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The joke’s on all of us

May 8, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Did you hear the one about the code enforcement officer who was asked to verify that a facility was physically compliant with the regulations set forth in the American with Disabilities Act?

The CEO told the person that the ADA was a federal law so it was not in a CEO's prevue to do that. You may be waiting for the punch line-there isn't one. You may be wondering where this happened. Well, we are the "Tri-Lakes" Center for Independent Living.

It's a pretty safe bet that it happened somewhere in the Tri-Lakes region.

For a few days I've tried to make some sense of this. TLCIL owns the same New York State Department of State Division of Code Enforcement and Administration Building Code of New York State Manual, the same one the Code Enforcement Officers have. I know this because, back in my town clerk days, I shared an office with my town's CEO. Believe me, it's the same manual.

Before I wrote this column, I scoured the manual to see where one might get the idea that a CEO does not enforce federal regulations. It appears that federal regulations do not come into play at all. Federal regulations (aka the ADA) only come into play when the locality has building code regulations in place that are LESS stringent than what the ADA requires. In New York State, that is not the case.

Chapter 11 of state Building Code is devoted solely to physical accessibility for persons with disabilities. Chapter 11 refers to both new construction and existing structures. Yes, existing structures are required to be accessible to people with disabilities.

As I have said a million times there is no "grandfather clause" to the ADA. There never was a grandfather clause to the ADA. To hit the point home even further, the same NYS Building Code Manual has an Appendix E. Appendix E provides Supplementary Accessibility Requirements-as if Chapter 11 is not enough. Now, let me say TLCIL may not have the most current version of the state Building Code-it could be that Appendix E has been fully incorporated into Chapter 11 by now. This was a darned expensive manual; TLCIL is in no hurry to replace it.

Let's just hit a few highlights. A least one public entrance must be accessible; parking lots of 25 spaces or less must have at least one fully accessible parking space - just hanging the blue sign with the white wheelchair figure on it over any old parking space does not make it an accessible space; places of assembly (like a theater) have a minimum number of spaces for people who use wheelchairs to enjoy the show; there is a maximum height requirement for service counters; there are requirements that pertain to fixed or built-in seating in a restaurant; there is a requirement that there is a head table or lectern on a raised platform the route to get to it must be accessible (i.e. ramped), there are requirements for bus stops and for airports; etc. I could go on and on.

To hammer this point home, no building pun intended, at the very end of the section pertaining to accessibility requirements, Section E111 Referenced Standards, the first standard referenced is DOJ (which stands for Department of Justice) 36 ADA Accessibility Guidelines.

Throughout state Building Code Chapter 11 and Appendix E, International Code Council and American National Standards Institute regulations regarding Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities are referred to often.

How one could conclude that the duties of a local Code Enforcement Officer do not include enforcement of federal regulations was a mystery to me-but upon further research the point is moot. State Division of Code Enforcement and Administration wrote the federal requirements right into NYS regulations. A CEO does not need to deal with "federal" regulations because they are actually New York state regulations. What luck!

Let me add a few things before I wrap this up. I left out a lot of other places in which accessibility requirements come into play. There are tactile and visual requirements for people with visual impairments such as Braille signage, changes in walking surfaces and high contrast color usage on stairs. There is a requirement that at least one washer and one dryer in a public laundry facility (that would apply to an apartment complex, too) be accessible to people with disabilities. As I said before, I could go on and on.

The Tri Lakes area is woefully inaccessible and, even with all the yakking TLCIL has done on the subject, continues to be inaccessible. Renovations to public places, whether it is a mom-and-pop business or something bigger, are done everyday in the area without being required to be accessible to people with disabilities as our very own building code clearly states.

All this time, I thought there was something the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living wasn't doing or wasn't saying. I can say with confidence that TLCIL has been doing its job-but we can only go so far. TLCIL does not have the power to require new construction or renovations to be compliant with state building codes. Gee, I wonder who does.



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