The Americans with Disabilities Act is civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination against individuals with a disability. This federal law affects how public entities administer programs and provide public services. Public accommodations and commercial facilities are required to make their goods and services accessible by eliminating barriers. Architectural barriers limiting a disabled person's effective access to a public accommodation might include a narrow doorway, lack of signage or steps without a ramp.
The ADA does not require every walkway to be accessible. The legislation mandates facilities shall have certain components accessible to the public and located on a barrier-free route called the "path of travel." The path begins at the accessible entrance and connects all the primary elements within a location. Primary elements found within a public accommodation can include restrooms, drinking fountains, public telephones and dining facilities.
The ADA requires the accessible path to be firm, stable and slip-resistant. Tests have been developed to determine slip resistance which is calculated as the coefficient of friction. Firm and stable are guidelines that usually involve asphalt pavement, concrete, tile, brick or metal surfaces. Over the years, alternative surfacing materials such as wood fiber products and shredded or poured-in-place rubber installations have gained acceptance as ADA-compliant.
ADA-compliant pathways should be as close to level as possible. But the federal standards offer some tolerances. Accessible paths are measured in two distinct categories called slopes. The inclination of the path in the direction of travel is called the running slope. Cross-slope is a measurement of the gradient perpendicular to the running direction. ADA slope requirements are expressed as fractions or percentages, which can be confusing to some people.
A standard accessible path allows for a 1:48 cross-slope, which means that for every 12 inches of distance, the level is permitted to rise or fall one-quarter inch. The running slope of a standard ADA-accessible walkway can be no more than 5 percent, or 1:20, which means that for every 20 units of run, you rise or fall one unit. A digital level is the best tool to use when measuring slopes.
An accessible walkway is required to be at least 36 inches wide, with some exceptions. Not all walkways can be made to comply with ADA slope and width requirements. Physical constraints and landscape often make the task of complying difficult. Existing facilities are required to make modifications that are achievable without much difficulty or expense. The ADA is federal law that can't be ignored by claiming modifications were difficult, but it does allow for alternative methods to achieve similar results.