Access Update Newsletter – 2005 Fall


Accessibility Update: Expect Changes in the 2006 International Building Code
By Dominic Marinelli
Director, Accessibility Services

Areas of Refuge

This Fall, during the final hearings on the 2006 International Building Code (IBC) Detroit, Michigan they were several significant changes that will impact both the life safety and accessibility for persons with disabilities.

The first will require areas of refuge, those safe-havens for wheelchair users located above and below the grade level of a building even if an automatic sprinkler system is provided in a building. In the 2003 IBC, the current edition of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) as well as the revised ADA/ABA Accessible Guidelines, the installation of a sprinkler system would result in an exception for this critical component of an Accessible Means of Egress.

In a building equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, everyone on a fire floor may be protected from the immediate dangers of the fire (because it is extinguished by the
sprinkler system) ambulatory persons quickly leave the dangers of smoke and toxic fumes as they proceed to enclosed exit stairs and descend toward the level of exit discharge. Many people with disabilities cannot use the stairs and because an area of refuge is not required, wheelchair users cannot take advantage of the protection of a smoke barrier and can only go into the corridor that is sure to fill with smoke and fumes to await further evacuation.

“Safe Harbor” with Fair Housing

In another important decision, an amendment to a code change proposed by the US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was passed ensuring that the International Building Code would retain its place as a “safe harbor” for compliance with HUD’s Fair Housing Amendments Act Accessibility Guidelines in its 2006 edition.

“It was important for the department to ensure that an accessible pedestrian route be provided from site arrival points to accessible building entrances unless the slope or finished ground level between accessible facilities and buildings exceed one unit vertical in 12 units horizontal or physical barriers or legal restrictions prevent the installation of an accessible route,” Director, of HUD’s Disability Rights Section, Cheryl Kent.

Changes of Occupancy to retain Accessibility Requirements

Currently, Chapter 34 (Existing Buildings) and the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) requires accessible features (i.e., accessible parking, accessible entrance, route to the primary function area) if a building changes from one use group to another (i.e., commercial to residential). As these features could be triggered without any alteration costs, many building owners and developers are against this requirement. They point to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines that only requires that 20% of the alteration costs to the primary function area (i.e., reason by the building is there) should be dedicated to providing an accessible route, accessible toilet rooms, drinking fountains and telephones. Disability advocates were concerned that this growing sentiment against providing these accessibility features when no alterations costs are incurred would result in enough votes by members of the International Codes Council (ICC) to eliminate the rule, however, the accessibility triggered when a building changes occupancy was retained.

Relaxation of Type A bathroom requirements

Individual-owned condominium units are required to comply with the IBC’s accessibility requirements when there are four or more units in a building. When there are twenty or more units, 2% of the units are required to comply with the Type A requirements of the IBC’s accessibility-reference standard ANSI A117.1. Type A units mandate wheelchair maneuvering space be provided in at least one bathroom within the dwelling unit (if other bathrooms are provided they only have to provide reinforcement for future installation of grab bars, operable parts/receptacles within accessible reach ranges and doors that provide adequate clear width). In addition to the maneuvering clearance in the bathroom, water closets are required to be located adjacent to a wall so that reinforcement for the future installation of grab bars can be provided. The Virginia Building and Code Officials Association were successful in getting a code change that would allow an owner of an existing condo to comply with the less restrictive (Type B) requirements of A117.1 which are based on the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines, so that the installation of luxury items (e.g., Jacuzzi, whirlpool, etc) could be installed.

United Spinal Works with Access Board to Promote Accessibility in Courthouses
By Kleo King, Program Counsel

The Courthouse Access Advisory Committee (hereinafter Committee) has been organized by the United States Access Board to promote accessibility for persons with disabilities to courthouses. The Committee consists of architects, lawyers, judges, individuals with disabilities, representatives of government offices, and advocacy organizations of which United Spinal is one of several.

Courthouses by their design and use pose unique challenges to access. The Committee’s mission centers on identifying access issues and barriers, developing solutions and best practices, gathering resources, and exploring ways to disseminate the information it develops most effectively to various audiences. The Committee has been chartered for a two-year period ending in November 2006.

In order to fulfill its mission, the Committee has divided into the following three subcommittees; courthouse access, courtroom access, and education. The first two subcommittees are charged with identifying problem areas, developing design solutions, and locating existing facilities with best practices. The Education Subcommittee’s goal is to increase awareness and understanding of courtroom and courthouse accessible designs and implementation.

United Spinal’s representative is a member of the Courtroom Subcommittee. The goal of the Courtroom Subcommittee is to promote accessibility in the design of courtrooms and ancillary areas. This goal will be accomplished by exploring challenges and constraints to access posed by the standard design of courtrooms and developing solutions and best practices for ensuring access to courtroom spaces and elements. These elements include jury boxes, jury deliberation rooms, witness stands, spectator seating areas, judge’s benches, judge’s chambers, court clerk stations, and detaining cells.

