Buyer Beware, part II: The Truth about noncompliant products

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My last post, “Buyer Beware," which warned readers of salespeople who incorrectly label their products as ADA-compliant, must have hit a few nerves! I received quite a few comments, including a very detailed response from Gene Putman, chair of the Temporary Traffic Control Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTD; click here to read his comments in full). Thanks to all of you, and especially to Gene, for sharing your concerns. This is how all of us can benefit and help each other! Below, I will try to address a few of the questions and issues that were sent to me.

Some products that can benefit the ADA community aren’t officially ADA-compliant simply because regulations have not caught up with innovations. One example is pedestrian barricades. The technical committee on Temporary Traffic Control Devices for the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices approved language and drawings in 2011, and devices are now being made. But due to bureaucratic red tape, new guidelines and standards that include using these devices are not yet published.

This may be true. However, there are established regulations that can be followed regarding pedestrian barricades. For instance, Chapter 4 of the 2010 ADA Guidelines for Accessible Design (ADAAG) gives very specific guidelines to accessible routes and pathways. Guidelines for an accessible route and alternate routes are also located in both the ADAAG and the Federal Highway Administration’s 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), so designing barriers that meet ADA criteria is possible. Click here for the referenced guidelines.

Chapter 1 of the 2010 ADAAG references the MUTCD. To better understand how the two sets of guidelines should be used click here to read R104.2 MUTCD and the related Advisory.

And although the proposed 2011 Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) are not yet finalized, they are acceptable for use as a supplement to ADA 2010 guidelines and MUTCD guidelines related to alternate Pedestrian Access Routes (PARs).

The manual “Special Report: Accessible Public Rights-of-Way Planning and Designing for Alterations” also provides excellent assistance for retrofits and alterations of our public rights of way.

To Gene: Can you send me the NCUTCD’s approved language and drawings for pedestrian barricades, or can you direct me to the link for this information? I will be happy to share the link with my readers!

Are certain manufacturers or brands preferred by governing agencies?
The Access Board, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Department of Justice, and other agencies do not endorse specific brand names or products. They have issued guidelines, however, that allow a certain amount of freedom for manufacturers to design products that fall within the requirements they have presented.

What if a salesperson tells me their product is on the fast-track to be approved by the ADA (or FHWA, DOT, etc.)?
There is no waiting for approval. The ADA does not “approve” products. Federal agencies do not provide a list of “preferred” products or brands. If a product is not ADA-compliant, that means it does not meet ADA requirements such as operation controls, height and reach ranges, etc.

The FHWA and Access Board are slow to provide new devices and tools to help the ADA through their reviews.

The Access Board’s former Public Right of Way Access Advisory Committee, of which I was a member, wanted to include several items in the Public Right of Way (PROW) guidelines that ultimately had to be removed, such as high-vibration surfaces, since there were not measuring devices and tools to enforce the requirements. However, If new devices are able to give accurate measurements, why must you first get approval for their use from the Access Board? “Smart” digital levels, laser measurement tools, etc., are accepted tools for surveying, and they did not receive Access Board approval. Instead, they passed the general industry standards.

Let’s not create obstacles to our common goal of achieving increased safety and accessibility for everyone.

What have you got against manufacturers and their sales personnel trying to get new products to the market?
Nothing! I was once in sales, and I know how grueling the job can be. Plus, when I attend trade shows and conferences, I am always excited by the new products that I see, which are typically improvements over what already exists. It’s thrilling to see that R&D is alive and well!

I have also offered on numerous occasions to work with manufacturers to help with their designs. Perhaps one day a company will take me up on my offer, and add me to their customer advisory panels or discussions.

I close this article with a plea for my readers: Please send me your questions related to noncompliant products that you were told can’t be used due to the “approval process.” We’ll work through your concerns together, while also opening up a discussion that might make the learning process easier for others.



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About the Blogger

Michele Ohmes

thumbnail image Michele S. Ohmes is an Americans with Disabilities Act specialist and wheelchair user who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. Her design manual — ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical — is available on CD-ROM through the American Public Works Association's Web site. Author's note: Michele & Associates does not render legal advice and has no enforcement authority regarding the ADA or other federal disability-rights legislation.