By Livi Pejo | Designer
This year we celebrate 30 years of equality for people with disabilities in our nation’s workplaces and communities. Since disability can happen to anyone, whether by birth or acquired along the way, it is important to always make accessibility a priority. IA Interior Architects is proud to support and implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures that all people have the same rights and opportunities.
On July 26, 1990, this civil rights law, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, was passed by George H. W. Bush. This includes accessibility in jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public—offices, restaurants, stores, hospitals, hotels, museums, etc. ADA is one of the most important laws that applies to architecture, and since 1992, new buildings must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Working as a designer, I had the chance to apply these guidelines every day and on every project. When designing, accessibility is a core value at IA. We work to design spaces that are attractive, well planned, functional, vibrant, and more importantly, accessible to all. ADA standards are not building codes—they are requirements that guarantee the right to access public buildings and sites for people with disabilities.
For those who may not know, I was in a tragic accident which left me paralyzed. For three years, I have been in a wheelchair so ADA is very special and important to my everyday life. Before that accident, I was working in IA’s DC office on various projects and buildings, and ADA standards were key. We referred to them so much that it was second nature. When I worked on a project, I tried to imagine the project from the perspective of someone disabled. It was standard that all doorways are at least 32 inches wide, corridors at least five feet wide, and tables and counters at least 27 inches high, with screens and digital displays to be placed within reach and wayfinding to be understood by all. I have always applied these types of ADA codes to projects, but at the time I did not completely understand the effect it could have on someone’s life.
In September 2017, my life was flipped upside down. I had to learn a new way of living and see everything from a completely different perspective. As someone in a wheelchair, it has been so much harder to have access to places and services that I can truly appreciate everything ADA has to offer. Every time I visit a new space, I do some research ahead of time to make sure the place is functional for me. I always check if it is step free, if doors are wide enough, if there is at least a five-foot diameter of turn-around space, if I can fit my wheelchair under a table, and the list goes on. Because of ADA, the majority of spaces fit this criteria, but I have seen some older buildings that need to be updated. If it weren’t for ADA, I would not be able to even enter some facilities, yet alone function in them.
ADA has reshaped the way architects and designers have come to think about projects. Every day new buildings are being designed, interiors renovated, and new workplace strategies reevaluated. The American with Disabilities Act is a huge landmark and really shows how much public access has progressed and how much further it will go. Now that I experience its benefits first hand, and whether I am designing a space or in a space designed by others, I understand and appreciate ADA so much more.
Happy 30-year Anniversary ADA!