FM Innovator Podcast Episode 43: How to Choose a Qualified ADA Consultant

Ep. 43 How to Choose a Qualified ADA Consultant for FMs | Brad Gaskins - McIntosh Group

Ep. 43 How to Choose a Qualified ADA Consultant 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. To listen to this podcast, visit:

Mike: “The FM innovator podcast is pleased to welcome back to the show our favorite ADA expert. Calling in from Tulsa, OK, it’s the ADA Geek himself, Brad Gaskins. Hi there Brad!”

Brad: “How are you doing Mike?”

Mike: “Doing great, doing great and you are a busy traveling man as always. What have you been up to lately?”

Brad: “That question is sometimes difficult to answer because lately it seems like I’ve been up to everything. I’ve been to Las Vegas.”

Mike: “On business or pleasure?”

Brad: “Business – always business.”

Mike: “Well, I was there recently too. I was there in April for IFMA’s Facility Fusion conference and had the chance to speak there – and honored to do so. I mentioned in our last episode that I noticed all kinds of barriers everywhere, and my awareness was heightened because of our previous discussions. All of the sudden I couldn’t go through a hotel in Vegas without noticing all of the ADA compliance issues potentially.”

Brad: “This has the tendency to do that to people. Once you are aware you can’t not see them. Let’s talk about red cars – and now every car on the road seems like a red car once you start thinking about it.”

Mike: “Exactly! Look what you’ve done to me – you’ve infected me with your ADA Geekdom! Well, during our early chats we learned about your passion for the OSU Cowboys Football Team and your overwhelmingly orange wardrobe, right?”

Brad: “That is correct!”

Mike: “We also talked about your love of Hawaii and you shared a great story of your adventures there, including a crazy bicycle crash incident which was a little bit frightening. Go back and listen to that one folks! So what else can I ask you Brad? I heard something about a lot of cats running around your office, is that true?”

Brad: “We have two new kitties in our office. They are from Miami, Florida and they are currently residing on the first floor. Jack our CFO, Chief Feline Officer, still has the third and second floor to himself, but we haven’t yet introduced them to each other yet. So that is all good!”

Mike: “What brought on the idea of letting cats in the office or adopting these cats?”

Brad: “Well Jack arrived by being dumped in our vestibule back in 1999, and so Jack was adopted. He has been around and he still runs the place and lets me share his desk with him.”

Mike: “That’s nice. I used to have a cat named DJ and I wish I could tell you a cool story about how that name was somehow connected to my radio announcer dream… but no, it was just a cat that we adopted when we first got married. My wife wanted a kitty and her name is Diana, and we found out the cat was also a female so we named the cat Diana Jr. – DJ for short. Very clever right? Anyway, I thought I’d try to tie that into my DJ dream here as a podcaster now. So Brad, I am excited to talk to again about this topic of The Americans with Disabilities Act so we can help our FM community be better equipped to manage any compliance issues that might come their way. During our earlier conversations, we covered the applications and definitions contained in the ADA. That was back on episode 26, and then we got into a more detailed discussion of compliance standards and the risks of all these legal activities out there today, that was on episode 32. You mentioned the coming ‘silver tsunami’ (which I loved) and what impact that might have on our facilities. So here we are today. Let’s assume an FM has decided ‘Yes, I need to move forward and get someone in here to help us determine where our organization stands with regard to the ADA.’ What can you tell us about the process selecting an ADA consultant?”

Brad: “It is an interesting process, I think, if it is done correctly. I think the first thing that an FM or an owner needs to do is analyze exactly what are their needs and what are they looking for, because there are many many different scopes that can take place, and if you don’t have a firm idea of what you’re looking for, you can very well end up with a consultant who can,t or doesn’t provide that type of service to you. An example of that would be are they a full service firm? Some clients only want a report and that is all they need and they’ll take that report and go do what they need to do. Other of the people that have approached us have had reports done from firms who are not architects and therefore cannot do the architecture work on the back end. So I think a FM and owner needs to understand and exactly know what they are looking for past the report itself, but that is the first thing I think they need to understand.”

Mike: “So begin with the end in mind. As Stephen Covey would say, I think that was one of his Principles of Successful… what was that book called?”

Brad: “Is it Five Habits of Highly Successful People or something like that?”

Mike: “I think so, but we’ve only remembered the first one! So ‘begin with the end in mind’ is a good way to start. How can we best determine the qualifications of a potential consultant?”

Brad: “Do they have any professional credentials? In other words, are they qualified? There are a lot of people who see this as a growing industry so they hang out a shingle that says ‘I can do this!’ with no real full comprehensive experience as to what is being done. So you might look for actual credentials like ‘International Code Council’ or ‘Accessibility Inspector’ credentials. ‘CASp’ is California’s Certified Accessibility Specialists, which is a very intense exam process to get that. We try to have all of our people ICC certified, we do have three CASp certified people on staff as well.

The next is training, are they self-trained or have they worked with experts over a number of years to understand the process? Have they worked with the Department of Justice any? Have they worked through that process to understand the interpretations that might take place?

We have talked a little bit before about the grey areas. If you just pick up the book and read it you will be wrong some of the times, because there is a lot more to it than the just the black and white of what the book says.”

