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ADA Transition Plans are Guides to Creating More Inclusive Communities

To attract new residents and visitors, most cities strive to be accessible to people with all levels of physical ability. This is not just a good idea, but a mandate that began with the historic signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Among other things, the ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities concerning public accommodations and transportation.

Listen as ADA transition planning experts Joe Wilensky, Assistant Planner at Johnson County Iowa, and Spencer Wignall, P.E. provides a detailed description of how communities and businesses can work toward compliance, capture funding to pay for improvements and avoid the costly legal repercussions of being out of compliance.

Webinar Agenda

  • Introductions (0:18)
  • Civil Rights Historical Progression (00:26) 
  • ADA Evaluation & Transition Planning (1:50) 
  • ADA Public Notice & Community Engagement (3:29) 
  • Appointing an ADA Coordinator & Establishing a Grievance Process (4:20) 
  • Developing an ADA Project Inventory (5:52) 
  • Schedule & Budget for your ADA Transition Plan (8:48) 
  • Requirements of ADA Compliance (10:00) 
  • ADA Compliance Examples (11:05) 
  • Developing a Budget to Implement a Transition Plan (14:16) 
  • Available Grants for ADA Transition Plans (18:08) 
  • Protecting Communities from Litigation (21:29) 



Joe Wilensky (00:17)
I’m Joe Wilensky. I’m a transportation planner here in the Cedar Rapids office. And joining me today is …

Spencer Wignall (00:22)
… Spencer Wignall, I’m a Civil Engineer in the Ankeny Office.

Civil Rights Historical Progression

Joe Wilensky (00:26)
We’ve got a bit of a history of civil rights progression, recognition of progression here in the United States. Starting way back with the Bill of Rights in 1789, but then fast-forwarding quite a bit to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, section 504, the Vocational Rehab Act of ‘73, and then the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987. Now jump a little bit farther ahead, you get the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as a Civil Rights Statute, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. Now Title II of this act addresses making public services and public transportation facilities accessible. Now this applies to all facilities, including those built before and after the act’s passage. Since the act’s passage in 1990 applicable agencies are required to self-evaluate their facilities and create transition plans to address deficiencies.

This is a 30-year-old law and civil suits on this issue, civil suits on non-compliance are ongoing. Now, what happens when things go wrong? What happens when you’re non-compliant? Well, you can be sued for non-compliance and required to make your facilities compliant in an aggressive or accelerated timeline that maybe your community will have a hard time absorbing but think beyond just your legal requirements and liabilities. Barriers to accessibility in your community are exactly that. They’re barriers. Non-compliant facilities will shut off mobility and agency to members of your community. I’m sure your community wants to be a warm and welcoming one to everyone who resides there.

ADA Evaluation & Transition Planning 

ADA-accessible fishing pier

ADA requirements dont just apply to sidewalks and buildings, but all aspects of daily life. For this project, a fishing pier was made ADA compliant for community use.

Joe Wilensky (1:50)
The thing about community equity is that ADA accessibility goes beyond just a stereotypical wheelchair user and could also include otherwise able-bodied residents who can’t manage a high curb going to the post office or someone else who can’t manage a steep slope without endangering themselves. Being an ADA compliant community shows concern for all members of your community and also provides ways that you don’t only prioritize your infrastructure around automobile users.

The ADA requirement applies to everyone regardless of the size of your community, but ADA transition plans themselves, are required for public entities with more than 50 employees. Even if you don’t have 50 or more employees, you’re required to address non-compliant pedestrian access routes within your communities, and having a transition plan to do so is still considered a best practice. Now, ADA applicability is for both interior and exterior spaces. Not just your sidewalk, but also, you’re building itself, the corridors, the stairwells, etc. We’ll just mainly be talking about exterior spaces here today.

There are a couple of steps to ADA compliance. Title II requirements are providing public notice about ADA rights in your communities, designating the ADA coordinator and a grievance process to accept complaints from your community, creating a transition plan to solicit and obtain community feedback on community priorities and target areas, developing an inventory of existing barriers. This is a self-evaluation of your facilities, creating and approving, not just creating, a schedule and a budget to tackle these identified barriers, and then monitoring and evaluating your community’s ability to achieve this.

