UG Planning + Urban Design
8 min readOct 26, 2023

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Travis Trumble / Project Engineer

I, me, myself is deaf. They had to wave, tap my shoulder, stomp on the floor, bang on the table, and turn the lights on and off to get my attention. I do hear planes and dogs barking, but that does not mean I can understand speech even when aided. Deafness and or Hearing Loss is a common disability that affects millions of people worldwide. Living with a disability, however, is never easy. I face unique challenges in my daily life, particularly when it comes to communications and accessing public services. Whether it be a lifelong issue, or a situational disability, there are more people in the US living with disabilities than you might realize; 27 percent of adults in the US. That’s more than 1 in 4 adults who has some type of disability (i.e., hearing, vision, cognitive, walking, self-care, or independent living difficulties). [1]

In my life and my career, one aspect stands out in spectacular detail: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a civil engineer living with a disability, it is important to me to advocate and create public spaces for all to enjoy. I feel I have an important role to play in ensuring that individuals with disabilities are able to fully participate in society. The ADA offers equal opportunity of access to diverse communities. It is one of the most important laws that has an impact on the project reviews in my daily work. As humans, we need the benefits of ADA. In this blog, I will discuss how the ADA is important to public Planning Departments and the impact it has on our work.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that was passed in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It protects the rights of individuals with disabilities. This law applies to a wide range of areas, including employment, transportation, and public accommodations. When it comes to my job as a civil engineer, the ADA has a significant impact on the design and construction of infrastructure to ensure that it is accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Access can be a challenge for people with disabilities. All buildings are required to be accessible to people with disabilities under the ADA. This means that they must provide appropriate accommodations to ensure that people with disabilities can use them safely and comfortably. One of the most significant provisions of the ADA is the requirements for ramps. This feature enables people with mobility needs to have access without difficulty. It requires that all public infrastructure be designed and constructed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. This includes everything from sidewalks and curb cuts to public transportation facilities and public parks. We are responsible for ensuring that public infrastructure is designed and constructed to be accessible, and that existing infrastructure is modified as needed to ensure compliance with the law.

ADA Ramp at Kansas City Board of Public Utilities Building — 540 Minnesota Avenue
ADA Ramp at Taco Bell — 3948 Rainbow Boulevard
ADA Curb cuts at the intersection of Central Avenue and South 7th Street Trafficway

Other than flat work, there are some examples of assistive technologies like mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, scooter walkers, canes, crutches, prosthetic devices, and orthotic devices. It is important to provide such access to adaptive devices that assist a disabled individual in accomplishing typical activities of daily living, such as eating, typing, walking, reading, or driving. One such adaptive device is a touchscreen. More touchscreens can also help people who struggle with handwriting. Touchscreens allow people to input letters and words by touching the screen, rather than by using a pen or pencil. There are a bunch of adaptive devices in a smart city. A smart city is a city that goes beyond disability to be accessible and inclusive; it’s the future! A smart city improves the everyday lives of people with disabilities. People with disabilities have difficulties moving around in the city (i.e., damaged sidewalks, lack of elevators for public transit networks, inaccessible public venues, lack of accessible restrooms, parking spots, etc…). We must rethink what such technologies can do for them. Also, a smart city will attract more residents and tourists, and improve the quality of life of all citizens, not just disabled people. In fact, APA-Kansas recognizes great planning in Kansas through the APA Kansas Chapter Awards each year and the United Government is excited to share that we were the 2021 recipient of the Meadowlark Award for outreach regarding our work on the Central Area Master Plan for Kansas City. [3]

Touchscreens at McDonald’s at 4215 Rainbow Boulevard
Touch screen at Taco Bell at 3948 Rainbow Boulevard

