How to create a more accessible built environment in California has become a contentious issue. The AIACC has been participating in a series of weekly stakeholder meetings with Senator Steinberg and Senator Dutton’s offices and representatives from a variety of interested parties to address how to achieve a more accessible built environment. The focus of the effort is to resolve access related issues that have bedeviled not only those seeking a more accessible built environment, but those responsible for providing it. The issues on the table range from the Division of the State Architect’s current alignment efforts regarding the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Chapter 11A and 11B provisions of the California Building Code (CBC), to legal reforms to ease, if not altogether eliminate, the serial lawsuits related to access.
It is alarming that there is a perception among many people both inside and outside the disabled community that the cause of inaccessible buildings is the result of their having been incorrectly designed by architects – architects who either do not understand the CBC, or, as some have suggested, simply do not care. Neither opinion could be further from the truth.The fact of the matter is that architects do care about achieving barrier free accessibility in their designs and that, despite the conflicts and confusion between the ADA and the CBC, new buildings are designed to comply. Indisputably, what is not occurring is the access compliant construction of those same buildings.
I submit that,with regard to inaccessible buildings and perhaps other construction related issues that have been deemed design errors (think back to the condo conversion litigation so prevalent a few years ago), we do not have as much a design problem as we do a construction problem. Ask yourself, how is it possible that a building that has been plan checked and approved by certified building officials, then constructed by licensed contractors and subcontractors, and then finally inspected by certified building inspectors, can still be considered to have been designed incorrectly when in violation of the ADA and the CBC?
So what’s the solution to this problem? The AIACC has advanced mandatory Construction Observation as a viable solution to part of the problem. In view of the fact that Construction Administration is not always part of their scope of services, there is no way for an architect to be sure that what they’ve designed is what will be constructed. Conceptually, with the benefit of being provided the opportunity to observe specific and key milestones during construction, the architect could verify placement of work during the “rough-in” portion of the phase, and then follow-up during the finish phase, thus providing not only the ability to verify and assure barrier-free construction, but also affording greater control of exposure to this type of risk.
For too many years, blame for ADA violations has been laid at the feet of the profession of architecture. ADA violations are very real, but the blame is with little merit – and it’s well past time for both to end. Mandatory construction observation is one solution toward that end.