Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act:

How to Make Sure Your Parking Lot is ADA Compliant

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which celebrated its 27th anniversary in 2017, has been a milestone for those whose lives it made easier but it’s been a bit of a headache for property managers who are required to implement the ADA guidelines.

Among the first things to realize is that the ADA requirements are federal requirements. As such they represent the minimum properties must do to accommodate persons with disabilities. It is entirely possible that the ADA requirements in your state, city, county or even local community are more stringent than the federal requirements. So knowing the federal ADA requirements, while important, might not be enough.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of the ADA guidelines because, as a property owner or manager, you are responsible for your property. And if the ADA requirements aren’t met it’s your property and company that could be held responsible in a lawsuit.

But while it’s your responsibility to see they are met, it can’t be your job. That’s what contractors are for.  And it’s why you need to hire a reputable contractor you can rely on to be your ADA expert.

Here’s an example why that’s the case:

Federal ADA guidelines do not require the international handicap symbol painted on a blue background on the pavement of the parking stall.  Did you know that? You see them all over in almost all parking lots, but that blue square and white stick figure are not required by the ADA. However, many communities do require that symbol, and some specify where it should be placed in the stall. So that blue symbol is common either because of nonfederal laws or just because people expect them to be there, so property managers have them painted. But they’re not an ADA requirement.

What the federal government does require is a sign on a post (or on the wall if the parking space butts against a building) indicating that a space is reserved for accessible parking. There are specifications for that sign (such as how high off the ground), but there’s nothing in the guidelines about a symbol on the pavement. Some cities, counties and states require only the specific sign that the ADA requires, but others require the symbol and a notice of the dollar amount of the fine for a parking violation. It varies from location to location.

Think about it. You face ADA guidelines concerning your parking lot how often? Maybe once a year when it’s restriped? Every year or two when it’s sealcoated and striped? And less often when structural alterations (in the form of pavement repairs) are made? Why would you want to be responsible for knowing what your property needs in terms of the ADA? You’d have to research it each time any work is done on your property! And if you own or manage properties in different cities, counties or even states you’d need to know the ADA requirements specific to that property! And you would need to redo your efforts for each property each time you sealcoating, stripe or make any structural repairs!

Why should you be the ADA expert?

A contractor who maintains parking lots for a living and who is an ADA expert, however, has this information in his head or at the very least at his fingertips. He deals with the ADA on virtually a daily basis, so he should know exactly what your parking lot needs – from a federal, state and local perspective. He should be able to detail what you need – and why.

If he can’t, find yourself a new contractor. Seriously.

That said, let’s look at some of the ADA basics that apply to almost all parking lots. This will at least give you some ammunition when talking with a contractor to see if he’s the ADA expert you want to partner with.

1. How Many Accessible Parking Spaces Must Your Property Have?

According to the ADA, every public parking lot has to have at least one handicap-accessible space for cars. Once you have the one, the number of additional accessible spaces increases based on the total number of parking spaces in the parking lot (1 space per 25 spaces; 2 spaces per 50 etc.) Parking lots must also have a van-accessible space – and the car-accessible space can double as a van-accessible space provided the correct measurements are used.

2. Accessible spaces require certain measurements and specific striping.

Your contractor will know the details but suffice it to say that immediately adjacent to the accessible parking space there must be a No Parking area – termed an Access Aisle – and this Access Aisle must be marked as such with crosshatch striping. This provides space for a person with disabilities to maneuver with a walker or wheelchair once outside the vehicle.

3. Parking stalls are only part of the ADA requirements of which property managers need to be aware. Once a person with a disability parks in a stall and exits the vehicle, he still needs to get to the building. This, according to the ADA, requires a designated Accessible Route, which also must be striped appropriately. This route must be the shortest possible route from the parking lot to an accessible entrance; must be at least 3 feet wide; must have no stairs or curbs; must have a firm, stable, slip-resistant surface; and must have a slope no greater than 1 in. over 12 ft. in the direction of travel.

There is also a difference in ADA requirements depending on whether you are modifying an existing facility or making alterations (usually some type of physical construction) to an existing facility, which would trigger more-extensive ADA requirements.

The point is this: The federal ADA Guidelines are a fairly complex set of rules that often require cross-referencing of definitions and comparison with state or local requirements. Rather than tackle the task of sorting out what your property needs and then trying to include those needs in a bid spec, it’s well worth your while, both from a dollars-and-cents standpoint and a peace of mind standpoint, to hire a contractor who is an ADA expert to tell you what your property needs. That’s the best way to make sure your parking lot is ADA compliant!

And if you really want to make sure you’re compliant, contact a local advocacy organization for people with disabilities. They’ll be more than happy to visit your property and help you and your contractor determine where accessibility improvements are needed.