Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  January 2004

ADA Compliance in AV Systems Design

Often difficult to sort through, ADA regulations are just the first step toward making AV systems more accommodating for all users.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

For the most part, pro AV systems are designed for the able-bodied. We need to see and hear in order to perceive the information delivered via the AV systems and environments we create. So how do we become more accommodating and allow more people to benefit from our systems? The law mandates some solutions, but there are other ways to make our systems more universally user-friendly beyond what the law requires.

Over the past 20 years, the AV integration industry has become part of the construction industry. This means AV systems designers are now required to design aspects of the rooms and buildings their systems inhabit, which in turn requires an understanding of the codes and regulations that govern the constructed environments we help create.

Besides the electrical and structural codes we must adhere to, we must also make sure our designs comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is based on the premise that both the able-bodied and the disabled should have equal access to places, information, and experiences where feasible. While most building codes are written by private organizations and later adopted by national and local governments as law, the ADA is one of the few building industry regulations that was actually written by the government. Though many of its components are straightforward, there are some gray areas that are open to some interpretation and often need clarification.

Can you hear me now?

The part of the ADA that most of us are aware of is the requirement for assistive listening devices for areas of assembly. Though the text is wordy, it basically says that you must provide assistive listening receivers for at least four percent of the seating area for some areas, and never less than two receivers. These may be portable devices in some instances, and some locations just need electrical outlets.

In my experience, many clients don’t buy the total coverage to the letter of the law. For a 500-seat auditorium, experience dictates that only a few of the required 20 receivers are ever going to be used in many installations. Of course, in a facility that has more programs for, or a higher local population of, hearing-impaired persons may need more than this allotment on occasion.

One advantage of wireless assistive listening systems is that adding receivers is a simple matter of purchasing new units and requires no modifications to the transmitter unless additional areas beyond the original space need to be covered. This allows clients to purchase the number they think they need to get started, and add more later if the need arises.

Ramping up

There are other aspects to the ADA that aren’t so easily accommodated after the fact. Most of these have to do with architectural elements that are required in a new or renovated facility. The most obvious are ramps to allow wheelchair access from one floor level to another. One question that often comes up is the use of ramps near control and projection rooms. Are ramps or elevators required?

The only specific mention of control or projection rooms in the ADA is found in section “4.1.3-Accessible Buildings: New Construction,” where exceptions to full-sized elevators or ramps are listed. Exception 4(b) in this section states that wheelchair lifts may be used instead of an enclosed elevator in certain cases for access to equipment control rooms and projection booths.

However, the job description for the type of technical person who occupies a control room may mean that full accessibility isn’t necessary since the technical person will likely need full mobility to perform his or her job.

The presenters and the audience, however, need to be accommodated in all installations — perhaps beyond the basic ADA requirements. While most of us focus on the physical barriers, there are also sight and hearing related issues. For instance, a graphical user interface design for a touchscreen can be made physically accessible for a wheelchair presenter by using wireless technology or a longer cable if the lectern is too tall. But what about sight-impaired individuals who depend on screen magnification on computer systems? Or physically challenged users who may need voice control?

Many options that can help address these issues are available in both Apple and Microsoft operating systems, or via third-party software. In some cases we may need to design alternative touchscreen interfaces for people with impaired sight or hand movement. This is where section 508 comes into play.

Section 508

Some federal pro AV work falls under The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, which incorporated Section 508, entitled “Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards.” This section covers requirements for federal procurement of electronic systems, with specific policies for things such as touchscreens, user interface alternatives, closed captioning decoders, and secondary audio program capabilities for TV tuners.

While Section 508 currently applies only to federal procurement contracts, it’s possible that these standards will propagate beyond federal projects. More awareness and work is needed within the pro AV industry to find ways to better address these issues in systems and in presentation environments. A good way to start is to find out more about the rules and regulations that are becoming more a part of our work everyday.

For More Information

View the ADA Facility Design Guide and information on Section 508 at the Access Board website.


email us © 2014 Technitect, LLC All Rights Reserved