New guidelines from the U.S. Access Board aim to help federal, state, and local government agencies make pedestrian and parking facilities more accessible to people with disabilities.
The guidelines, which took effect yesterday, provide minimum accessibility criteria for public rights-of-way like sidewalks, crosswalks, and on-street parking. They also provide accessibility criteria for:
curb ramps and blended transitions
In addition, the guidelines call for an accessible alternate access route when a main route is closed for maintenance or construction.
The guidelines apply to existing and new public pedestrian facilities covered under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Architectural Barriers Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They come on the heals of a new rule requiring airline bathrooms to be more accessible.
“The Access Board is proud to issue these guidelines as a critical step toward equal access to the public right-of-way for people with disabilities in America,” Executive Director Sachin Pavithran says in a statement. “Equal access to pedestrian facilities is crucial because pedestrian travel is the principal means of independent transportation for many people with disabilities.”
Stating the obvious, the Access Board notes that “Pedestrians with disabilities throughout the United States continue to face major challenges in travel because many sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian facilities are inaccessible.”
The guidelines are advisory for state and local governments, but mandatory for public rights-of-way built or leased by federal agencies.
Key accessible features specified in these guidelines include:
Pedestrian Access Routes
Sidewalks, shared-use paths, and other pedestrian paths must contain a “pedestrian access route” that’s usable by people with disabilities. This access route must be wide enough to safely traverse in a wheelchair without excessive risk of falling into the roadway. They also need to have firm, stable, and slip-resistant surfaces, as well as slopes that aren’t too steep.
Alternate Pedestrian Access Routes
When a pedestrian access route is closed for construction, it must provide a temporary alternate route with “basic accessible features” to ensure that people with disabilities can reach their destinations.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals
All pedestrian signal signs at crosswalks must have push buttons low enough to reach from a wheelchair. They also must allow enough time for someone with a disability to cross.
Crosswalks must have curb ramps and detectable warning surfaces. Crosswalks at multilane roundabouts and channelized turn lanes must have additional treatments that alert motorists to the presence of pedestrians or slow or stop traffic at those crosswalks.
Transit boarding areas at sidewalk, street, and elevated levels must be sized and placed so a person with a disability can use them. Pedestrian access routes must connect boarding areas and platforms to other pedestrian facilities. Transit shelters must have clear space for use by a person in a wheelchair.
On-street non-residential parking must have designated accessible parking spaces big enough for someone with a disability to safely exit a parked vehicle and maneuver to the sidewalk. Standard-size designated accessible on-street parking spaces must be placed near an existing crosswalk with curb ramps.
Guidelines ‘Needed for Quite Some Time’
The guidelines are a long time coming, Claire Stanley, public policy analyst for the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), tells TwP.
“Further guidance on the public rights of way have been needed for quite some time,” she says.
Stanley adds that the guidelines will “instruct city planners and other governing bodies on specific requirements to make pedestrian travel more possible and safer for those with disabilities.”
“People with disabilities already experience a myriad of obstacles to getting out of their homes,” she says. “New guidance by the Access Board, which we now eagerly wait for the applicable federal agencies to adopt, will provide more instruction to cities to make their public places accessible for people with disabilities.”
Kenneth Shiotani, senior staff attorney for the National Disability Rights Network, tells the human resources organization SHRM that accessibility standards for on-street parking and other public areas have been ambiguous at best. The new guidelines will address that problem.
Attorney Susan Lessack with the law firm Troutman Pepper tells SHRM that the guidelines also could improve the employment prospects of people with disabilities.
“It’s possible that the increase in accessibility may encourage people with mobility impairments to apply for jobs that they previously avoided because they were concerned about safety issues caused by commuting to the workplace,” she says. “If so, that could expand the applicant pool for open positions.” TwP