Federal laws requiring accommodations for Americans with disabilities affect temporary site as well as permanent ones.
You can be excused for overlooking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July, but not for overlooking compliance. Passed in 1990, this federal civil rights law has provided fairness and access to about a quarter of the U.S. population—those with some type of disability. According to the ADA National Network, 70 percent of all Americans will have a temporary or permanent disability in their lifetime.
These are individuals who should be able to attend the sorts of events that tent rental companies service. Granted, weddings and some corporate functions are essentially private affairs that fall outside the purview of the ADA. But Christopher Whitlow, owner of Event Resource Group in Marietta, Ga., has this to say about that:
“Whether it is public or private, every installation should be ADA compliant, because that sets the baseline for how your tent installers should approach every single project. If it is ADA compliant, what you have done is control one segment of your risk management on the project. Every project should be based on mitigating and managing your risk.”
The ADA National Network offers a planning guide, “A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People with Disabilities,” for making arts and music festivals, sporting events, home shows and other social activities accessible to people with disabilities. “Temporary events celebrate and support a sense of community and must encourage participation by all people,” the guide states.
Stay tuned in
Whitlow’s company manufactures tent liners; sells structures, flooring and liners; offers design services for high-end projects; and consults with event site principals on code compliance. While you’re watching “America’s Got Talent,” Whitlow could be reading the equivalent of “America’s Got Access.” He’s familiar with the aforementioned ADA guide and has navigated his way through websites such as the ADA National Network. At his office desk, he has within arm’s reach the 2015 International Building Code—in preparation for it going into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
“I am super big on education,” he says. “I read any free minute I have. I think being proactive relies on proper training of your tent installers and keeping them abreast of changes in regulations and/or having them at meetings with the fire marshal because your installers are literally the front line that can make or break a sign-off on your permit through their approach, attitude and answers.”
The meetings to which Whitlow refers are something he recommends for all tent rental companies. “They should have regular, semiannual or annual meetings with building inspectors that are inspecting and signing off on their permits,” he says. “They also should have regular meetings with local fire marshals; and for those who serve 15 counties, they should have meetings with all 15 fire marshals. They should do whatever they can to be proactive. In down season, go to your local fire marshal’s office and ask what changes are coming. Ask about the things that concern them most about the installation of fabric structures.”
The ADA requires that all facilities open to the public be accessible. That includes temporary structures that are extensively used by or are essential for public use at an event. The Department of Justice enforces ADA compliance, usually through litigation in federal courts, and investigates when complaints are registered with the department. Many states have established building codes for accessibility, which could be more stringent than federal regulations. State and local officials bear the responsibility of enforcing those codes, which is usually done through plan reviews and inspections.
On the surface
The most common ADA-related issue encountered by tent rental companies and event organizers is unlevel surfaces. Variations of ½ to ¼ inch can be resolved with a beveled piece of wood or other wedge having a maximum slope of 1:2. Variations greater than 1:20 (one inch of rise over 20 inches in distance) fall under the ADA’s requirements for a ramp.
“A drop-off curb [in a parking lot] has to have an ADA cutout or ramp. If there is no cutout in the curb, you need to manufacture a portable curb ramp that is secure,” Whitlow says. “For every inch of rise, you need 12 inches of run. The code used to be 1:10. The portable flooring company I represent, InField Systems Inc., had to build a new ramp mold to maintain ADA compliance.”
Although tent rental companies can build temporary ramps, a better solution is to stock manufactured portable ramps that already comply with ADA rules, including edge protection and nonslip surfaces.
“A lot of people use carpet on ramps, which can be slippery,” Whitlow says. “All of our plastic ramps are ribbed in the mold. All of our laydown floor has ribs or cleats to make it comply with a nonslip surface.”
Changes in elevation greater than 30 inches require a lift or elevator.
If the tent is a fully enclosed structure, door openings should be ADA compliant. That means at least a 32-inch clearance to accommodate wheelchairs. Intersections that require a turn should have a diameter of at least 60 inches.
Tent installers also need to pay attention to guy wires and protrusions that can create a barrier or potential hazard. The bottom of a protruding object may be no more than 27 inches above the ground/floor. “Any standing object that protrudes more than 12 inches from its base requires an element at or below 27 inches so that it is detectable with a walking cane,” the guide says.
“Each event has a different set of considerations based on site layout,” Whitlow says. “Tent rental companies have to make an assessment of what activities are going to go on and make recommendations and/or modifications to their install based on that analysis.”
Although the entity producing an event carries the primary liability for ADA compliance, tent rental companies are ultimately responsible for their installations. Whitlow says, “Their knowledge of rules and regulations are critical so they can educate their clients. If a client wants a level floor and there is a 3-foot slope in the landscape so the structure has to be elevated, the tent rental company better understand that it has to be ADA compliant. They better be forethinking in order to incorporate any issues into their proposal.
“I think that overall the Americans with Disabilities Act has created an opportunity for event rental suppliers and fabric structure suppliers to manage their risk by being compliant,” Whitlow adds. “From the standpoint that if you make all of your installations ADA compliant, the chances of someone falling or tripping, the chances of someone getting injured, are greatly reduced.”
Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.
An accessible pedestrian route must meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 36 inches wide, except at doors or short
passageways, where the accessible route may be reduced to 32 inches in width for a maximum distance of 24 inches.
- Have a minimum 60-inch-by-60-inch clear space, at least every 200 feet, so two people using wheelchairs may pass.
- Have a minimum of 80 inches vertical clearance or headroom along its entire length.
- Be free of any hazardous, protruding objects.
- Be on stable, firm, slip-resistant and compact surfaces.
- Slope no more than 1:20 unless a ramp with handrails and edge protection is installed. Ramps are limited to a slope of 1:12. All cross slopes are limited to 1:48.
- Have no abrupt vertical changes in floor or ground level unless it is limited to ¼ inch, with vertical changes between ¼ inch and ½ inch permitted only if the change is beveled with a slope of 1:2 or less.
- Level changes greater than ½ inch, such as a step, stairway or full floor level, can be accomplished using a ramp, lift or elevator.
Key specifications for ramps:
- A minimum width of 36 inches between handrails.
- A maximum slope of 1 inch rise for every 12 inches of run.
- Ramps with a rise of 6 inches or less do not need handrails but must have curbs or another form of edge protection to prevent a wheelchair from rolling off the side.
- No more than 30 inches of rise in a run before a landing or level resting platform.
- Ramp must be securely positioned so as not to move during use.
Edging ramps allow wheelchairs to roll onto portable flooring laid on the ground and also eliminate trip hazards. Photos courtesy of Event Resource Group.