Accessibility and The Silver Tsunami: How aging boomers are changing how we think and build

Several years ago, in a speech outlining six disruptive demographic trends that would require change, James Johnson’s prognostications laid the groundwork for the myriad transformations today’s brands are having to deal with across all segments.   What Johnson, director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said was that our communities and businesses were going to change dramatically.

“Agility, flexibility, accommodation is the order of the day,” Johnson told members of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) members. “If you try one-size-fits-all, it’s going to be my way or the highway, you’re going to be on the highway all by yourself.”

While some businesses have been able to succeed a little longer using older, stricter work models for their employees and patrons, changing Accessibility ADA Compliance for Seniorsdemographics in the workforce and consumer world are demanding a new way of doing things.

That brings us to No. 4 on Johnson’s list, a topic that is near and dear to the commercial construction industry – the “Silver Tsunami is about to hit.” Depending on what study you read, the older population — persons 65 years or older — numbered 46.2 million in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available). This aging group represents 14.5 percent of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans. By 2040, people 65-plus are expected to grow to 21.7 percent of the population, and nearly 98 million by 2060, according to the Administration on Aging (AoA).

Those are important numbers today, especially when you look at companies in the retail, restaurant and hospitality sectors working to comply to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“While many property owners have experienced first-hand how an ADA lawsuit can have a detrimental impact on a company’s finances and reputation, others still are unclear on what exactly the ADA Standards are and why they must be followed,” says Brad Gaskins, AIA, CASP, NCARB, principal and COO for The McIntosh Group.

Gaskins, who has more than 30 years experience in the practice of architecture and a comprehensive understanding of professional practice nationwide, says that ADA is a sleeping giant that is just beginning to stir. “The ADA has been a Civil Rights Law for more than 25 years, and businesses are still catching up. ADA lawsuits are on the rise across the country. It’s much better to be proactive about compliance, both to avoid litigation and to better serve your customers.”

As we have seen, this trend demands new levels of flexibility in the workplace and beyond. The race to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) continues to be one of the biggest areas of emphasis for brands in the retail, restaurant and hospitality sectors. Requirements include wheelchair ramps, handicap stalls, handicap parking, lifts, and other items designed to assist the physically disabled.

The ADA addresses a much broader array of issues than just wheelchair accessibility. It also is requiring facilities to make adjGuide dog is helping a blind manustments for people who are visually and hearing impaired, and have trouble sitting down, standing up and walking stairs.

Gaskins says there has been a rise in the number of ADA lawsuits filed against businesses and facilities for alleged violations over the last few years. With the advent of the Silver Tsunami, the number of lawsuits is poised to increase. Now is the time for change. The average cost of an ADA settlement is nearly $15,000.

 The best defense against ADA lawsuits is to begin the process of removing accessibility barriers (see below, “4 Ways to Prepare for the Silver Tsunami). Barriers are aspects of the built environment which lessen a disabled person’s access. The removal process starts by assessing what needs to be done and then putting in place plans, procedures and policies to guide implementation.

“Knowledge is the key to starting your path to compliance,” Gaskins says. “Begin by educating yourself on the basic requirements of the ADA. Consult with an expert who can give you specific details related to your business and perform accessibility audits of your facilities. Then, create a plan of action.”

4 ways to prepare for the Silver Tsunami

Competing in the world of the Silver Tsunami means being prepared. Here’s how to get started:sample-barrier-report-cover-page
No. 1 – Know how you’re doing
First, understand the ADA basics. For example, Title III, which addresses public accommodations and commercial buildings, prohibits discrimination based on disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations by anybody who owns, leases or operates a place of public accommodation. Consult with a professional for specific related to your business and perform an accessibility audit on the facility.
No. 2 – Develop a written implementation plan
Data from the audit can be used to create an access plan and remove barriers within your time frame. ADA enforcement does not insist on complete and immediate compliance. Barrier removal is a continuing obligation, and it’s expected that you take steps to improve accessibility over time.
No. 3 – Execute against the plan
The Standards require businesses to remove barriers to the extent that it’s readily achievable. If it’s not readily achievable to immediately remove a barrier, you must remove barriers to the extent that it’s readily achievable. Continuing barrier removal obligations should be incorporated into both short-term and long-term business planning. A record of this process should be part of their accessibility compliance plan.
No. 4 – Let the law be your guide
ADA compliance is the law, but it’s also good business. Americans with disabilities represent a profitable consumer market. For information, try the United States Access Board website ( and the U.S. DOJ ADA website ( The DOJ also offers a toll-free ADA information line for assistance.



This article was originally published in Commercial Transformations, a McIntosh Group publication in Commercial Construction & Renovation magazine. View the original publication: Commercial Transformations Issue 3: The Silver Tsunami : How aging boomers are changing how we think and build.


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