Friday, June 18, 2010

State Success: Revising NH State Building Codes to Promote Equal Access

In recent decades many "doors" previously closed to people with disabilities have been opened, allowing fuller participation in all aspects of community life.

The 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this year, however, serves as a reminder that barriers remain, such as public doors that are challenging if not impossible to open independently.

The ADA stops short in requiring push button doors at accessible public entrances. This is not equal access. This short fall does not preclude states or municipalities from imposing such a requirement. All public buildings are subject to federal, state or local building codes. Most states choose to adopt the latest International Building Code (IBC) as their own state building code with added amendments. The latest IBC version (IBC 2009) does not require push button door openers at accessible entrances. Improved access for customers with disabilities is good business and federal tax credits and deductions enable businesses to offset the cost of making such adaptations.

The New Hampshire Government Relations Committee sought to amend the NH building code during the review of the IBC 2009 code by requiring push button door openers at accessible public building entrances 1) in new construction 2) during renovations which trigger the state building code. Amendment 82 was drafted and approved for consideration in September 2009 with technical assistance from a member of the NH Code Review Board.

Opening New Doors: A Push to Victory!
In November 2009 the NH Code Review Board officially adopted Amendment 82 into the state building code by a vote 14 to 2!

• Amendment 82 language in bold: Chapter 11 1105.1 in the IBC 2009 1105.1 Public entrances. In addition to accessible entrances required by Sections 1105.1.1 through 1105.1.6, at least 60 percent of all public entrances shall be accessible. At least one door at accessible public entrances in Use Groups* A, B, E, I, M and R shall be full powered automatic doors in compliance with ANSI A117.1.

• Exceptions:
1. An accessible entrance is not required to areas not required to be accessible.
2. Loading and service entrances that are not the only entrance to a tenant space.

* Use Groups refer to categories of public buildings. Type A (recreational) Type B (Business) Type E (Educational) Type I (Institutional) Type M (Mercantile) Type R (residential)

The IBC 2009 with adopted state amendments takes effect in New Hampshire April 1, 2010. The final code requires approval of the legislature with an up or down approval or rejection. Because this new building requirement is not in the IBC code it will be considered again in three years when the NH Code Review Board reviews IBC 2012. The GRC and its community allies will be prepared to defend or repeat this amendment process if necessary, confident this victory sets a precedent. The Society’s Federal Activist Council has voted to pursue adding the door opener requirement to the IBC as a top priority in the next few years. If successful, this requirement will reduce the need for states to replicate this effort, while providing greater uniformity for all citizens.

Key strategies that resulted in success were as follows:
• Recognizing one MS activist’s determination and success can spur policy change
• Identifying the accessibility barrier as requiring a regulatory change
• Engaging the GRC to prioritize and advance the issue
• Getting up to code: understanding federal and state building codes, how they are created and intersect
• Timing is everything! Understanding the state process, time frame and key players
• Determining the most effective strategy: regulatory vs. legislative, state code vs. municipal ordinance
• Seeking expertise and champions of the cause: a state representative with MS and a NH Code Review Board member with a MS connection!
• Building alliances: disability activists, military veterans, the business community
• Countering opposition is key! Research, compelling testimony, photographic evidence, cost analysis and making the dual case as a policy and civil rights issue

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