Business Leaders Assure Access for Everyone

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 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Under Title III of the act, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation – giving those who build new buildings and do remodels another aspect to consider when designing and building.

Several businesses with reputations for being leaders in our community in considering access for all citizens and universal design describe how ADA regulations have affected business in Central Oregon: David Olsen, senior associate and project manager for David Evans and Associates; Marney Smith, operations director for the Les Schwab Amphitheater; Mike Gorman, principal for GGL Architecture; Susan Duncan, president of The ABCs of Accessibility; Tony Sprando, president of Audio Visual Presentations and Brent Wilson, president of Wilson Curbs.

1. What is your business doing to assure access for all citizens of <Bend>?

Olsen: DEA works with both the city and county on a regular basis and on a project-by-project basis providing professional design services for public and private development projects.

Smith: The Les Schwab Amphitheater has made some improvements over the past year to help insure greater accessibility for our guests at events. Some of the improvements include modification of sidewalks to meet ADA required maximum slopes, the addition of an accessible walkway from the sidewalk to Will Call, added additional ADA parking and a larger ADA seating area, and have accessibility maps available for our guests, and more visible signage.

Gorman: As an architect I am required to make sure all new buildings my firm designs, as well as buildings that we remodeled, meet ADA requirements and are accessible to the public.

Duncan: We relocated our firm to Bend nearly two years ago and have been supporting the great need for improved access in our community. We have had the opportunity to work with several clients including Deschutes County, COCC, The Chamber of Commerce, CORIL and The City of Bend. We have provided sensitivity and awareness training called the Spirit of Accessibility, provided ADA training and physical ADA surveys of existing facilities, noting non-compliant elements and providing recommendations.

Sprando: When working with businesses or other organizations, in design and in selling products, we will use not only ADA standards but often exceed those standards in what we recommend.
Wilson: Wilson Curb employees have spent extensive hours researching the rules of ADAAG.  We do our best to comply with the ADAAG rules when installing curbs and ramps so that they are accessible to all people.  Wilson Curb works closely with the city to ensure the work we do follows the ADAAG guidelines.

Ralston: Our firm, HSR, has worked with the City of Bend over the past several years on projects for the Public Works Department and the police. We will also be providing services for providing accessibility at the existing Public Works main building. As designers of public facilities we have focused on issues, laws, codes and regulations both state and federal regarding accessibility. We make every effort to be sure our work is completely accessible. That is after all our job.

2. You’ve heard the phrase “Good Access Makes Good Business.”  How have you found that that phrase applies to what you do?

Smith: Of course. By providing better accessibility to our venue, we widen our customer base. We work hard at providing a diverse and unique event lineup for the community of Bend, including our free concerts every Sunday, ticketed concerts, kite festival and other events. It just makes sense to do our best to make sure our events are available to those who would like to attend.

Gorman: No, I have not heard of this phrase. I agree that every business should have good access as best feasible. It is impractical for some business to be accessible based on existing topography of their site and when their buildings were built.
Duncan: We helped coin the term “Good Access Makes Good Business” in our work with the Chamber of Commerce educational series last summer. We feel education is a vital link to embracing equality!
Sprando: For us, who serve customers who serve end users, it is a opportunity for us to make sure our solutions include accessibility answers. That way, our customers better serve their disabled customers or employees or volunteers, and everyone is happy. This also generates more good will and referrals. For example, making sure our customers have proper signage so people can locate assisted listening devices in a building or room, and universal access to equipment controls.
Wilson: ADAAG has done much research to create a design that best fits the public.  By using the guidelines we are ensured to deliver a product that will best meet the needs of the community.  We hope that by giving our customers a product that meets the needs of all community members, those members may have access to resources without hindrances, thus creating good business.

Ralston: Absolutely. As I said above, good access is our job. Our clients depend on us to be familiar with ADA requirements and count on us to incorporate them into our designs both new and remodel in a creative way. We try to blend accessible pathways and other elements into the over design seamlessly, so that they do not stand out and are integral with the overall building concept.