The meetings of the Committee are open to the public. The next meeting will be held in San Francisco on November 16th through the 18th. For further information go to the access Boards website at

Accessibility Services Joins C2Ed to Provide Online Sessions on Accessibility
By Linda Volpe, Compliance Specialist

The Accessibility Services Department is currently working with C2Ed, an online education center, to provide live lunch-hour web sessions to architects, engineers, landscape architects, surveyors and interior designers. Our four-session series, which began in October, focuses on Common Mistakes and Misconceptions in Accessible Design. Participants will be educated about common misconceptions in accessible design so that they can prevent making common mistakes that prevent construction from being usable for people with disabilities. Also, we will be providing C2Ed participants with a sneak preview of future editions of the International Building Code, the ICC/ANSI A117.1 and the revised draft of the ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines.

Session One, Understanding your Professional Liability, was provided by United Spinal Association’s attorneys James Weisman and Kleo King on October 12, 2005. Jim was an original author of the ADA while Kleo’s expertise on the application of the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act is unparalleled. Both have represented United Spinal Association on the Access Board – the federal agency responsible for developing the ADA’s Accessibility Guidelines. This session included discussions on cases and settlements having to do with The American with Disabilities Act and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act.

Session Two, Identifying Common Accessibility Mistakes & Preview of What’s to Come, will be provided by Dominic Marinelli and Linda Volpe on November 16, 2005. The session will discuss those typical questions that Accessibility Services’ staff receives from design professionals and code enforcement officials during their trainings, over the phone and on their Accessibility Requirements Web Forum and how the new accessibility requirements of the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines & the International Building Code (IBC) respond to these issues.

Session Three, Avoiding Accessibility Pitfalls in Designing Residential Occupancies, will be provided by John Rooney and Jennifer Perry on December 14, 2005. This session will review all applicable state and federal accessibility requirements impacting residential occupancies, including the Fair Housing Amendments Act, the International Building Code, the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Session Four, Preventing Accessibility Errors when Designing for Additions, Alterations and Changes of Occupancy, will be provided by Dominic Marinelli and Linda Volpe on January 18, 2006. This session is designed to help design professionals understand the degree of accessibility required in alterations to primary function areas of buildings. The “20-percent” rule is required by ADAAG and the model building codes and its application is often the most confusing of all the access requirements. In addition, the “laundry-list” of accessibility requirements when a building or portion of a building undergoes a change of occupancy will be discussed.

For more information on how you can participate in these on-line sessions please contact Linda Volpe, 518-945-1606;

United Spinal Association Works to Ensure Compliance with Housing Accessibility Requirements in Pittsburgh
By Jennifer Perry, Compliance Specialist

In addition to working on the development of accessibility regulations and providing registered training programs to members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Code Council (ICC) on these requirements, United Spinal Association has always worked to enforce these accessibility regulations, which is directly tied to our core mission of advocating on behalf of people with disabilities.

One of the biggest challenges facing people with disabilities is locating accessible, affordable housing. To that end, and to help enforce the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, United Spinal will be working with the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP) to ensure that the Authority’s 6,000 housing units, consisting of elderly and family housing units, are compliant with federal accessibility requirements. One of the federal requirements that this housing must comply with is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often referred to as Section 504). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is known as the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It applies to public and private entities that receive federal funds. Section 504’s accessibility requirements can be far stricter than the ADA’s mandates. While federal departments and agencies are not covered by the ADA, they must provide access under the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Because HACP is a federally-funded recipient, all services and construction must comply with the rules and regulations found in Section 504. In addition, the built environment under the authority’s control must comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) – the uniform standards for the design, construction and alterations of buildings so that people with disabilities will have ready access to and use of them – the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code, and in some instances, the ADA.

Joining United Spinal’s team of accessibility specialists, code officials and design professionals in this effort will be two firms based in Pittsburgh, PA – Accessibility Development Associates and Bailey Engineers & Constructors. Together, United Spinal and these firms will assess the Authority’s housing units for compliance with the requirements mentioned above. We will do in-depth reviews of the Authority’s housing stock, provide suggestions for improvements in non-compliant housing units, review plans for new construction and present our findings to the Authority as needed. This project will be carried out over the next five (5) years.

“United Spinal is very excited to work with the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and to continue our mission of advocating for people with disabilities and ensuring that the Authority’s housing units are accessible for people with disabilities,” United Spinal’s Executive Director, Gerard M. Kelly, said..

If you would like to learn more about United Spinal’s work in this area, please contact Jennifer Perry at 610-757-0044.

ADA -ABA Accessibility Guidelines: Update
By John Rooney, Compliance Specialist

The ADA-ABA Accessibility Guidelines were published in the Federal Register on July 23, 2004. The development of the new guidelines dates back to 1994. On September 13, 1994 the United States Access Board created the ADAAG review advisory committee and the process of rulemaking began. A series of committee reports, public hearings, public comment periods and approvals by the board followed and culminated in the publication of the final rule. Questions that arose subsequent to the publication of the guidelines involve: harmonization with building codes, the inclusion of ADA and ABA guidelines in one document and when the guidelines go into effect.


