The Complexity Of Accessibility

By Frank Fortino

As buildings evolve and construction booms across the City, the topic of accessibility remains as important as ever. Today, the focus is mostly directed on a building’s ability of having proper accessibility –  from the point of entry to a clear route through a space and everything within.

Any conversation of accessibility must include wheel chairs, and this turns attention to wheel chair lifts. There has been a lot of discussion and interpretations of when a building can have a wheelchair lift as part of their design.

The Building Code does NOT permit a wheelchair lift if you are designing a new building or if the project is considered new construction. Under section 1109.7, platform lifts are not be designed in or as part of the required accessible route.

There are exceptions – for cases of new construction which fall under new building or major reconstruction of a building which can be equal to the old Code interpretation of cost greater than 50% of the value of the existing building.

The following are permitted areas for lifts:

• Platforms at speaker stage

• Accessible features in construction within an apartment

• Accessible features of a jury box, raised court room stations including judges benches, clerks stations, bailiff stations, deputy clerks stations and court reports stations.

• Accessible features to load/unload areas serving amusement rides.

• Accessible features to play components within soft contained play structures.

• Accessible features to team or player seating areas of sports venues.

The DOB will allow a wheelchair lift in a building where there is construction if that building was first occupied on or before Jan. 26, 1992, so long as the scope is for limited construction with a demised space and which does not fall under “new construction.” Cases here are:

• The elevation of the existing entrance is being altered and modified.

• Minor alterations.

• The construction and alterations does not exceed 50% of the value of the existing building.

• Change of use on grade/1st floor.

• Rooftop amenity spaces and recreation areas.

• Change of use in the cellar level existing conditions storage and mechanical space, change to doctor’s office or retail store.

The DOB and the mayor’s office do understand that there may be certain conditions which buildings have real hardship. If you believe that you have such conditions, start by having your architect and consulting team review the conditions and present the specifics of the situation in a position paper.

Submit this position paper to the DOB Commissioner’s office for their review. The Commissioner may opt to have the mayor’s office of disability review the request as well. With the issue accessibility, it’s more likely than not that the case will be considered and a thoughtful decision rendered based on the facts.