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The U.S. Access Board: Champions of Independence for People with Disabilities

Spotlight 3, July 2022

Accessible design is at the core of the U.S. Access Board’s mission, a mission that focuses on standards relating to the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An independent federal agency, the Access Board leads the way in developing accessibility guidelines and standards so that people with disabilities can live independently when it comes to physical and online access.

For more than 25 years, Scott Windley, Technical Assistance Coordinator at the Access Board, has worked tirelessly to help people with disabilities achieve independence in accessing physical spaces. “There is nothing worse than being in a wheelchair and being out in the weather and not being able to get the door open,” says Windley, a wheelchair user himself.

Windley went on to say that people with disabilities are not a monolithic group. “Everyone has different abilities as far as accessibility is concerned. The thing about an automatic door is that whether I have the use of my arms or not, if I can push a button or activate a sensor, I can get that door open.”

That is not always the case though, especially if someone is using a walker, is on crutches, or has no arms. Then, the issue of opening a door becomes much more complicated. Windley encourages AAADM members to engage more with people with disabilities to discuss how the industry can improve the use of automatic doors. “I would also encourage AAADM to get involved with ANSI [American National Standards Institute] and contribute to its work on the ICC A117.1, which is the standard for accessibility requirements that is referenced in the International Building Code,” added Windley. 

Driving change requires collaboration among a diverse group of stakeholders when it comes to standards for accessible design. “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much,” said Helen Keller, a woman with multiple disabilities, but who, like Scott Windley, worked courageously to effect change and advance the cause of independent living for people with disabilities.

Created in 1973 by an act of Congress, the Access Board sets minimum guidelines and baseline requirements for accessibility in the built environment for both the ABA and the ADA. When the standards and guidelines were developed for both laws, automatic doors were not as robust as they are today, according to Windley. “They weren’t required but they were encouraged.”

That changed in 2006 when the General Services Administration (GSA), which is one of the standards setting bodies under the ABA and manages all federal buildings throughout the world, required that GSA buildings have automatic doors for all exterior entry doors.

Scott Windley’s hope is that someday automatic doors will be required on all exterior entry doors, whether the facility is federally, state, locally, or privately owned and operated. “My hope, and I speak for myself here, is that the next iteration of standards will require automatic doors on all exterior entrances.”

For some folks, independence can mean something as simple as entering a building without having to wait for someone to help open a door. The U.S. Access Board is helping to make that quest for independence a reality.

For more information about the U.S. Access Board, visit www.access-board.gov/about/


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