3. How does the <ADA> fit into business?

Olsen: Doing our job effectively depends on our ability to provide creative solutions and ideas to this very basic right of all Central Oregonians – equal access opportunities. We try to incorporate all elements of site design into our initial design concepts and ultimately into the constructed environment.

Smith: By having a business that is accessible to persons with disabilities we have a greater chance at success. We make money by selling tickets. If someone doesn’t buy a ticket because they are concerned with being able to access the venue, that affects us. We want to be part of the Central Oregon community, and the community has to want us to be here. The Central Oregon community is comprised of persons with disabilities, children, seniors, individuals. We have worked hard to ensure the amphitheater and Old Mill District as a whole is family friendly. In the same vein, we are working to ensure we are ADA friendly.

Gorman: My sister-in-law is disabled and in a wheelchair, thus I know the issues with accessibility even for family gatherings at my mom’s house. As a business, when we decided to build our own building we made sure that it met the requirements of ADA as best interpreted at that point of time. We even provide an elevator to the second floor for long-term use of our building by other future businesses and their clients.

Duncan: The Americans with Disabilities Act (of 1990) is first and foremost a Civil Rights Law. We began working with public and private entities in 1991 shortly after the act was enacted to assist them in understanding the intent of the law and helping them become compliant.  Our work with the ADA has been about 65 percent of our client work.

Sprando: ADA gives businesses parameters which help us make sure that ALL customers are better served. If access is easier for those most disadvantaged or disabled, it makes things much more so for every person. It also helps us keep a stronger customer service mindset, when sometimes businesses can be more focused on the technical or performance aspects or a product or service.
Wilson: ADA provides an equal access to businesses for those with disabilities.  Business operators must create an atmosphere that accommodates all clients.  ADA helps businesses better understand the needs of disabled community members, by providing a document that outlines those needs.  Due to this, our company has been able to accommodate other businesses, as well as the city, with the installation of ADA ramps.

Ralston: In our business it is key that we design to accessible standards. If we do not we are: a) irresponsible and b) probably out of business. In other businesses (and public buildings) it is key for all members of the public to have access to goods, commerce and services.

4. What efforts have you made to adapt to regulations?

Olsen: DEA is working with the City of Bend as a member of the ADA Committee, setting policy and practice regarding accessibility issues and challenges.

Smith: As stated in question 1, we have modified sidewalks and walkways, improved parking and signage. We will continually look for ways to improve the venue and accommodate our guests the best way possible.

Gorman: We attend seminars every year put on by ADA groups as well as government agencies to keep up on the ever changing interpretations of the American with Disabilities Act. The challenge is that interpretations of ADA requirements are changing yearly. Things we did to comply with ADA requirements two years ago do not necessarily meet the current interpretation today. The city and county both have had issues with changing interpretations of ADA requirements on their own buildings which received some local press. On a single new construction project in Bend there are three ADA codes. The first one is Federal Regulations, which is first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. The second is the Oregon Structural Specialty Code and the third is the Oregon Department of Transportation code. These three codes changed at specific time intervals and are not consistent in requirements with one another. Then all three ADA codes have to be interpreted by the architect, the city’s plans examiner, the city’s building inspector and the city’s engineering inspector, thus you have 3 codes and 4 interpretations. It can be very difficult.

Duncan: Our efforts are focused on helping businesses comply with the ADA.

Sprando: We have created custom signage and have integrated assisted hearing and other devices into our designs for our customers. We have also sought manufacturers for our products who have the type of equipment we need to satisfy regulations.
Wilson: Wilson Curb has spent countless hours researching the rules and regulations of ADAAG.  ADAAG has provided a written document that we often refer to in order to ensure a product that meets the standards. Trainings have been held locally by the City of Bend which, have proved to be greatly informative. In addition we have also attended meetings with engineers, city inspectors, and business owners in order to come to an understanding of the requirements regarding ADA needs.

