The U.S. Access Board has issued guidelines that address access to temporary housing provided by the government in emergencies and natural disasters. The new requirements supplement the Board's accessibility guidelines for facilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) by adding provisions and exceptions specific to emergency transportable housing units. While the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines address residential dwelling units, it was determined in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that further detail was needed on addressing access to emergency transportable housing units. Such units are used to provide temporary housing for those whose homes have been destroyed or damaged by a disaster until permanent housing is found. Sized for transport over roadways, they have a smaller footprint than other types of housing and pose unique accessibility challenges and considerations.
The supplemental rule covers access for people who use mobility aids as well as communication access for people with hearing loss. When grouped on sites, at least 5% of units must be accessible for people with mobility disabilities and a minimum of 10% of unit pads must be designed to accommodate accessible units. When units are located on the property of homeowners, commercial sites leased by the government, or military installations, access must be provided according to a needs assessment. The required number of units with accessible communication features is also based on a needs assessment regardless of the type of site.
The guidelines require certain elements and clearances to address usability within the confined living space typical of units. These include requirements for kitchen water spray units, shower seats, floor surfaces, and bedroom clearances. Certain exceptions in the guidelines for residential facilities are not permitted for emergency transportable units. Examples include exceptions that allow later installation of grab bars and shower seats in dwelling units where walls are properly reinforced, or that permit removable base cabinetry below sinks and lavatories. The rule also includes new exceptions for operable parts, ramps and kitchen work surfaces. Weather alert systems also must be accessible and include visual output in those units required to have accessible communication features. In addition, smoke alarms must have integrated visual notification devices with a secondary power source in communication accessible units.
The supplementary guidelines are based on recommendations from a Board advisory panel, the Emergency Transportable Housing Advisory Committee, which included representation from disability groups, industry and code groups, and government agencies. The Board released a proposed version of the guidelines for public comment in 2012.
The Board's ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines serve as the basis for enforceable standards issued by other agencies. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) maintains standards for residential facilities covered by the ABA, which applies to federally funded facilities. The provisions for emergency transportable units will become mandatory under the ABA when adopted by HUD in the pending update of its ABA Standards. The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains standards under the ADA which apply to state and local government facilities, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities.
The Board will hold a public briefing on the rule as part of a town hall meeting in New York City at Jacob K. Javits Federal Building on May 15. This will be followed by a panel discussion on rebuilding efforts after Super Storm Sandy.