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Since I am starting this new section, I decided to first talk about transition plans. If you don't have one in place, then my suggestion to you is: Get started ASAP!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is unique. With most civil rights laws, public and private entities are merely required to establish policies that eliminate discrimination against a certain group of people. The ADA, however, mandates that applicable entities provide physical changes in facilities and public rights of way to eliminate discrimination for people with disabilities. The ADA addresses this need by requiring a self-evaluation of physical assets followed by a transition plan explaining how and when improvements and corrections will be addressed.

Under ADA Title II 35.105 Self Evaluation, state and local agencies are required to have a transition plan in place for public facilities as well as streets and sidewalks, making public services, activities, and programs accessible for people with disabilities. The following quote is from the U.S. Access Board's "Accessible Rights-of-Way," published in November 1999 to establish standards for accessible features such as curb cuts, ramps, continuous sidewalks, and detectable warnings:

"Where structural modifications are necessary to achieve program accessibility - as in the addition of curb ramps - the DOJ [Department of Justice] regulation requires state and local governments that employ 50 or more staff members throughout the agency to develop a transition plan that provides for the removal of the barriers at issue. With respect to pedestrian facilities, the DOJ regulation imposes a specific construction requirement. This requirement directs each jurisdiction to include in its transition plan a schedule for providing curb ramps where pedestrian walkways cross curbs and specifies a priority for locating them at:

  • State and local government offices and facilities;
  • Transportation;
  • Places of public accommodation (private sector facilities covered by Title III);
  • Places of employment; and
  • Other locations (for instance, along routes used by residents with disabilities).
  • DOJ's Title II Technical Assistance Manual notes that curb ramps may not be required at every existing walkway if a basic level of access to the pedestrian network can be achieved by other means, e.g., the use of a slightly longer route.

    Action items listed in a community's transition plan, including the installation of curb ramps at specified existing pedestrian walkways, were to have been completed by Jan. 26, 1995. Entities that have not finished this work should review and update their schedules and place a high priority on accomplishing the work necessary to complete plan items and elements."

    Sadly, the above timelines have been largely ignored. Plus, in many instances transition plans were made without a detailed self-evaluation, weren't followed through, and were even lost. As administrations and personnel change and records are lost, agencies find that they cannot defend themselves when a complaint is brought forth claiming they did not take the necessary steps to provide physical access to their programs, facilities, etc.

    Maintaining your transition plan

    Your transition plan should be continually updated. As improvements are added, provide documentation showing when and how they are made. It's also important to involve an ADA coordinator and citizens with disabilities in your decisions; they can provide guidance for what works best regarding different disability needs.

    As a personal note, performing onsite surveys and creating charts and tables related to individual buildings, parks, or streets and sidewalks can make it much easier to track and follow through for planners, construction contractors, and ADA coordinators. For public sidewalks and streets, the charts and tables should be divided into sections of a city or county and incorporated with GIS satellite overviews (Graphic 1 / Graphic 2). Engineering firms often have in-house tools to do this; otherwise I use the Bing map system for the overhead map and satellite views.

    The charts and tables should also include a comment section that allows users to log corrections or improvements made and the cost of the actions taken. This helps keep information together and assists those overseeing the transition plan keep an accurate, traceable list for future requests. A word of caution: long pages of narrative are hard to follow and wade through.

    Good luck and feel free to contact me for questions or ideas.

    ? Michele S. Ohmes ([email protected]) is an ADA specialist who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. She has written an accessibility design manual, "ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical," now on CD-ROM, that is available through the American Public Works Association's Web site.

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