How to Make Sure Your New Outdoor Amenity Space is ADA Compliant (Before Construction)

A Guide for Property Managers and Owners

Outdoor space is the must-have amenity

Outdoor space is the must-have amenity for today’s office buildings and residential communities. Already popular prior to the pandemic, outdoor space has gone right to the top of this year’s must-have list for both people returning to the office and those still working from home are looking for outdoor amenity space. If you’ve tried to hire a contractor this year, you know there is a building boom. There’s a demand for the addition of patios, balconies, grilling areas, swimming pools, playgrounds, even dog parks, and yes, if they’re not part of a private residence, they all need to be ADA compliant.

ADA ramp and accessible route to a dog park in a multifamily apartment community

As a property manager or owner, you naturally want to do everything you can to provide a site that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. You want to give people with mobility issues access to enjoy outdoor spaces.

There are practical solutions. With the right planning and engineering, it doesn’t have to be as painful and costly as you may think. However, going back to redesign for ADA compliance after construction is much more expensive and time consuming. In this post, we’ll explain how to plan for an ADA compliant space before starting construction.

What needs to be ADA compliant

An outdoor amenity space is its own facility and each amenity within the space is an element. For example, a patio is its own facility and the picnic table on the patio is an element. Both the facility and the elements must be ADA compliant. If an able-bodied person can get to it, it needs to be accessible to all. 

The facility also needs to have an accessible route to and from the building or facility that it’s associated with, so there cannot be steps down to a patio, there must be a ramp.

Guidelines for common outdoor elements

Tables, benches, and grilling areas:

  • You need to ensure proper spacing for the flow of a wheelchair throughout the facility.
  • If you add tables, a percentage of them need to be ADA accessible – those manufactured with space for a wheelchair to pull right up.
  • For benches, you’ll want to leave a 30” x 48” clear space next to it.
  • Grilling and work surfaces should be the appropriate height.
ADA compliant dining and grilling area

A good rule of thumb for constructing a new facility or element: If there is one, it needs to be ADA accessible. If there are multiple elements, at least one must be accessible. For example, if you have one water fountain, it needs to be at an ADA-compliant height.

Parks and recreational facilities:

  • You need an accessible path to the park, court, or field.
  • For recreational facilities, you also need a firm, stable, slip resistant path connecting the different components.

Swimming pools:

  • You need to provide a pool lift or sloped entry.
ADA compliant pool lift

Improvements and additions to older facilities

When adding to or improving existing facilities, there should already be an accessible route to the building. However, if your building is older, you may require an ADA evaluation to determine if you have an accessible route from the parking spaces to the public entrance.

The 20% rule

Also worth noting is the “20% rule”. You may be surprised to know, this rule has actually been around since 1990 under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When making building or site improvements, you are obligated to spend up to 20% of your total project budget to remove barriers to improve accessibility. For example, if you have a $50,000 patio addition, you are obligated to spend at least $10,000 improving accessibility. This may include providing an accessible entrance and route to the altered area, making restrooms more accessible, or adding an accessible drinking fountain.

Several commercial office clients have recently brought us on board to design exterior ADA improvements. For one project, the client wants to improve their landscape and add a new patio. Additionally, we are working with them use this project as an opportunity to make building entrance and parking lot accessibility and accessible route improvements.

Do I need a civil engineer?

Every municipality handles ADA improvements differently. Whether they have Township inspectors and code officers, or an accessibility officer, there is always somebody looking. It’s better for you to have a civil engineer and possibly even an architect to help you plan these improvements.   

Going back to redesign for ADA compliance is much more expensive and time consuming than considering it from the very beginning.

The bottom line

You need to follow ADA design standards for a public amenity space used by employees or residents.

Building an ADA-compliant outdoor amenity space doesn’t have to be difficult. It won’t be as long as you have someone on your team who knows the regulations, stands behind the design, and is an advocate for you, an expert who will evaluate what works from an overall perspective to save you time and money. Nave Newell has performed ADA site evaluations and designed cost-effective improvements at over 300 sites throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Let’s get started

Contact our ADA Compliance Expert – Jim Bannon at 610-265-8323 or [email protected].

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