California ADA Requirements
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, protects people with disabilities from discrimination. This federal law defines a disability, or “substantial impairment,” as a limitation of activities, such as seeing, hearing, walking, speaking, and working. Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the ADA includes numerous accessibility requirements; California is one of the most ADA-compliant states in the nation.
California ADA Standards
Since the ADA was enacted in California in 1992, over 20,000 ADA-related lawsuits have been filed in state courts. The penalty for not meeting accessibility requirements (of the California Building Code or ADA) is at least $4,000 in statutory damages plus attorney’s fees. Inherently difficult to defend, ADA lawsuits often result in payouts of at least $4,000 to $6,000. Litigation costs California businesses an estimated $20 million annually.
Since ADA lawsuits have become so commonplace, recent legislation protects business and property owners. Under Senate Bill 1608, they can have facilities inspected for access compliance. An inspection, performed by a Certified Access Specialist, is intended to protect against unwarranted lawsuits and:
- Verify compliance with federal/state accessibility requirements.
- Identify any issues that can be corrected.
- Indicate a reasonable time frame to make corrections.
- Ensure a business is accessible to all customers.
- Establish an intent to correct accessibility issues.
California legislators have also implemented tax benefits for small businesses, which can receive a tax credit of up to $5,000 to pay for inspection and construction costs. Businesses can also receive a tax deduction of up to $15,000 for qualified accessibility expenses.
Where Do ADA Requirements Apply?
Any government agency, whether local, county, state, or federal, is required to maintain ADA compliance. The ADA guidelines also apply to businesses that rely on the general public, private companies with 15 or more employees, and non-profit and charitable organizations with at least 15 workers that serve the general public. In general, any business or organization that accommodates the public must be ADA-compliant.
- Public restrooms
- Train/rail/subway stations
- Bus stations
- Hospitals and other healthcare facilities
- Apartment/rental properties
- Parking garages
- Public sidewalks
Larger public facilities are required to follow ADA standards as well. They include public schools, colleges, and universities, as well as sports stadiums and arenas. Even if you run a private business that doesn’t rely on the general public, it may be required to adhere to the California Building Code and ADA rules (especially if it employs 15 or more people).
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was updated with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Agencies and business and property owners are required to follow guidelines laid out for:
- Curb Ramps: Required on all newly constructed or altered streets, roads, and highways, as well as any sloped areas at intersections with barriers to entry, such as curbs. The same applies to any newly constructed or altered street level pedestrian walkways.
A short ramp that cuts through a curb or is built up to it, a curb ramp must have a counter slope of no steeper than 1:20 (one inch of height change for every 20 inches of travel) and side flares of no steeper than 1:10. Curb ramps must be completely contained within the markings of designated crossing areas and not project into traffic lanes, parking spaces, or parking access aisles.
- Sidewalks: A sidewalk is considered an accessible path of travel and must have at least one accessible route from a passenger loading zone, public street, or accessible parking area. Walking surfaces should have a clear width of at least 36 inches. This can be reduced to 32 inches if a given section extends 24 inches maximum. Reduced width areas are separated by segments of at least 48 x 36 inches.
For accessible routes where a 180-degree turn is required, and there are less than 48 inches of space, the clear width must be at least 42 inches on approach to the turn while passing spaces must be 200 feet apart if an accessible route is less than 60 inches wide.
- Detectable Warning/Tactile Paving: Truncated dome requirements in California follow the 2010 ADA Standards. Truncated domes must have a base diameter anywhere from 0.9 to 1.4 inches wide and 0.2 inches high. From center to center, each dome must be spaced 1.6 to 2.4 inches apart with a base-to-base spacing of 0.65 inches. There are legal requirements for color contrast as well; all detectable warning surfaces must contrast as light-on-dark or dark-on-light. Detectable warnings on a platform edge must be 24 inches wide and extend the full length of any public use area.
In California, more people file a complaint about ADA violations than in any other state. The most common types of complaints are:
- Missing accessibility signs, or incorrect symbols, at entrances and exits
- Too steep a slope for an individual in a wheelchair or with a mobility issue
- Bathrooms with no accessible stalls, floor space for turning, or other compliant features
- Stairways with incorrect riser heights, tread widths, or handrail heights; or have open risers, where a person can trip, or no non-slip treads
- Parking spaces without designated signage, that are not wide enough, or are too far from an accessible route/entrance
- Service counters, work surfaces, and bars with improper heights
- Seating that is not designed for wheelchair users
Helpful Inspection Checklist
When you inspect a facility for compliance with California ADA requirements (view the ADA Cheat Sheet for specifics), it is important to consider the following:
- Number of accessible parking spaces
- Parking space signs and identification
- Walks and sidewalks
- Stairway handrails
- Roll-in showers
- Open showers
- Water fountains
- Public telephones
- Accessible rooms
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