In this article, we examine public accessibility for people with disabilities. How did the movement towards a more accessible society begin? First, let’s get some perspective.
On July 26, 1990, at a signing ceremony at the White House, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since then, awareness of the ADA requirements and compliance with them has become universal in new commercial construction. There is no doubt that this legislation has had a profound effect on the business of manufacturing, installing and servicing accessibility equipment.
However, this law did not represent the beginning of the trend towards greater public accessibility. The seeds for that were planted much earlier by shifts in public policy and the laws enacted to ban discrimination based on race, ethnic origin and gender. This was followed by similar legislation way back in 1973 which banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds.
This really meant that, for the first time ever, society began to take responsibility for providing greater inclusion of people with disabilities. Before that, the prevailing thought was that the exclusion of people with disabilities was a direct consequence of their own limitations. (Mayerson, 1992)
By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Disability Rights movement had sprouted with the founding of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund which continues to provide a voice for the rights of the disabled today.
Increasing awareness and legislation was followed by the transformation of thousands of existing public places to allow for accessibility. This continues today; many publicly owned buildings in smaller communities remain inaccessible.
Through the 1980’s and 90’s, the use of platform lifts for wheelchairs started to become more widespread. The Safety Standard used as a basis for state safety regulations, ASME A17.1 became A18.1 in 1999. This separated the requirements for wheelchair platform lifts from the requirements for passenger elevators, which remain under A17.1. As the A18.1 has become further refined, it has been adopted as a safety standard for accessibility equipment by virtually every state in the USA.
In the early days, accessibility equipment was considered by some as the ugly stepchild of the elevator industry. These were lighter-duty elevating devices that, when examined under the scrutiny of legislation intended for passenger elevators, could not possibly stack up. In some cases, the equipment was poorly designed to begin with. Now, the accessibility industry has matured, the equipment is better understood, and the solutions provided are legitimate, code-compliant and safe.
For the future, we will continue to see accessibility equipment used to provide solutions in commercial and public places. We are also seeing an upward trend with residential accessibility. As “Aging in Place” and “Universal Design” have now become common terms for designers of new homes, so has the use of residential elevators and stair lifts.