Accessibility Considerations for New Driveway Construction
When starting new driveway construction, you likely have many questions about accessibility
and safety for both older adults and those with disabilities. Unfortunately, fall injuries are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, and each year 2.8 million seniors receive treatment in the emergency room for falls.
Whether your new driveway is at a residence or business, there are critical considerations during the construction process. Minimizing the potential for injuries to residents and visitors is one crucial step, but here we’ll discuss everything you need to know about designing your driveway the right, and safe, way.
ADA and Legal Requirements
To make everyday living manageable and to allow people of all abilities to access public facilities and private businesses, the government established the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act went into effect in 1990, after the National Council on Disability recommended the bill.
ADA guidelines prohibit discrimination and help ensure that all people have safe access everywhere. It covers twelve categories of public accommodation, although the list is not exhaustive. Rules also relate to the areas of employment and telecommunications.
The twelve areas of public accommodations are as follows:
- Places of lodging
- Establishments serving food or drink
- Places of exhibition or entertainment
- Places of public gathering
- Sales or rental establishments
- Service establishments
- Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations
- Places of public display or collection
- Places of recreation
- Places of education
- Social service center establishments
- Places of exercise or recreation
If a business is found not in compliance with ADA standards, they must make changes to rectify the problem. For example, public swimming pools must have a means of entry and exit for people who cannot use a ladder. If a public pool is noncompliant, an individual may file a complaint to force the location to comply.
For a pool, that would mean a shutdown period for modifying the area to include an accessible entry and exit. To many businesses, the costs of closing their doors for construction is enough to make them follow the rules the first time around.
It’s best to follow ADA guidelines throughout the design and drafting process to avoid frustration at the conclusion. This way, you’ll avoid the inconvenience and cost of making modifications later. You’ll also ensure the safety of visitors and patrons.
ADA in the News
Despite the ADA’s rollout nearly thirty years ago, many businesses have yet to retrofit their facilities to accommodate patrons who have disabilities. While there is now an epidemic of what the media calls “drive-by” lawsuits over noncompliance, many complaints reflect severe safety and accessibility concerns.
For example, although Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, opened in 1914, the stadium’s recent renovations mean that it’s time for more than a cosmetic upgrade. Before the installation of a new bar area, there was plenty of accessible seating, Chicago Mag reported.
Now, one lawsuit alleges, the only accessible seats are behind a tinted barrier and offer terrible views of the game. Ongoing renovations have soared into the hundreds of millions, but the stadium is still resistant to revamping its accessible seating accommodations.
Unfortunately, this example is one of many which cause inconveniences to patrons and border on discrimination against differently abled guests. In a 2015 lawsuit, attorneys for people with disabilities petitioned for the city of Los Angeles, California to fix broken sidewalks throughout public streets.
As the LA Times highlighted, the public pathways are part of city infrastructure that falls under the ADA. Los Angeles wound up committing to pay over a billion dollars, spread out over thirty years, to fix the accessibility issues and make the city’s sidewalks safer for everyone.
One city councilperson noted that the lawsuit was a “historic victory” not only for people with disabilities but also for the elderly and anyone who routinely navigates over the broken sidewalks as a pedestrian.
But the issues don’t end with public locations that have the funds to renovate. In 2015, a couple watched their village personnel replace their driveway apron and curb cut. The wife, Sandy Donigain, uses a wheelchair. The modifications made it impossible for Sandy to use her property’s side driveway, which allowed her access to her vehicle from the back door of the home.
After Sandy and her husband brought a lawsuit against the Village of Lyons, the Chronicle Illinois reported, the village agreed to re-cut the curb so that Donigain and her wheelchair could navigate the property again.
Unfortunately, many residents in the neighborhood had the same complaint as Donigain but were unable or unwilling to pay the costs of hiring an attorney. Ultimately, Donigain’s success in court reflects the need for stringent care when building or renovating property or neighborhood features that residents use.
Accessibility and Safety Considerations
The ADA offers plenty of guidance on what is officially “accessible,” so that contractors, business owners, and homeowners can ensure that their properties fit the bill. However, even if a private homeowner does not have to follow the ADA guidelines, making areas safe for both people with disabilities and older people is still a priority.
Printable checklists are available online to help property owners and contractors navigate the rules of the ADA. These lists give an overview of the rules that both existing facilities and new construction must adhere to.
According to the ADA, priorities for accessibility include:
- Accessible approach and entrance
- Access to goods and services
- Access to public toilet rooms
- Access to other items such as water fountains and public telephones
Approach and Entrance
As you can see, an “accessible approach and entrance,” is crucial, and that means addressing driveways and sidewalks outside your business or residence. A primary consideration for driveways and entries is the slope of the surface.
The ADA gives directions on determining the slope of an area, and the maximum slope allowed for a ramp is 1:12. That means for each inch of height change, there must be 12 inches in length. For other parts of the route that do not include a ramp, the maximum slope is 1:20. Similarly, this means 12 inches of route run must accompany each inch of height change.