We must be knowledgeable about the ADA accessibility guidelines and incorporate them into our reviews through its requirements for accessibility in new construction and alterations to ensure compliance with the law. For example, when reviewing a new site or floor plan, we must ensure that it has accessible entrances, restrooms and other facilities for individuals with disabilities. In addition, the plans must consider the placement of ramps, handrails, and other features to ensure that they are usable by people with accessible needs. Similarly, when designing sidewalks, we must consider factors such as curb cuts, sloping, and width to ensure that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities. The creation of clear pathways and curb cuts is to provide easy movement for people with disabilities. Sidewalks, for instance, should be free of obstructions and should have curb ramps at every intersection to enable people to cross streets safely. Similar issues apply to parking lots as well (i.e., handicap space, shall be accessible, including ramps, and other features to allow individuals with disabilities to board and exit vehicles safely and efficiently). Also, parking must be large enough to accommodate individuals with mobility impairments. Another important aspect of the ADA is the requirement for clear signage throughout public accommodations. The signage must be easily visible, especially for individuals with visual impairments. This includes everything from the placement of signage to the design of sidewalks and street crossings. For example, tactile paving can be used to provide warning signals and guide pathways for individuals who are blind. Blindness is a disability that affects millions of people around the world. 12 million Americans over 40 have vision and eye problems. [2] By 2050, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts Americans over 40 with vision and eye problems will increase from 12 to 90 million! That’s more than 3 in 5 Americans! [4] Vision loss touches every part of people’s lives. People with vision loss are more likely to have balance problems and falls, and more must be done to prevent any fall-related injuries. Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment. [5] Individuals who are blind face unique challenges when it comes to navigating public spaces and accessing public services. This applies to tourists who are new to a city, not just disabled people. Reviews also include things like removing overhanging tree branches, repairing uneven sidewalks, and ensuring that street crossings are clearly marked. By taking these steps, Planning Departments can help to ensure that individuals with a disability are able to safely navigate public spaces.

Accessible parking space a the Merc CO+OP at 501 Minnesota Avenue
Crosswalks at the intersection of Everett Avenue and N. 8th Street near Sumner Academy of Arts & Science
Ramp, curb cuts, crosswalk, tactile paving at Taco Bell on 3948 Rainbow Boulevard near KU Medical Center.

In Wyandotte County, there is a school of the blind, but the school of the deaf in located in Johnson County. These places in the Kansas City metropolitan area have established a strong ADA history that characterizes our regional community. When there are places that have a strong presence of ADA, they tend to provide a sense of place that brings people together. As you walk around downtown Olathe, Kansas for example, you see them waving their hands. Deaf communities were built around the school of the deaf, and the ADA has uniquely captured their way of life into this place.

Kansas School for the Blind at 1100 State Avenue.

The ultimate goal is to provide maximum independence for individuals with disabilities. This means that all designers (planner, engineers, architects, and others) must take into account the needs of individuals with disabilities when designing buildings and public spaces (i.e. universal design). We must work closely with architects and designers to ensure that accessible features are properly maintained and that any issues are addressed quickly.

The common violations in our reviews are inaccessible entrance/exit of buildings, incorrect ramp height to building and/or curb, and no parking access or no area for drop-offs. Other common examples of ADA violations are missing, non-reflective, faded, or wrong location of parking signage, improper slope, no handrails, wrong length of ramps, improper slope or wrong dimension of parking spaces, wrong slope or improper dimensions of accessible routes, etc.…

Overhanging tree at State Avenue near Big Eleven Lake.
Uneven sidewalks at State Avenue near Kansas School for the Blind.

The ADA is important to Planning Departments because it promotes innovation and creativity in the design of public infrastructure, urban design and architecture. By requiring that all infrastructure be accessible, the law encourages us designers and engineers to think creatively and come up with new solutions to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, is able to fully participate in society. It’s good to see that Kansas City is taking steps to increase their accessibility. By requiring accessible design and ongoing maintenance, the law promotes inclusivity and encourages creativity and innovation in the design of public infrastructure. We help to create a more inclusive built environment that benefits everyone.

REFERENCES

[1] “Disability Impacts All of Us Infographic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 May 2023, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html.

[2] “Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Dec. 2022, www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm#:~:text=Approximately%2012%20million%20people%2040,due%20to%20uncorrected%20refractive%20error.

[3] “Long Range Plans.” — Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, www.wycokck.org/Departments/Planning-Urban-Design/Plans. Accessed 24 Aug. 2023.

[4] “Looking Ahead: Improving Our Vision for the Future.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2022, www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/resources/infographics/future.html.

[5] “Vision Impairment and Blindness.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 10 Aug. 2023, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/blindness-and-visual-impairment.

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