ADA Public Notice & Community Engagement

Joe Wilensky (3:29)
Talking about the public notice of ADA requirements. You need to provide notice of public rights and it’s your city’s responsibility under the ADA Act. This notice needs to be continual and not just a one-time thing, but the city itself gets to determine the most effective way to provide notice. Thinking of a best practice to do this, we suggest a public-facing webpage or a web portal containing all of the ADA transition information for your community. This allows for easy dissemination of necessary information or easier, I should say. Also, collection of public feedback on transition plan elements. You could also host public meetings on ADA transition topics in conjunction with the existing meetings relevant to the disabled community or the elderly community, and then engage with advocacy groups within your communities for both those target areas. These aren’t the only ones that they consider, but they’re target-rich environments.

Appointing an ADA Coordinator & Establishing a Grievance Process

Joe Wilensky (4:20)
Now your ADA coordinator, I mentioned that earlier public agencies with 50 or more employees must have at least one coordinator to manage compliance. A task force is an acceptable stand-in for having a single coordinator itself. The coordinator or the task force needs to have appropriate authority to convene departments across the community. We suggest that they be housed somewhere like a city administrator’s office or a civil rights office. If the community has one, maybe a planning office or a public works office, if you have a legal department that might be a good place for them as well. But we also suggest that this individual not be an elected official. We suggest that they be a full-time staff member to provide additional continuity of effort across the community, as opposed to someone who might just get voted out in the next community election.

In establishing a grievance procedure, you need to establish and publish a process to resolve disability discrimination complaints within your community that you’ve received. In doing so facilitates local resolution of problems and allows for prompt and fair resolution of them. But you should also note that in the community, you should note that filing a local complaint is not a requirement before someone brings a complaint to a federal department or a court, but it does help. It will stave off some of these complaints going to the federal route. Now the process itself should be simple to address concerns, but also harvest those concerns. You should allow for multiple methods of complaint filing, including online. Remember that ADA portal we talked about earlier, on the phone in the mail, or also in person at a city office.

Developing an ADA Project Inventory

new ADA compliant sidewalk with red domes by street

Added pads at sidewalk and street intersections warn people who experience limited vision or mobility that they are leaving a sidewalk and entering a street or parking lot.

Joe Wilensky (5:52)
The big chunk here is the transition plan and transition plan elements. The elements of the transition plan themselves are identifying methodology to identify and remove access barriers. You need to have a standard that you’re going to use to judge facilities in your community. You need to evaluate those barriers that are owned by the municipality. They can include curb ramps and sidewalks, the facilities themselves, and then also procedures like where are specific departments located. What buildings are they in? Are they on the first floor? Are they on the second floor? Things like that.

You should have a high-priority project inventory that is created after you do the evaluation. You need to name the implementing official your ADA coordinator or task force, and they needed to have a participation opportunity and a record of participation opportunity for members of your community. The best practices for this also include inviting external parties to participate in your plan creation. This is usually during the evaluation and the prioritization section. You need to make a record of this so that external parties can look back to see what you did do in case this is brought up in a suit.

Then you should note that your self-evaluation can be broken into discreet actions and extended over time as identified in your transition plan. You can focus on specific sections of your community and then focus on another section later. Trying to make sure it’s more manageable for your community to implement these things, but you need to have a process.

The self-evaluation elements are things to think about as part of the self-evaluation process. You’re creating an inventory of barriers and facilities in your community. You can use on the ground surveys, you can use windshield surveys, aerial studies, or site plan reviews, as ways to collect this inventory. Common items that you’re going to think about include sidewalks and pathway landings, gradings, obstructions, traffic signal symptoms, curb ramps, curb ramp flares, and things along those lines. Now think about your collection efforts, what are your community priorities, and prioritize collection areas? Think about potential areas with high pedestrian traffic, and then you should also make these inventory findings publicly available. Going back to the ADA portal that we mentioned earlier.

Spencer Wignall (7:53)

Transition plans are a requirement, and if the community has 50 or more employees, they have to have this. Otherwise, they are opening themselves up to a suit. Just making that known and kind of stressing that point. This isn’t a recommendation, it’s a requirement. There are teeth to this and that’s what it is. Coming up with the transition plan and being mindful of it can be pretty simple. We’ve seen one-page transition plans and we’ve seen 120-page documents. There’s not a one size fits all. There are many different avenues to resolve this issue.

Then how are you attracting new business to your community? How does your community grow? I think there’s a little bit of that as well of creating an equitable society, as well as the enforcement aspect of it. If they’re not interested because no one sued us yet, we’re not going to do anything. Then maybe give them a vision to shoot towards is a discussion that you could have with them.

