While it may not seem like it should be, determining accessibility is often a messy area. How many inches wide does a doorway need to be to be accessible? How steep can a ramp be and still qualify as accessible? To answer these kinds of questions we have standards and codes that explicitly define what accessibility is. Yet architects and planners still need guidance, and disputes and lawsuits still need experts to help resolve them. That’s where United Spinal’s Accessibility Services team comes in.
For more than 25 years, United’s Accessibility Services division has been on the cutting edge of developing accessibility codes, creating guidelines to implement them and ensuring they are fairly enforced.
Since its inception, the ACS team has developed into a unique building department specializing in developing and applying accessibility requirements on projects throughout North America. Staffed by certified accessibility specialists, building inspectors, design professionals, plans examiners and an attorney, the ACS team works to ensure compliance on a wide variety of projects, including stadiums and arenas; malls and similar places of public accommodation; colleges and universities, as well as large multi-family residential projects.
“Actually working to develop the accessibility requirements that are applicable to the project helps us to better explain the objectives to the client,” says James Weisman, United Spinal’s general counsel. “After 68 years we know a thing or two about how to ensure accessibility in a building.”
The team takes pride in meeting or even exceeding minimum accessibility requirements. In addition to reviewing and commenting on plans, ACS staff complete inspections at various points during the construction process to ensure that all the work to perfect the plans is actually implemented.
“I think one of our best services that we offer is technical assistance,” says Dominic Marinelli, vice president of Accessibility Services. “No matter how often we are on-site, there is just no substitute for being able to call ACS, or send a quick sketch or photograph as a redundant check for compliance.”
As one of the longest-tenured providers of continuing education on accessibility requirements for the American Institute of Architects, ACS provides their experience in developing accessibility requirements and on their projects in credit-bearing trainings to architects, builders and engineers throughout the country.
In addition to large seminars presented in classrooms and auditoriums, ACS staff will go directly to the design firm, building department or even into the construction trailer in order to get the word out.
The work of the ACS team has become essential in responding to the epidemic of accessibility-based lawsuits by firms and individuals who are looking for financial settlements more than improvements in the accessibility provided at the building.
Drive-by accessibility lawsuits have become a cottage industry that goes against United Spinal Association’s core belief that working with building owners and explaining the requirements to their architects will result in the best accessibility possible for its 40,000-plus members and community-at-large.
“The facility in one lawsuit that we worked on was selected by the plaintiff’s law firm through Google-Earth,” says Weisman. “This gives accessibility a bad name.”
For more information on Accessibility Services, please visit contact Dominic Marinelli, 718/803-3783, ext. 7502 or firstname.lastname@example.org.