Although the layout of a building site may require creative solutions for parking and walkways, the ADA requires one route from “site arrival points” such as parking areas, passenger loading zones, and public sidewalks that do not need stairs to access.
Further, at least one accessible parking space must accommodate van access, with other accessible spaces measuring eight feet wide. While private parking areas at residences do not have to follow these rules, it’s helpful to consider the measurements when determining how wide and long to make a driveway.
It’s also advisable to make driveways long and wide enough for a vehicle to turn around in, notably larger handicap-accessible vans. If your path (or its planned location) is a distance away from the residence or facility, the ADA’s suggestion for routes at least 36 inches wide help to maintain easy access.
Aesthetics versus Accessibility
Keeping the route from a driveway to home or facility “stable, firm and slip-resistant,” is another item of note in the ADA’s checklist. However, homeowners are free to choose the materials that complement the style of their home and their tastes.
Remaining aware of the challenges that older people and people with disabilities may face concerning mobility, it’s vital to choose walkway materials that focus on function and utility over appearance.
A slick tile is not only dangerous to people with limited mobility, but the variations in height and the grooves between the tiles may cause visitors to trip. Likewise, stonework with dips and grooves may also pose a trip hazard.
Like the situation with the city of Los Angeles’ torn up sidewalks, underlying tree roots and foliage may push stones or paths out of alignment, presenting further fall hazards. In some areas, ADA requirements dictate the use of ramps and handrails, so consider those elements even if your location is exempt from such rules.
Accessible Driveway Requirements
Stanton Homes, a homebuilder that designs and builds accessible homes, recommends a specific set of parameters for accessible driveways. Stanton Homes not only focuses on universal accessibility but they also design and construct certified Aging in Place and VA-approved Specially Adapted Housing custom homes.
The basic elements that Stanton Homes recommends for all home builders and homeowners are:
Start with the Design
Home builders prefer to begin with a working design and modify on paper, rather than building and making changes later. Starting with an accessibility perspective helps the project avoid complications on site.
Universal accessibility homes should have wider driveways, and Stanton Homes recommends ones at least 12 feet wide. They also suggest avoiding tight turns onto the property if possible and incorporating a flared shape to the end of the driveway to make turns easier.
We’ve already discussed choosing the right materials, but concrete or asphalt are top choices for flat driveways. Using stamped concrete or other more visually appealing materials can also cause water to pool on the surface, adding to an already hazardous surface.
Apart from ADA standards, keeping grading gradual will help everyone maintain stability. In icy conditions, the grade should be under 10 percent. In other climates, 15 percent is acceptable.
Level Home Access
Choose a level lot from the start if you can. However, even if it requires significant changes to your home’s design, it’s worth it to make the parking area level with the entry to the home. If your existing lot is not level, consult your design and construction team for solutions that can help avoid steep inclines.
Avoid Steps and Ramps
Another reason to focus on keeping the home and driveway area level is to avoid steps and ramps getting from one area of the property to the next. It may add to your initial investment to level out the property and make a flat driveway, but the convenience and added safety of a straight and flat route to the home makes life easier in the long run.
Other Safety Concerns
Unlevel driveway surfaces are dangerous for people with limited mobility, vision, and hearing, but a steep driveway also poses further hazards to homeowners, residents, and visitors. If you’re building a home or business, choose your location carefully to ensure that you won’t require a steep access road.
Steep and narrow driveways impact safety and fire personnel response times and accessibility, so for people with disabilities who live alone, or for older people who want to remain living at home, this poses a serious safety concern.
For people who have vision challenges, driving up or down a steep driveway can cause anxiety. Not only that, but steep driveways often have reduced visibility, particularly if they are long. This means spotting other vehicles, animals, or even small children can become difficult.
When the weather turns inclement, snow, rain, and ice can also affect the way a car grips the driveway, increasing the odds that residents will have an accident.
Disabilities by the Numbers
In 2010, the United States Census Bureau reported that nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States have a disability. Of those, about 30.6 million had mobility challenges, including difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Many of these individuals used a wheelchair, cane, crutches, or a walker.
Also, people age 80 and older were eight times more likely to have a disability than younger groups. Other common challenges include difficulty lifting and grasping, getting around the house, and vision and hearing issues.
Overall, this means more people experience disabilities which can impact not only the way they live their daily lives but also how safe they are in different environments. Particularly for nursing homes, residential living facilities, and apartment or condominium complexes, accessibility and safety concerns take precedence over aesthetic values.
Consider the fact that someone who has a hearing impairment may not hear a vehicle backing up. An individual with a vision impairment may not be able to see dips or grooves on the ground as they walk. People who use wheelchairs may have to take lengthy detours to navigate around driveways or sidewalks.
The overall goal of the ADA is to enhance safety and security for people with disabilities during everyday activities. Traveling to and from businesses and residences is a vital part of that accommodation.