Schedule & Budget for your ADA Transition Plan

Joe Wilensky (8:48)
Now that you’ve got your inventory, you need to schedule and budget your improvement. You need to create your prioritization, and ranking of improvements locations. Priorities are usually given to transportation facilities, public places, and places of employment, but you’re also allowed to include a couple of other elements in your prioritization rankings, including if you have requested locations from the community. If there are areas that have high pedestrian traffic areas. In areas that have a high residential density, or also the cost estimates that might go into addressing these areas that are identified, we don’t want to have one big-ticket item, slow down or hinder 12 other items that could be addressed in a timelier fashion as long as you have the appropriate plan in place.

You should identify your funding sources internally and also externally via grants or other parties. Then you should also monitor and evaluate your process in achieving the goals that you have established. Now you should have a clearly defined rubric or approach to provide internal and external confidence that you’ve selected things appropriately. You haven’t done things capriciously. Also, you’ve got an achievable schedule to implement and tackle the issues your community is facing.

Requirements of ADA Compliance

Spencer Wignall (10:00)
That was a great overview of what is required for a transition plan. A lot of times in a community, the next question is, how do I determine what is ADA compliant? The Department of Justice has issued some pretty general guidance that they include in the 2010 update or the Title II ADA, but this guidance does not encompass all of the situations that exist in our physical world. Some organizations such as PROWAG have furthered the guidance and design standards to identify more of those real-world situations and how to best make those ADA compliant. It has been recognized by the FHWA as the best practice and PROWAG has been adopted by SUDAS here in the state of Iowa, as well as the Iowa DOT.

For communities, we recommend that you don’t recreate the wheel. You can certainly add additional requirements for your ADA standard, but if you’re looking for a place to start, we would recommend having the city adopt the standards of PROWAG either individually or through the adoption of SUDAS.

ADA Compliance Examples

Spencer Wignall (11:05)
We just wanted to give you some examples of what PROWAG is talking about. You’re not going to see diagrams like this from the department of justice, and it’s showing you that there are multiple solutions to any given problem. There are a lot of differences in our physical world. Ames, Iowa is going to be a lot different than Davenport, Iowa. Topographic relief often poses many problems to ADA compliance, especially at curb returns and radiuses of intersections. Showing you some examples that are included in PROWAG for some of the guidance that they provide. Again, we did say that the Iowa DOT has adopted PROWAG. They have furthered that conversation and given some documents, as you can see here, this is from the chapter 12A of the Iowa DOT, and the SUDAS design manuals. So, they speak the same language. Just giving you a look here. There are lots of different situations and lots of different tools in the toolbox to make a site ADA compliant. Whether it’s in a location with limited right-of-way, utilities, or existing features, there are a lot of creative design solutions that are available to make your community more accessible.

What is ADA compliant? We have some come-on-man moments where people have either neglected a site or have clearly made an attempt to make it better but have just fallen short of the mark. The first example is when we don’t have a detectable warning that spans across the entire entrance of the curb ramp, using steel plates in place of a curb ramp. Then also thinking about our crosswalks and the geometry of existing features, you can see that an improvement was made, but the crosswalk still does not lend itself to the visually impaired. Then there’s this kind of that sidewalk to nowhere situation that exists in many communities.

Identifying gaps, understanding where we’re directing pedestrians to make crowd scenes, and then also coordinating all of this work with our utilities. You can see in the last photo there; that we have a utility pole in the middle of the accessible route. Just thinking about a few, have franchise utilities, where are they located and how might they need to be adjusted to better improve access to your community?

Joe Wilensky (13:15)
So you have your plan, you’ve got your budget set up and you’re ready to tackle things. You should also think about monitoring and evaluating how you’re doing because your transition plan itself is a living document. Your community changes over time and your ADA transition plan priorities may change as well.

You should evaluate your scheduled adherence and your progress to the targets that you’ve identified in your transition plan and see if facilities also require additional remediation beyond what you initially identified. Now with your monitoring, you can provide periodic updates to your internal and external parties, those interested individuals to see how well your community is doing in addressing the priorities you’ve already set up in previous iterations of your transition plan.

Publish your schedule and phase adherence. Then this also provides a good opportunity to invite ongoing comments to the city. If you’re releasing an annual report, well then that may prompt additional complaints or concerns or comments from your community that can be folded into another iteration of your transition plan.

