ADA Updates Affects Design and Facilities

New guidelines can impact design and facilities.

A Los Angeles franchisee of Tossed, a salad restaurant chain, chose a former bank location to build a new restaurant and quickly discovered that complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would be a challenge. In bringing the site up to code, the owner paid $100,000, about a quarter of the restaurant's overall cost, to create wheelchair ramps.

"The percentage of our guests impacted by the ADA is so slim, but we do it more as a moral responsibility than for our business," says Michael "A.T." Toroyan, chief operating officer and chief development officer of Tossed Franchise Corp.

The ADA has made life easier for the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities, who comprise some 18 percent of this country's population, according to the U.S. Justice Department. But the same can't be said for restaurant operators, who contend with differing and evolving accessibility regulations imposed at the federal, state and city levels.

"We have to think through ADA compliance because there has been more of an emphasis on accessibility in the last few years," says Scott T. Reitano, principal of Reitano Design, a foodservice design firm based in Indianapolis. "Although architects are responsible for incorporating ADA items, we have to make sure spaces are big enough to work with."

In fact, by March 15 of this year, all new buildings and pre-existing structures being renovated in the U.S. need to comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design established in 2010. "This is the first update to the ADA Standards since the original accessible design regulations were established in 1991," says Peter Berg, project coordinator of technical assistance for the Great Lakes ADA Center, part of the ADA National Network. "With these new standards, the U.S. Access Board has created design guidelines adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice that better harmonizes federal ADA standards with international building codes in an effort to make compliance easier for designers and architects."

Under the Act's safe-harbor provision, restaurants constructed or altered in compliance with the 1991 ADA Standards don't need to make modifications to specific elements to comply with 2010 regulations, even if the new standards have different requirements. This means a restaurant built prior to 2010, with 50 percent of its entrances meeting the accessibility standards of the 1991 ADA requirement, does not need to update this amount to 60 percent under the 2010 standard, unless the building undergoes a renovation.

In other words, if elements that were in compliance with the 1991 standards are in any way altered, the safe-harbor provision no longer applies to those elements.

L.A. Store Interior

New Guidelines Touch Many Areas

Other changes made under the 2010 ADA update that can impact restaurants include accessible parking; one out of six spaces must be van accessible, as compared to one in eight spaces under the 1991 standards. "If a restaurant operator is resurfacing or restriping the parking lot, this needs to be taken into account," Berg says.

Accessible seating requirements also have changed. Under the 1991 standards, 5 percent of restaurant tables needed to be accessible. The 2010 ADA guidelines expand this to 5 percent of all eating surfaces.

"Until recently, there were no standards for places where customers ate standing up, like a bar," says Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in Washington, D.C. This change can impact the design of a restaurant, since the entire space needs to be considered in light of the new requirements.

"Also, restaurants can't put all accessible seating in one area; it has to be dispersed throughout the building, including the bar, dining area and lounge. There also needs to be at least 36 inches between seating," says Ken Mackenzie, senior program manager at Core States, an Atlanta design firm.

Core States is working with Dallas-based Brinker International on a reimaging program for its Chili's restaurants. "ADA accessibility is a part of that," Mackenzie says. "The experience for disabled Chili's customers is expected to be seamless due to cutting-edge changes. The approach we take is that this is no different than the building code."

The Chili's brand update will include the exterior, interior, signage and menu. With ADA, it's not just the exterior and dining room components that restaurant operators need to address.

"Restrooms are a big target [in terms of compliance violations], since there are many elements to consider," says Ken Mitchell, vice president of operations at ADA Compliance Consultants, based in Folsom, Calif. In single-user restrooms, the facility now must provide clearance for both forward and parallel approaches, and in most situations, the lavatory cannot overlap the clearance. The doors in these areas may swing into the clearance around any fixture if clear floor space is provided within the toilet room beyond the door's arc.

Restaurants need to address the needs of employees with disabilities under separate ADA requirements. Employee areas, including break rooms, restrooms and locker rooms, need to be accessible for those with disabilities, even if they are not open to the public.

Under the 1991 ADA Standards, work areas were required to permit an employee using a wheelchair to approach, enter and exit the area. Under the 2010 standards, new or altered work areas must include accessible common use circulation paths, which are subject to certain specified exceptions. Berg points out, however, that under the 2010 guidelines, circulation paths in work areas that are less than 1,000 square feet are exempt.

The side-reach requirements apply to operable parts on accessible elements, elements located on accessible routes and elements in accessible rooms and spaces. These requirements have been changed to a maximum of 48 inches as opposed to the 1991 requirement of 54 inches, and no lower than 15 inches, rather than the previous limit of 9 inches.

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