How the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Affects You
by Don Leighton-Burwell, AIA/Tenth Times April 1996

The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “other” ADA) has come home to roost. In December 1993, the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation adopted the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS). This action effectively makes the ADA (a federal law on civil rights) a state law with binding regulations. All buildings constructed since April 1, 1994 must be in full compliance with this law. There’s good news and bad news about this move to the state level. The good news is that you can get direct answers from the accessibility specialists at the Department of Licensing and Regulation; they are a helpful group with a greater degree of accountability than the federal government; and, if you comply with the Texas Accessibility Standards, you can be reasonably assured that you will also comply with the ADA. The bad news is that the State of Texas (in an attempt to clarify some of the vagueness of the ADA) has made some of the TAS requirements more restrictive.

You may well be asking, “How does this affect me?” If you are in an existing facility that was constructed before April 1, 1994, the answer is relatively simple. As a healthcare provider in a facility of public accommodation, you are required to remove barriers that restrict access to your practice if it is “readily achievable”. This means that required modifications must be “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” Examples may be the installation of grab bars in restrooms, simple ramps at a few steps, and similar “modest” adjustments. So, “readily achievable” modifications are largely a matter addressing the basic needs of your disabled patients either through changing physical conditions of the space in which you practice, or providing alternate methods of assistance.

If you are altering an existing facility or building a new office, you must meet all of the requirements within TAS under “alterations” or “new construction,” respectively. This may affect issues as diverse as providing a fully accessible route from the public street, to providing an accessible toilet room adjacent to a doctor’s private office. It should also be noted that in offices of healthcare providers, an elevator is required if more than one level/story is intended for use as part of the dental office.

In planning and designing a new office, you are required to comply with the TAS, regardless of the size or scope of your project. In addition, if your project cost exceeds $50,000 (and most will), you are required to submit your plans and specifications for state review and inspection. These services can by provided for a fee through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, or one of their independent contract providers. These independent contract reviewers/inspectors are trained by the state and can often shorten review times. Any areas that do not comply with the TAS must be submitted for variance (with an additional fee). It should be noted that variances are granted only in extreme circumstances, and it is advisable to solve potential conflicts (where possible) through innovative design solutions.

The accessibility specialists in the Department of Licensing and Regulation are available to help your design professional answer questions and to guide your project through the review/inspection process. To avoid confusion, frustration, and possible costly re-design, it is to your advantage to seek workable solutions to accessibility issues during the early phases of design. If you have questions about how TAS may affect you (and your plans for upcoming projects), consult your architect or call an accessibility specialist at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation; Code Review and Inspections at (512) 463-3211.