" from the finish floor. Are you getting the distinct impression that this is a bit much? Well, before you judge too harshly, keep in mind that because many of these patrons are blind or mentally challenged, the system must be completely uniform in design, and there mustn't be too much room for alternatives. If strictly done in this way, someone who is blind, for example, can count on right where to (look) feel for the Braille instructions, when necessary. And, since elevators are considered a key component of being able to navigate the building, as well as make it out in case of an emergency, especially for those with disabilities, it is crucial that you have ADA signage in place, as well.