Thursday, January 13, 2011

Form Follows... Legislation

A lunch seminar yesterday: "Understanding the 2010 Standards of Accessible Design."

It's now 2011, but changes in the law don't come into effect until March 15th or become mandatory until March 15, 2012. Then federal law may clash with Texas'.

That dizzy feeling? It's the disorientation-zone of where Legislation meets Design.

Most people don't realize the HUGE effect law has on their environment: from the number of accessible parking spaces, to the number of inches of toe room under the waste pipe under the bathroom sink. Why don't your bosses add a cooktop in the breakroom? Because law would require them to rebuild the sink. An accessible sink (lower, shallower, knee space under it, accessible faucet etc.) must be installed if there's a cooktop. No cooking? Old sink's fine.

Laws have unintended effects. Why did drinking fountains disappear? When remodeling old buildings water fountains get updated, but nowadays it has to be two fountains - one high, one low. Two may not easily fit, so it's cheapest to rip out the old fountain. The public is thirsty, but the building is legal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act helps people who would otherwise be shut-ins. In Europe - with lots of old buildings and cities - you rarely see a wheel chair in public, seldom a walker, and the old lady with a cane is helped around the grocery by two generations of female relatives. Sometimes America IS the land of the free.

But the rules can be daunting. Will I, in March of 2012, remember that the Feds say the sides of the little curb ramp from parking lot to sidewalk has to slope at 1:12 not 1:10 and the ramp has to have a 36" clear, flat (2% max slope) "landing"? That it doesn't have to have warning bumps any more or be painted bright red? Unless, of course, Texas law still says it has to...

Under-the-sink-toe-room is 6", by the way. But I can now design more than 1 1/2" between a handrail and a wall if I want to. And - wahoo! - that 1 1/2" diameter handrail may now also be... oval! I forget the permitted dimensions, gotta look those up...

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