DESIGN for Accessibility: Don’t Just Rely on the Code

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According to the United States Census Bureau, over 54 million people, 19 percent of the United States population, or in other words, one out of every five Americans, are disabled. This statistic represents citizens seeking education, employment, recreation and services and is a population with great economic as well as political influence. This population shares the same civil rights, and expectations to equal opportunity for themselves and their families.

As an architect, considering the history of response in the built environment to serving the needs of twenty percent of the American population, I must ask if the profession’s use of regulation instead of a design focused approach, has given us what some consider disappointing results. Some years back, the term “universal design” was coined in order to better address the complex issues surrounding accessibility. As architects we can do better by remembering our primary contribution to the built environment. DESIGN, not compliance is what creates great environments and successful communities. In approaching our work we must remind ourselves that none of us should be content with doing just enough to get by.

California has a long and respected history in the area of equal access to public facilities, beginning in 1968. In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act became the law of the land, and in California was reinforced in 1992 with the Unruh Civil Rights Act. All of these laws have emphasized that it is the responsibility of business to provide full and equal access to public facilities. Despite the long policy history, further refined by regulation, persons with disabilities continue to be denied equal access in many instances.

To address these issues, the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA) was established in legislation in 2008 as a 17 member Commission, consisting of 11 public and 6 ex officio members appointed by the legislature and the Governor. It is made up of business, disability, legislative and public agency representatives, brings together the experience and knowledge required to best guide the development of resources and educational materials needed by the business community with the goal of access for all in lieu of legal claims.

The bill also required the State Architect to create the Certified Access Specialist (CASp) program and defined the role of the CASp in providing inspections. In 2012 the Legislature amended the original legislation requiring that the CCDA shall make a priority of the development and dissemination of educational materials and information to promote and facilitate disability access compliance. The bill additionally requires the CCDA to work with the State Architect and the Department of Rehabilitation to develop these materials for use by businesses.

The CCDA is working hard to assist both the architectural profession and the business community in California to provide access for all.

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Stephan Castellanos

Stephan Castellanos, FAIA, is Chief Operating Officer of Derivi Castellanos Architects Inc. in Stockton. He served previously as California State Architect and President of the AIA California Council.

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  1. avatar
    Bryant Silliman

    Am I safe to incorporate the 2013 CBC into my design for this year,
    even tho it will not be effective until 2014? I am very releived that the state
    has finally met ADA “half way” and now shows most restrictive universal conditions
    for design.
    For Steve C.- remember Wes Ward’s 5th year design? Cesar Chavez? The Philippino
    retirement community? That was a good year.

  2. avatar
    James V. Vitale, AIA, LEED AP, CASp

    The Unrhu Act dates to 1959, California’s first code to address access, developed by DSA’s predesessor OSA, dates to 1981 and to the September 15, 1984 Supplement to Title 24, Part 2, Chapter 5 to coincide with the then UBC format.

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