Accessing hygiene: remaining ADA compliant after building changes

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets standards and regulations to guarantee access and accommodations to individuals with disabilities.

In an effort to limit the number of surfaces that people touch in a building, and stop the spread of infections, changes are being made to facilities across the U.S. As new products and fixtures are newly implemented into facilities with viruses and bacteria in mind, ADA compliance cannot be forgotten.

ADA-compliant restrooms

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) is an available resource for determining whether or not a restroom is ADA-compliant. Walking through your building with a tape measure and referring to the ADAAG guidelines to find what needs to be changed is a completely free way of ensuring ADA-compliance.

An ADA-compliant restroom will have to follow guidelines on the height of toilet seats, toilet paper dispensers, sinks, etc. The restrooms will also need to have a clear circle of at least 60 inches around the side wall and 56 inches from the rear wall to allow a wheelchair to turn. The door cannot swing into the minimum required area for wheelchair-accessible toilet compartments.

The measurements of the room will ideally be ADA-compliant already. But, when installing any new fixtures, changing the restroom’s layout, or doing other renovations, it is important to remain mindful of the ADA guidelines.

Going hands-free

The increased emphasis on hygiene created heightened demand in hands-free faucets and flushometers, hand sanitizing stations, trashcans, and touchless entryways. Building managers who are making the switch in their own facilities must not forget that solutions for managing hygiene that also aid those with disabilities have already been in existence for years.

Automatic sensor-operated doors address hygiene while allowing maneuvering and door operation that other solutions cannot provide to people with disabilities. The ADA requires hardware that can be easily operated without grasping or twisting as some door hardware can present challenges to people who have trouble grasping.

Drinking fountains and water coolers should provide a spout height of no more than 36 inches, with a spout at the front of the unit and a parallel water flow to comply with ADA requirements. If changes to current systems need to be made, consider replacing the old ones with another ADA-accepted unit instead of making adjustments that may create a problem for those with disabilities.

Many buildings with service counters were quick to install makeshift sneeze guards to protect both customers and employees. As decision makers in the facility consider permanent solutions, they must maintain the required 36-inch minimum length and height for people with disabilities.

 Returning to work

States across the U.S. are reaching varying stages of reopening, with some returning to more restrictive stages after the number of new cases of the virus surges when restrictions were lifted. The priority is keeping customers and workers safe. One thing the federal government forbids employers from forcing workers to take COVID-19 antibody tests to return to work.

“An antibody test at this time does not meet the ADA’s ‘job related and consistent with business necessity’ standard for medical examinations or inquiries for current employees,” the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explained in a Q&A. “Therefore, requiring antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace is not allowed under the ADA.”

The decision aligns with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.”

Unlike antibody tests, however, viral tests are allowed under the ADA. Viral tests detect if someone has COVID-19 at that time. “Employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others,” the EEOC said. “Therefore an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.”

Plan long-term

Signs, sneeze guards, sanitizing stations, etc. across many different types of facilities are quickly added into the building with a short-term plan in place. While the desire may be to plan short-term and hope to return to the way things were prior to closing and reopening mandates, facility managers need to remember that temporary structures are not exempt from ADA requirements.

For example, signs may be necessary to promote social distancing and notify people how many individuals are allowed into the building at a time. These signs should meet ADA standards on contrast, proportions, and height to assist the visually impaired.

Temporary screening stations to check temperatures upon entry will need gates, doors, and surfaces that are acceptable under ADA guidelines. Stations like these could be needed longer than anticipated, or they may be needed annually, while it is hard to tell how long to screen people entering the building consider what is needed to permanently implement it into the building.

What if my building is not ADA-compliant?

Hundreds of private ADA lawsuits have been filed in federal courts. Complaints include no accessible parking, website accessibility, no accessible restrooms to name just a few.

A commonly believed myth that will easily lead to tough situations is that buildings can be grandfathered in if they were build before ADA was signed into law in 1990. Buildings that were built prior to ADA were required to remove barriers and work towards compliance as of Jan. 1992.

The ADA is federal law, it isn’t going anywhere. Any changes made to your building should be well-documented with photos and measurements. Avoid the strains of a lawsuit by ensuring ADA compliance and fixing anything before it becomes an obstacle for people with disabilities entering your building.

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