A More Accessible Exterior (2010)

Ten ways the new ADA regulations will affect landscape architects.

By Daniel Jost, ASLA

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

A major upgrade to the fine points of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has gone into effect, and landscape architects will have to take note of the many changes that will affect their work. March 15 was the compliance deadline for revised standards of the ADA that were issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2010. The new standards include a number of changes that will significantly affect the design of landscapes and public spaces and, in the process, make many more types of activities available to people with disabilities.

Among the changes are specific rules for designing playgrounds, pools, golf courses, and fishing piers that were not included in the original standards, released in 1991. Some familiar ADA rules have also changed, including the requirements for designing railings on stairs. For a complete breakdown of the new standards, read about them yourself in detail in Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and in the standards themselves—both available on the Justice Department’s ADA web site, www.ada.gov.

1. Detectable Warnings

Those bright yellow, truncated domes on every street corner, designed to provide people with visual impairments a tactile warning before they enter the street, have appeared seemingly everywhere since the 1991 standards took effect. But in a bit of tragic irony, people with difficulty walking may have trouble navigating the domes. After 20 years, the thinking seems to have changed about these warnings: The 2010 standards will not require detectable warnings on curb ramps, as the ADA did in the past. Under the new standards, detectable warnings are required only at the edges of platforms used for boarding buses and trains. The detail for the domes has changed as well—allowing for slightly more variation in the size and spacing of the domes (see Figure 705.1).

2. Sports Fields

If you are designing an outdoor recreation area with features such as football fields, tennis courts, or baseball diamonds, then you will want to take a look at section 206.2.2 of the 2010 standards. Designers will need to connect all “buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces on the same site” with at least one accessible route—that includes sports fields. Another section,, says that each player seating area or dugout must include at least one space accessible to wheelchairs. And section 206.2.12, which applies to court sports, says “at least one accessible route shall directly connect both sides of the court.”

3. Recreational Boating Facilities

The 2010 standards are the first to provide specific requirements for marinas. The document dedicates nearly six pages to boating facilities, which present unique challenges given the combination of changing water levels and floating infrastructure. Boarding piers and boat slips must meet certain accessibility requirements under the new standards. For instance, boarding piers must provide a clear area at least 60 inches wide for most of their length, so two wheelchairs can pass. Gangways, floating piers, and other structures are not always required to meet the same slope requirements as fixed ramps onshore, however. Read section 1003 to learn all the requirements and exceptions for boating facilities (see Figure 1003.3.2 and Figure 1003.3.2 exception 1).

4. Fishing Piers

For people fishing from a wheelchair, the railing along the water can make it difficult to pull up to the edge of the pier and comfortably look out over the water. So sections 237 and 1005 of the new standards require that at least 25 percent of guardrails or handrails have a maximum height of 34 inches, allowing people in wheelchairs to comfortably rest their fishing poles on the top of railings. Toe clearance, a minimum of 30 inches wide and 9 inches high, is also required in these spaces, and the deck or ground surface should extend at least 1 foot beyond the rail. The accessible fishing areas must be dispersed widely so that people in wheelchairs can take advantage of different sorts of fishing conditions. In cases where the short railings would violate the International Building Code, however, designers are exempt from meeting these standards (see Figure 1005.3.2).

5. Parking Lots

Although most of the rules remain the same, there are a few new rules for designing parking lots—particularly those that are very large or very small. Sites with four or fewer parking spaces are now exempt from a rule requiring accessible parking spaces to be marked with signs showing the International Symbol of Accessibility. These parking lots will still be required to provide a space that is physically accessible, but the space will not have to be marked. The Justice Department believes that this exception (section 216.5 exception 1) provides “necessary relief” for small businesses with limited parking areas. Meanwhile, large, Walmart-sized parking lots must now have a larger percentage of their accessible spaces accessible to wheelchair vans. Under section 208.2.4 of the new standards, one of every six accessible parking spaces must be van accessible. If there are fewer than six accessible spaces, at least one of those must still be ready to accommodate vans, as before.

6. Loading Zones

The 1991 standards stated that in places with multiple loading zones, at least one of those zones needed to be accessible. The new standard goes a step further by requiring places with long, continuous drop-off zones, such as airports and schools, to provide one accessible passenger loading zone for every 100 linear feet of loading area (sections 209.2.1 and 503). Designers are required to provide an access aisle that is at least 60 inches wide, parallel to the curb. In the past, this aisle was allowed to be on the same level as the adjacent sidewalk, which could make it difficult to unload someone using a walker or wheelchair. The new standards specify that the access aisle must be on the same level as the space where the car is parked (though slopes as steep as 1:48 are allowed). Although it is not required by the new standards, the most alert designers will probably leave off the curb altogether and make the whole length of the loading area accessible whenever possible.

7. Golf Courses and Miniature Golf

In an interesting twist, the ADA standards do not require designers to plan for a slightly disabled person trying to walk around a golf course. Instead, access can be provided via golf cart, so no handrails are required on certain paths with a slope greater than 5 percent. Golf carts must be able to access each putting green and weather shelter and at least one of the teeing grounds at each hole. Read sections 238 and 1006 for more information on golf courses and driving ranges.

The new standards also include separate requirements for miniature golf courses. Under sections 239 and 1007, at least half of the holes must be accessible. That means that in the area where play starts, there must be a space 48 inches by 60 inches minimum with a slope no greater than 1:48. And any area within the accessible greens where a golf ball might be expected to rest should be no more than 36 inches from an accessible path, so a person in a wheelchair should be able to reach out and hit the ball (see Figure 1007.3.2).

8. Play Areas

Sections 240 and 1008 of the new standards provide extensive rules that anyone interested in designing playgrounds must follow. Fifty percent of elevated play components must be accessible, for instance. Your head may spin as you read through the rules—they can be confusing. For example, 60 inches of clearance is required for an accessible path on the ground, but only 36 inches when that path is elevated.

9. Swimming Pools and Spas

It is often hard for disabled people to participate in swimming programs at public parks or hotels. The new ADA standards aim to resolve this problem. Any new pool or spa at a facility regulated by the ADA that has a perimeter of less than 300 feet will need to provide at least one means of entry for a person in a wheelchair. This may be either a ramp or a specially designed pool lift that lowers the person into the pool. For larger pools, two accessible means of entry will be required. For more information, read sections 242 and 1009. There has been a lot of confusion and concern about what this rule would mean for existing pools, so the Department of Justice has granted existing pools a short reprieve. There has been no such reprieve, however, for newly designed or altered pools, so be sure that any pool you have on the boards meets the new standards (see Figures 1009.2.8 and 1009.3.2).

10. Railings

The standards for railings are one of those things that are drilled into landscape architects’ heads early on. If you graduated from a landscape architecture program anytime in the past 20 years, you probably remember learning that the length of the railing must extend beyond the bottom riser of the stair a minimum distance of one tread plus 12 inches. But that standard no longer applies. Today, handrails must extend only a horizontal distance equal to the depth of one tread beyond the front of the botto

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