Years ago, when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, many of us in the civil engineering field saw it as just another bureaucratic requirement, which would generate more challenges for us trying to design a sidewalk, path, curbs and gutters, and so on. And it adds a level of complication to our work since we had new constraints regarding slopes, the path of travel widths, clearances, and more. I remember my supervisor complaining endlessly until his elderly mother-in-law came to visit a few years later and then observed the benefits of ADA compliance as he maneuvered his elderly relative in a wheelchair. For me, the benefits were most evident years later, after my daughter was born, and I noticed how easy it was to push her in her stroller and buggy around San Francisco.
Another benefit of ADA compliance is that it shows how we as a society make a concerted effort to accommodate everyone in our community. I have had the good fortune to live and work in several countries around the globe and was always struck by how many places lacked basic access options for anyone in a wheelchair, stroller, on crutches, or with any other kind of mobility challenges. So, ADA speaks to our civility and desire to perform our civic duty. And we civil engineers play a big part in this effort; we set the hardscape grades, specify the surficial materials to be used, and many other appurtenances needed to reach ADA compliance. For example, I am working on two park projects requiring ADA ramps, with existing grades higher than 10%. Therefore, ramps and landings will be needed, as well as handrails, accessible planter beds, and other ADA-required components, including picnic tables, benches, etc.
The new civil design regarding paths and planter beds, noted in the previous park projects, will also benefit our smaller stakeholders, such as the local daycare denizens. The cost will be slightly higher, but the benefits and goodwill generated are incalculable. In addition, as the residents are elderly, they will benefit from the ADA-compliant civil design when they garden and need to traverse the park in a wheelchair. To that end, we are designing for current and future conditions.
ADA-compliant design has brought more challenges to our civil engineering efforts. Still, those challenges have, at the same time, generated creativity in design and in the manufacturing of new materials for the ADA ramps, which do not allow skidding and provide a smooth surface. Furthermore, the accessible planter beds will make it much easier for smaller local kids to learn about planting, tending to plants, maintenance, and watering. And if we can achieve this in a city like San Francisco, which has narrow, steep streets, then we can get this done almost anywhere in the world. So, if you have a civil design project that requires ADA compliance, and almost all do, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.