Expert Discusses ADA Non-Compliance in Theater Staircase


ADA Expert WitnessThis case involves an individual who fell down a staircase in the lobby of a large, historic theater in South Carolina. The top several stairs of the grand staircase in the theater lobby, where the man was standing and fell from, did not have a handrail. Building plans from the theater owner indicate that the staircase was supposed to be an ADA-accessible path for customers to use while the normal handicapped access to the theater was undergoing renovations. It was claimed that, due to the historical nature of the building, the absence of handrails was grandfathered in under the ADA, and therefore was not required to meet it’s specifications. A forensic architect was sought for the case.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1.) Should the staircase have had handrails installed.
  • 2.) Are historic facilities grandfathered in to ADA specifications?

Expert Witness Response E-070383

No facility is “grandfathered”. The ADA requires that every commercial facility constructed before 1991 is obligated to remove “barriers”. All stairways require handrails. 28 C.F .R. Section 36.304 – Removal of barriers: General. A public accommodation shall remove architectural barriers in existing facilities, including communication barriers that are structural in nature, where such removal is readily achievable ,i.e., easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Examples of steps to remove barriers include, but are not limited to, the following actions (1) Installing ramp; (2) Making curb cuts in sidewalks and entrances; (3) Repositioning shelves; (4) Rearranging tables, chairs, vending machines, display racks, and other furniture; (5) Repositioning telephones; (6) Adding raised markings on elevator control buttons; (7) Installing flashing alarm lights; (8) Widening doors; (9) Installing offset hinges to widen doorways; (10) Eliminating a turnstile or providing an alternative accessible path; (11) Installing accessible door hardware; (12) Installing grab bars in toilet stalls; (13) Rearranging toilet partitions to increase maneuvering space; (14) Insulating lavatory pipes under sinks to prevent burns; (15) Installing a raised toilet seat; (16) Installing a full-length bathroom mirror; (17) repositioning the paper towel dispenser in a bathroom; (18) Creating designated accessible parking spaces; (19) Installing an accessible paper cup dispenser at an existing inaccessible water fountain; (20) Removing high pile, low density carpeting; or (21) Installing vehicle hand controls.

A public accommodation is urged to take measures to comply with the barrier removal requirements of this section in accordance with the following order of priorities. First, a public accommodation should take measures to provide access to a place of public accommodation from public sidewalks, parking, or public transportation. These measures include, for example, installing an entrance ramp, widening entrances, and providing accessible parking spaces. Second, a public accommodation should take measures to provide access to those areas of a place of public accommodation where goods and services are made available to the public. These measures include, for example, adjusting the layout of display racks, rearranging tables, providing brailed and raised character signage, widening doors, providing visual alarms, and installing ramps. Third, a public accommodation should take measures to provide access to restroom facilities. These measures include, for example, removal of obstructing furniture or vending machines, widening of doors, installation of ramps, providing accessible signage, widening of toilet stalls, and installation of grab bars. Fourth, a public accommodation should take any other measures necessary to provide access to the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation. It is recommended that the architectural barriers and code deficiencies noted on the following pages, as identified by the CASp inspection, be made a part of the property owners Barrier Removal Implementation Plan, in compliance with 28 C.F .R. Section 36.304 . Such a plan is a continuous effort, as updated regulations, future tenants’ needs, alterations and maintenance issues can create new barriers to persons with disabilities.

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