Mike: “You mentioned on the prior episode about the fact that the ADA is not just a list of codes, it’s a civil rights law, expand on that.”

Brad: “Well you’re right it is a civil rights law not a building code. Some of the very first language in the ADA itself says ‘No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability…'”

Mike: “Right!”

Brad: “And based on that, the Department of Justice has issued regulations and standards. And primarily what everyone focuses on is the standards, and the standards look like a building code (particularly to architects who do this and to contractors, it looks like a building code) but there is much more to it than that. That if you just look at it as a building code and you only follow the standards you will miss some items that are required.”

Mike: “So it is important to ask the prospective consultant, do they have this holistic view? Do they read between the lines? Do they understand the broader issues of the spirit of the act?”

Brad: “Yes. That is absolutely correct. Because there is the spirit of the law that we are trying to meet as well as the specific requirements that we read. It’s much more than those specific requirements.”

Mike: “Yes – my mom would always say ‘It’s not just the letter of the law, it’s the spirit of the law that I am trying to enforce here.’ So I am aware of that! So when she said, ‘Don’t eat the cookies, Mike,’ but I ate the cake that was next to the cookies, I was still violating the law.”

Brad: “That is correct! We like to tell our clients, the people that we spend all of this time training, our architects, everybody, that if an able bodied individual can do it in your facility a person with disabilities needs to be able to do the same thing as independently as possible.”

Mike: “Right!”

Brad: “So if you follow that overall guideline, you have a very very good chance at being in compliance with the ADA.”

Mike: “That’s great stuff. So let’s talk about more important factors when looking at a consultant. How might the ability to handle a national portfolio, sounds like there are so many different variables across the country.”

Brad: “Well this is going to get us into two areas. One is outsourcing, or is it all done by people on staff? We are based out of Tulsa, OK and this is how we handle this. We have found that it is very difficult to keep our full-time employees who do this mostly on a full time basis all on the same page and consistent over time. We are constantly having to keep everybody together and talking about things, so we can keep people as they start to stray a little bit, we pull each other back in line to keep the consistency. There are some consultants that use part time staff that only work effectively on this some of the time and then they get rusty at times and move on. Now that is one way to approach it, but we have found that a very difficult thing to do and keep people consistent. The other thing that we have seen is consultants will outsource, they will hire people around the country and that certainly reduces the travel costs, but these people may be doing one to five surveys a year as opposed to hundreds and so therefore how consistent are they, how much do they remember, and how knowledgeable are they?”

Mike: “That makes a lot of sense, Brad. So let’s get to the nuts and bolts of the matter. When you are executing on an ADA survey, how is that done?”

Brad: “Well, we prefer to use a checklist that is one of the ways we keep consistency on what we do. Everybody has the same checklist, so they are checking the same items every time they go out. The next thing with the checklist, okay we have the ADA – well we have a 1991 version of the ADA that may be applicable to the buildings we are looking at depending upon when they were built, then we have the 2010 edition of the standards which may apply depending upon when the building was built, remodeled or whether we’re now having to remove barriers that existed in the building that were never removed. So again, a lot of nuances with just those two standards, and those apply nationwide. But then you also have some states that have their own what we will call Civil Rights Laws that you need to take a look at that may overlap these – so you look at California. The California Building Code also acts a Civil Rights Law just like the ADA does, so you need to understand, if you do work in California, you need to apply both of those. California basically adopted the ADA as their building code but then they made 250 changes on top of it that are more stringent. Got Massachusetts that does the same thing, New York just to name a couple. What we have chosen to do is put all 50 states in our database so when we go someplace we are giving our clients the state code as well as the ADA so that they can look at this and make decisions to how they want to apply it.”

Mike: “I think I read somewhere that the Department of Justice has a checklist also, is that something that consultants should be using?”

Brad: “It is a good start, but it is not comprehensive. It covers the surface things but does not get into detail. If you are going to go out and look at your building it doesn’t cost anymore to go into the great detail too cover yourself for the future possible risk of a lawsuit. So if your checklist is highly detailed your grabbing all of that information.”

Mike: “Once again Brad this has been really interesting and helpful and I do want to just take a moment and ask about your upcoming activities. Do you have any workshops or other events? Will you be at NFMT this fall?”

Brad: “We are planning to go to NFMT, we have submitted to be a speaker there. I guess they are still in the process of taking applications.”

Mike: “Oh it’s going to happen. It’s a slam dunk now, Come on.”

Brad: “Well I try not to count my money before I actually get it, right. I am not going to make assumptions on that.”

Mike: “Your speaker fee is going to have to be triple this year. Isn’t it normally zero?”

Brad: “It is normally zero so we are going to ask for triple fees there, so triple zero is still zero, right?”

Mike: That’s right! What do you got going on this summer, got anything fun, going back to Hawaii?”

Brad: “We are going to Hawaii. Yes, this is our odd year so odd years are Hawaii.”

Mike: “Well congratulations, enjoy and stay off of the bicycles!”

Brad: “You know I have too many people threatening me to wring my neck if I get on a bicycle again!”

Mike: “Well, that’s great! Well I hope to catch up with you again in person at future industry events, Brad, and thanks so much for being on the show again today.”

Brad: “Thank you and look forward to it! Have a great summer!”

Mike: “You too!”

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