Developing a Budget to Implement a Transition Plan

Spencer Wignall (14:16)
Now you’ve done it all. You’ve developed your plan. You’ve identified items in your community that are non-ADA compliant. You’ve started to do work and you want to know how to move forward. The best thing to understand is what costs are going to be associated with this work. As we’ve been highlighting a lot of the costs that we’ve identified so far have been planning type costs, the transition plan itself, and making sure that the proposed improvements are in line with other master plans that exist for the city. Then there are also the design and construction costs. Just to keep this in mind, typical design costs include a survey, whether it be topographic or point cloud, which is a 3D scan, the creation of the S sheets themselves that direct the contractor on how to make that corner or situation ADA compliant. Understanding that this doesn’t have to be a standalone sidewalk project that many times, ADA compliance is incorporated into a larger full reconstruction plan set, which can include utility replacements or pavement condition index improvements.

Again, with design costs, thinking about the holistic construction documents that need to be delivered. Then in construction, obviously getting the bid out to the contractors and getting contractors to bid on the project. We strongly recommend that you’ve done all of this work up to this point. You’ve done the planning, you’ve done the design and now you’re in construction. Don’t stop there. Good construction inspection is important. Construction staking is important, and documentation is important. One thing that we’ve seen is communities that have gone through all of the work to get it right and to take that abundance of care to make their community ADA compliant. Then when construction comes, you see hands get thrown up in the air and things that get installed such as the come-on man type situations, because a lot of those examples, people were paying to do something that they thought was going to make it ADA compliant. Having somebody in the field, whether it be an inspector or performing construction staking, will help ensure that at the end of the day, your facility is ADA compliant.

Then I see some questions coming up in the chat. Rough cost, we did prepare a cost opinion for one project and it was a very full scope. The biggest cost is the inventory of identifying all of the barriers. That’s typically something that, who’s making that determination that we would recommend that the city does hire a consultant, a professional consultant to do that work. The City of Adel, their inventory for their initial transition plan was pretty simple. It was all of the curb ramps with curb through the ramp, right, that’s it. That was their priority one group that can be done by the city or city employees to lesser the overall external expense for the creation of the plan. Really, it’s a sliding scale. We could probably put something together as a consultant in that $5,00 to $10,000 range. Then for those full-blown type situations, I think the one that we did included a curb ramp. Boots on the ground curb ramp inventory with some GIS components, review of longitudinal sidewalks, review of parking lots, review of some buildings on site too. We worked with an architect to get a fee from them and all of that. I think that total was plus a hundred thousand. It’s a sliding scale. If it’s just something where they want to get started on something and because they do want a grievance process identified and they want those curb ramps with curb through the openings. Hey, that’s a great place to start and you can probably find a deliverable that fits the fee that they have in mind. As you start adding complexity and detail and specificity and coordination with other master plans and coordination with city codes. Then also packaging it out of how are we actually going to eat this elephant and here’s a fiscal year or this fiscal year that and incorporate it into the CIP? That’s when you’re looking at that more holistic approach. If they’re having a consultant do that, obviously we bill time and that takes time, so it also takes money.

Available Grants for ADA Transition Plans

Joe Wilensky (18:08)
With local funding, you can work things into an annual budget and think about implementing or integrating your transition plan into your Capital Improvement Plan for your community. This enables you to have a tailored schedule and tailored budget expectations that align with the transition plan elements and phasing that you’ve already considered. It kind of goes to the idea of, well how do you need an elephant? Well, one bite at a time.

Now thinking externally from your community, there are public funding opportunities. The Iowa DOT has a few that can be considered including the pedestrian curb ramp construction and service transportation block ramp programs, but then also their private opportunities and the AARP community challenges are just one such example. In this community challenge, the AARP accepts project applications for work that will make your community more walkable, and a walkable community and an ADA-compliant community are not the same things. However, there are a lot of overlapping elements that would allow an ADA transition plan to be considered for a walkable community grant. Other private opportunities are out there, but this is just one example.

Spencer Wignall (19:12)
We’re starting to wrap up now and we kind of wanted to talk about exceptions to the rule. What happens when you can’t make a facility ADA compliant? We take a lot of effort in design to identify situations that can’t be made ADA compliant, whether it’s structurally infeasible or technically infeasible. Those are two definitions that are acceptable as design exceptions, but we do recommend that those decisions are documented with the project. Again, it just kind of leads back to the fact that it’s better to have these situations designed as opposed to, contractor designed in the field.