The existence of federal laws and building codes that required accessibility to the built environment have resulted in some confusion, especially on the part of design professionals. There were instances when conflicts existed and as a result a design could include all of the minimum accessibility requirements of a building code and not comply with federal requirements and vice versa. For example, The 2000 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) has scoping for accessible drinking fountains, however the reference standard , ICC/ANSI A117.1-1998 does not include provisions for a “hi-lo” drinking fountain. The “hi-lo” drinking fountain is required by ADAAG. This fountain allows accessibility for people that use wheelchairs and for standing persons who have difficulty bending or stooping.

In order to make compliance easier the board worked toward making the guidelines more consistent with model building codes and industry standards. As a result there a great deal of harmonization has been achieved. However, there are still instance when a conflict will occur. One example involves the use of a Limited-Use/Limited-Application Elevators (LU/LA) in new construction. The ADA-ABA Guidelines restrict their use to places where the use of a wheelchair lift is permitted; such as performance areas and wheelchair viewing places. LU/LA’s are also permitted to areas that are not required to be provided with an accessible route in accordance with the scoping exceptions. The 2003 IBC permits the use of LU/LA’s in new construction and does not limit their use for accessible routes via scoping. In both instances the use of a LU/LA has to comply with the ASME A17.1 reference standard.

ADA-ABA Guidelines:

The new document provides guidelines for two federal laws: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The guidelines provide design requirements for public and private facilities. The ABA requires accessibility to facilities built, designed, altered or leased with federal funds. At the present time facilities covered by ADA follow the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines (ADAAG) and facilities covered by the ABA follow the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). The Access Board decided to update both ADAAG and UFAS at the same time in order to provide consistent enforcement under both federal laws. When the ADA-ABA Guidelines are adopted they will replace ADAAG and UFAS. When the new guidelines are in effect it will consist of three parts: scoping for ADA facilities (Part I), scoping for ABA facilities (Part II) and a common set of technical criteria applicable to both parts (Part III).


The ADA-ABA Guidelines are final; however they are not enforceable until they are adopted by the federal agencies responsible for their enforcement. The Justice Department (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation are responsible for enforcement of the ADA. Federal agencies responsible for maintaining the ABA standards are the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The aforementioned agencies are in the process of adopting the ADA/ABA Guidelines. At the present time none of the agencies, except for the Postal Service has adopted the new guidelines. The Postal Service issued a notice on May 17, 2005 adopting the new standards for postal facilities. The notice states that the new standards will take effect on October 1, 2005. To see the most recent information regarding the ADA-ABA Guidelines and the adoption process, visit the United States Access Boards website:

ICC Creates Task Groups to Coordinate A117.1 with IBC and New ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines
By Linda Volpe, Compliance Specialist

The ICC/ANSI A117.1 is the technical standard referenced by the International Building Code. The technical specifications in this standard are intended to create elements and spaces that can be used independently by persons with disabilities. The ICC/ANSI A117.1 is updated every five years by the A117 committee, which consists of organizations, companies, government agencies, and individuals who have a direct and material interest in the development of these standards.

The A117 committee recently established three task groups that United Spinal Association’s Accessibility Services staff is proud to be a part. The groups are:

1. Task Group on Technical Requirements for Dwelling Units
This task group will review the technical requirements in Chapter 10 of A117.1 and recommend proposed revisions to the standard as may be necessary in order to be responsive to emerging trends such as Visitability, Aging-In-Place, and Universal Design.

2. Task Group on Coordination of A117.1 and the International Building Code
This task group will review the technical requirements in ICC/ANSI A117.1 and the provisions in the current IBC that overlap or otherwise address common subjects and recommend proposed revisions to A117.1 as may be necessary in order to accomplish appropriate coordination of A117.1 and the IBC.

3. Task Group on Coordination with the new ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines
This task group will review the technical requirements in A117.1 and the new ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines that overlap or which may cover subjects not addressed by both standards. Task group members will recommend proposed revisions to A117.1 as may be necessary and appropriate to update, improve or expand the technical criteria in order to accomplish coordination with the new ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines.

In October, the International Code Council held the first meetings of the Task Group on Technical Requirements for Dwelling Units and the Task Group on Coordination with the new ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines at the Access Board’s office in Washington D.C. The Task Group on Coordination of A117.1 and the International Building Code has not yet scheduled its first meeting. For additional information about United Spinal’s work on these task groups, please contact Linda Volpe, 518-945-1606,


Question: Does the clear floor space for an automatic door control have to be located outside the swing of the door?
Answer: ICC ANSI A117.1 – 1998 does not specify this, however it is preferable so the door will not hit the person activating it.
However, this is a requirement in ICC ANSI A117.1 – 2003.

404.3.5 Control Switches.
Manually operated control switches shall comply with Section 309. The clear floor space adjacent to the control switch shall be located beyond the arc of the door swing.

309.2 Clear Floor Space.
A clear floor space (i.e., 30 inches by 48 inches) complying with Section 305 shall be provided.

Operable parts shall be placed within one or more of the reach ranges specified in Section 308 (i.e. unobstructed 15 to 48 inches).