As an ADA/disABILITY specialist — and wheelchair user with a service dog — I work with many projects related to both new and retrofit construction of facilities and public rights of way. Each time I see errors that could have been avoided if the whole team — including design, construction, and installation professionals — had been involved in training at each level.

The mistaken belief that everyone on the job knows and understands the reasoning behind Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines and codes is ultimately the reason for change orders — if you're lucky enough to discover the errors during construction. If you aren't, you face lawsuits, U.S. Department of Justice complaints, or end-user injuries that could have been prevented through advanced review of the design, proper fixture choices and locations, and training.

Don't assume that everyone on the project knows the guidelines or the accessibility issues related to disabilities, such as the reasons for height and reach ranges; ground surfaces; detectable warning placements at curb ramps; location of plumbing and restroom fixtures; design and installation of handrails and grab bars; signage contrast; height/location at doorways; or protruding objects (especially “high-low” drinking fountains).

Architects and engineers will tell you they know the guidelines, but all too often they don't understand them, and therefore make errors that facility owners must then rectify. Also, having correct specifications on the blueprints is rarely a guarantee that an untrained front line crew will follow the details related to height installation and reach ranges.

Proper training explains the importance of accessible design, construction, and installation. It provides practical examples through demonstrations, and through pictures of good and bad results. Comprehensive training also explains the logic behind accessible regulations.

One example of the logic that drives regulations is the reach range for a soap dispenser. It is impossible for a child or wheelchair user to reach beyond the vanity counter to the soap dispenser if the vanity is too deep (more than 19 inches) and the soap dispenser is above a 42-inch height from the floor (see image on bottom left).

Almost every time professionals seek consultation and training, the end result is excellent. I must admit that the design team sometimes resists my recommendations more than the actual ground team. I think perhaps it relates to my audacity to show a different approach than has been done before.

For instance, I always stress that it's best to avoid the minimum and maximum measurements, since they are the worst allowances you can use before being illegal. Therefore, go for the midranges. Why force a person to reach up to 48 inches when 42 to 44 inches makes it easier for everyone?

Often I hear that an approach won't work or be accepted by the construction crew or installers. But the reality is, contractors I have trained or worked with will refuse to proceed on a job when they know that the design, fixtures, or locations are wrong. This is because most people take pride in their work, and will follow best practices — and make every effort to avoid errors — when they understand the guidelines and the reasons behind them.

Before the ADA went into effect in 1991, we only had the specific guidelines from the different government agencies to use, which only related to federal or federally funded projects. But now cities, counties, and states have adopted International Building Codes with ICC/ANSI A117.1 for their accessible code regulations. For the most part these codes align with — and sometimes surpass — ADA Accessibility Guidelines.

Take the extra precaution to have an accessibility specialist work with you as part of your team. When everyone on the project team — especially those where the rubber hits the road — is trained, then the outcome is a pleasant surprise of success.

— Michele S. Ohmes, (816-350-2487;; is an ADA specialist who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. She has written an accessibility design manual, “ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical,”now on CD ROM, that is available through the American Public Works Association's Web site: