FM Innovator Podcast Episode 26: ADA Compliance for FMs

FM Innovator Podcast Ep. 26: (Part 1) ADA Compliance for FMs | Brad Gaskins – McIntosh Group

This interview was conducted by Mike Petrusky of Kayrell Communications for the FM Innovator Podcast. Mike interviewed ADA expert Brad Gaskins on the unique challenges facility managers face with accessibility and ADA compliance. This is part 1 of a two-part series. To listen to this podcast, visit:

Mike: “Let’s learn more about you Brad”

Brad: “I’m known in the office as the ADA Geek. The difference between a geek and a nerd is that a nerd is a nerd and they don’t know that they are a nerd, a geek is a nerd that knows they are a nerd. I know that I am this way, and I lay claim to that. Building codes and the subject drive me to a great degree of what I do. Sometimes it’s about knowing the code, and other times it’s about understanding the purpose we are trying to get to. As architects, we are problem solvers, we don’t just do what the code tells us to do, we are supposed to try and help solve the problem. I take great pride in trying to understand that and solve problems as supposed to just doing some rote thing the code tells us we have to do.”

Mike: “Before we get to far Brad, I want to get to know you a little bit more personally. How do you like to spend your free time? I know you like orange.”

Brad: “Well you know my free time is spent in one of two ways. One is shopping for orange. I cannot have too much orange in my life, everything I have is orange. I have about 24 orange long sleeve shirts and 24 orange short sleeve shirts in my closet. I make sure that it’s orange all the time. I spend my free time studying the ADA. It’s not just a job, it’s something I love and I’m always trying to learn more about it and understand the reasons behind it. I guess I’m a pretty dull and boring guy, because that’s about the two things I do all the time.”

Mike: “Hey that’s ok, if you do what you love and love what you do, things are pretty happy in life. Are you a fan of any particular motivational speaker or business books, quotes you live by?”

Brad: “I do have a quote that I use a lot in what we do and the quote is denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, and that’s a Mark Twain quote. We try to use that with our accessibility clients and architects we are training to try and get them to them to understand that you can’t deny you have a problem. Denial of that problem is what is going to get you in trouble.”

Mike: “Absolutely. Danger, danger Will Robinson we need to be careful here. So let’s talk a little bit more about ADA and the issues you are so passionate about. Where do you like to talk to folks? Where am I going to find you speaking about this topic?”

Brad: “If you find me, I will probably be speaking about the topic. I think I drive my wife crazy because anytime we go shopping I am like ‘…oh look that doesn’t comply, this doesn’t comply…’ I can’t get it out of my head. We have actually got some of our other people in the office doing the same thing. Our business development director, when she’s out traveling I get pictures from her all the time “Oh I saw this, I saw that”. So, I am infecting these people with this infliction I have.”

Mike: “Yeah, once you know it, you can’t turn it off. You see it everywhere you turn.”

Brad: “That’s right. Otherwise, we speak a lot to architects, training architects. Specifically with CE Academy. They provide continuing education to architects and we do a lot of training for them. I happen to be speaking at the AIA convention this year. We do speak at NFMT twice a year, and then we do a lot of training for individual clients as well. A client will have us come in and do training for their facilities people and their construction people. It’s to help them understand what they need to do on the construction end. Also for the facilities people as they are maintaining. Much of this is ongoing maintenance issues. But, because sometimes you’re dealing with maintenance issues you inadvertently do stuff that can be less compliant and take you out of compliance.”

Mike: “Yes, not just the original design and construction with our facility management community, as they are making changes over time. They may trip up and stumble into a compliance problem without even knowing it, is that right?”

Brad: “Yes, one of the biggest issues we see, it’s not a huge issue, but it is something we see over and over again is facilities will sign a contract for paper goods, paper towels, toilet paper, whatever, from a company. As a part of that, they get the dispensers that come with and those dispensers just get put up in the toilet rooms without a lot of thought as to a say in the ADA. They are too high or they are too low, whatever the situation may be, and they end up being non-compliant. That is something that we see a lot of after the fact of the original construction that presents some problems. They are usually pretty obvious and pretty obvious things tend to drive complaints and lawsuits.”

Mike: “Sure. Are there areas that facility managers need to be aware of in their day to day responsibilities that are a part of this ADA issues?”

Brad: “Most definitely. There are always things that are going on maintenance wise in a facility. But things that are specifically not thought about are door closing speeds and door operating pressures. The ADA requires that doors with closers can’t be more than 5 lbs. force to open the door. That changes over time as the weather changes so that needs to be constantly monitored. We recommend on a quarterly basis as a maximum timeframe that they are checked. The other things is signage, and signage changing in buildings. People run over signs in the parking lot, new signs get put up and the new signs end up not being compliant in some fashion. Or, the opportunity to change out a damaged sign that wasn’t compliant with a new compliant sign isn’t necessarily thought of. The third thing we see a lot of is toilet rooms that are not accessible and somebody just goes down to the office supply store and sticks it [a new sign] up on the wall, and not only is the sign not in the right location, but the sign has the international sign for accessibility on it trying to tell someone that toilet room is accessible when the room isn’t even close to being accessible. It was just a sign that was stuck up. Those are some obvious things I can think of off the top of my head that facility managers are going to see on a day to day basis.”

Mike: “Lots of areas to be aware of, that’s why this topic is important to this audience. Another area of our audience besides just facility manager practitioners is industry partners who are working with them. We do have a fair amount of folks in architecture and interior design working with them in the design world that are listening with them I’m sure. What would you tell them if given the chance, what should they be thinking about?”

Brad: “That is a very tough question. There is so much. We could spend 4 days talking about that. The 2 things I will say is that number one, the ADA is not a building code and this is a big paradigm shift for design professionals. It is not a building code, it is a civil rights law. As a civil rights law, you could very well be in compliance with the standards that are published, but not be in compliance with the civil rights law because you are still being discriminatory. Now you have a safe harbor, don’t get me wrong with that. But you have to have the mindset that if an able bodied individual can do it in your building, a person with disabilities needs to be able to do the same action as individually as possible. If you take that mindset into this, then you have a very good likelihood of being compliant and getting whatever you designed as compliant. The second thing I will say is that there is no such thing as grandfathering. Grandfathering does not exist. We get asked all the time about ‘what triggers us to have to make updates to our buildings, what triggers us to have to remove barriers?’ Well, the fact that the barrier exists today is the reason that you have to remove that barrier. There are two notable exceptions that we could spend hours on, but I will just mention them briefly. They are if it is not readily achievable to do so [remove barrier] or readily feasible to do so. Other than that, the fact that the barrier exists, the barrier needs to be removed.”

Mike: “Wow okay, well we do need to keep moving but we would like to hear more about that another time. You mentioned the NFMT show, what do you have in store for those folks?”

Brad: “We are actually going to be doing a 4 hour session, Monday afternoon. It is going to be geared toward building a good foundation. Number one, what standards you need to follow. Second thing, what commonality things we see out in the field, common problems, things that we see over and over again that hopefully the facility managers can take and go back and quickly spot in their own facilities the same conditions and say oh that’s not compliant I’ve got areas that I need to concentrate on, and believe it or not we can spend 4 hours on just those two subjects very easily.”

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