The other situation here is PROWAG does provide guidance and it’s used in SUDAS to identify when have to make facilities, ADA compliant beyond transition plans. Are there other times where, hey it’s not my transition plan, but I’m redoing this street do I have to make that ADA compliant? And effectively any new vertical or horizontal improvements do have to be made ADA compliant when they are built. As far as restoring existing facilities, if it’s considered a maintenance item, then you don’t need to make it compliant. You aren’t required to make it compliant at that time. However, if it’s not deemed a maintenance issue if it’s more of rehabilitation or reconstruction. Then again, that’s considered a new facility and it does need to be made ADA compliant.

One thing that we do want to bring to your attention is many parts make a whole. If your community is doing a multiyear maintenance plan on an existing corridor, sometimes the composite of multiple maintenance items does start to look like more of a reconstruction or rehabilitation. Such that if you patch half of a roadway one year, and then you come back and patch the other half of the roadway the next year, then the true spirit of that project was a reconstruction. You should be addressing ADA with that project as well and not kicking the can and leaving it for later. Beyond this, we do have some samples of some existing plans. Each of those is a link that we can share with your community. Some of the major cities do seek to have a pretty full plan, the City of Des Moines, and the City of Cedar Rapids, but transition plans are unique to each community. Some communities decide to go for a more paired back plan. We do have some examples of those. City and Davenport, Council Bluffs, and the City of Adel.

Protecting Communities from Litigation

Spencer Wignall (21:29)
A key for a community on any compliance issue is having a plan. Execution can always be slower processed due to funding limitations. But if the plan is in place, it shows a good faith effort by the community. That’s exactly the case. Having the grievance process in place is the first step against litigation. That’s kind of the point of the transition plan to really help protect our communities from litigation. That’s the biggest takeaway in reading through the title II and reading through the regulations and requirements of all of this. That’s one of the biggest takeaways and then making the plan. You can split things up, you can split things up multiyear, you can split things up if, hey, we’re only going to do external features to start with. Then maybe once we get so far with external features, all right, now we’re going to look at the insides of the police stations and the camping shelters and stuff like that. As long as you are intentional about how you’re going to proceed, that falls back into the methodology that Joe was talking about previously. As long as you’re pretty clear of, hey this is our methodology, we’re going to start with curb ramps. Then we’re going to look at the longitudinal sidewalk. Eventually, we’re going to get to the buildings. Then it’s identified in a sense, that the community is better protected because of that.

Joe Wilensky (22:44)
Now we’ve been speaking for a while so far today and wanted to provide you with a quick hit takeaway for your community in case the rest of it’s been a bit of a blur. ADA access is required for every community and think about what the vision is for your community. Do you want to be an accessible and welcoming community to your residents? You should observe conditions in your community, consider an ADA audit, and then how to be compliant, make a plan. In that plan, you’re going to prioritize, and follow your plan. You’re going to build what you’ve said you’re going to build review and update your plan as time goes on. Maybe that means to build more and then also give Snyder and Associates a call. We can help you out with it.

Spencer Wignall (23:21)
Yeah, we also wanted to hit on some frequently asked questions that most communities have at this time. Am I responsible for pedestrian facilities outside of my jurisdiction? No, you’re not. What does that mean? Outside of the public right-of-way. If it’s on a residential property or a company’s property. You are not responsible for improving those, but we do recommend that you coordinate with them.

Beyond that, do I have to make a sidewalk where it doesn’t exist today? No, you don’t have to pave the world. You just have to keep what facilities you do have ADA compliant and in line with that last question, can I reduce or terminate existing routes? And yes, you can. If you want to control where you have pedestrian access, that is ADA compliant, you can certainly remove existing facilities to accomplish that. With that, here is our contact information for when you need to give us a call. I’m Spencer Wignall, I am a Civil Engineer.

Joe Wilensky (24:17)
I’m Joe Wilensky, I’m a Transportation Planner here at Snyder. It’s been a pleasure of speaking with you all. Any questions, please let us know.


Spencer Wignall Contact Box White Circle Headshot

Spencer Wignall, P.E.

Civil Engineer

Spencer Wignall, P.E.

Civil Engineer

ADA design, building demolition, roadway reconstruction, roadway rehabilitation, industrial and commercial site design.

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