Ralston: I am kind of a “code junky”. I pride myself on being familiar with the regulations of the ADA. If unsure, we know where to find the answer. We have worked with the ADA for many years now. It is just part of what we do! We attend seminars regularly to keep ourselves abreast of changes and improvements.

We work with staff to teach them the ins and out of the ADA so that responsible design becomes second nature.

5. How would you characterize your interactions with the Accessibility Division of the City of Bend?

Olsen: As members of the Central Oregon design community, our work reflects our understanding and interpretation of ADA codes and guidelines. We feel that the best solutions to providing equal access opportunities for all community members is a cooperative and open dialogue with members of the community, the city and regulatory agencies.

Smith: The Accessibility Division of the City of Bend has been great to work with. Linda and Traci have both taken the time to understand the nature of our events and helped us find ways to improve access.

Gorman: The city tries hard to enforce ADA code and its intent, but it can be very difficult since in Oregon we are required to meet all three ADA codes listed above. There are situations if we do meet Oregon ADA code the owner could get sued on federal level for meeting Oregon’s ADA code or sued for meeting the Oregon code on the federal level. I am sure the city, as well as the design and construction industry, wishes the ADA code was better coordinated and more defined and gave some construction tolerances in its requirements. For example, there was a project in town where the toilet centerline was less than 18 inches to the wall.  The drawing had stated 18 inches, but during the course of construction the owner had decided to add tile to the wall, so the final dimension was 17 ½ inches and the building inspector required them to remove the tile from the wall to comply with ADA. Everyone would like to do it right the first time.

Duncan: Our firm has had a good working relationship with Accessibility Division of the city. It has been helpful to have an accessibility manager with such a strong ADA background.  There is always room for improvement in the authority the manager has, of course.

Sprando: Very good. We provide their staff with training and information about accessibility devices and their operation. This is a two-way street, as they have helped us be more sensitive to ADA and those who need better access. For example, when we designed a lectern for the City of Bend, they provided input so that we made sure it satisfied requirements and worked well.

Wilson: We are all working our hardest to be compliant.  There are growing pains for all of us as this is a newly applied requirement.  We have been working closely with the city to be 100 percent compliant with ADAAG.  Wilson Curb has appreciated the collaboration that has been taking place.

Ralston: VERY GOOD ! The City Building Department goes out of it’s way to be sure all work under its jurisdiction meets the requirements of the ADA. Plan reviews are meticulous in detail to accessibility.

To be sure our designs are compliant we like to review them at a preliminary stage and again later with the building department to be sure we are on the right track so that issues can be caught early before design is complete. The Building Department has been very cooperative spending time with us for these preliminary reviews. We also review our plans with Linda Crossman, the city accessibility czar. She goes out of her way to be helpful. She loaned my partner a wheelchair to test access in a historic renovation.

We find the city EXTREMELY aware of the ADA and accessibility and they are very cooperative and helpful. Recently two building officials met with us on site at a remodel to review existing accessibility. It saved time on the plan check comments and our response there to. That sort of partnership is extraordinary.

SUGGESTIONS:

1.) Currently the Building Department (statewide) enforces chapter 11 of the OSSC (Oregon Structural Specialty Code). However, there is also the State ADA and Federal ADA requirements. Typically, we design for the most stringent requirement when there are differences. It would be very helpful to the design community, building officials (and certainly Linda Crossman), if a document was created that compiles all ADA requirements in one place, and that that document be enforced by the building department.

2.) In the past the City of Bend was remiss in its enforcement of accessibility requirements which has caused some disgruntlement (to say the least) among some elements in our community, particularly the disabled. Currently there are new folks running the Building Department. They are totally committed to an accessible community and are extremely diligent in there efforts to assure accessible design. It would be extremely helpful if the community let the past lie and worked with the Building Department in a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.

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