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Government Affairs

Imagine, if you will, how different the "Wizard of Oz" would have been if during filming the producers chose something other than the yellow brick for the road that Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion followed to get to the Emerald City. Suppose, for instance, the use of brick was ruled out because it might have made the Tin Man's journey a bit bumpier. I doubt the cast would have easily adapted to singing "Follow the concrete pavement" or "Skipping down the cement path." The yellow brick was perfect; it was colorful, practical, some would say magical and, well, it just had a certain presence!

Okay, so that's in the movies. Where am I going with this, you ask?

First and foremost, as busy professionals and able contractors, I've no doubt that each and every one of you is very particular about the materials you use and the quality of your work. You want it to stand out, win awards and, just as important, be durable enough to withstand a variety of conditions. You stake your reputation on it and that's what sustains your business.

In the process of laying the brick, stone or other masonry materials, have you ever considered the impact your finished product might have on the mobility or accessibility of handicapped individuals? Well, that's one of the reasons the Federal Access Board was created.

The Access Board is an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. So how does that impact you as contractors? The Board currently has under consideration a set of guidelines covering access to sidewalks and streets to ensure that they are safe and maneuverable for pedestrians with disabilities. The guidelines are being developed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers access to a wide range of facilities in the public and private sectors, and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), which requires access to certain federally funded facilities. One of the issues being considered by the Board in these guidelines is the "smoothness" of sidewalks. Apparently, advocacy groups for the handicapped had complained to the Board that some masonry materials used in sidewalks caused an undue amount of vibration, making mobility difficult and uncomfortable for those in wheelchairs.

In June of 2002, the Board released draft guidelines that were available for public comment until the end of October. The guidelines recommended that pedestrian access routes be smooth and free of irregular surface features, such as granite pavers, cobblestones and other types of rough or jointed surfaces. They argued this would minimize the sometimes painful vibrations persons using wheeled mobility aids may experience traversing rough and uneven surfaces. The advisory committee, however, was not able to identify suitable methods for measuring surface roughness or rolling vibration that would help determine whether a given surface was sufficiently smooth and recommended for more research on the relationship between surface roughness and wheeled mobility aids.

The Board received over 1400 comments on the guidelines. On behalf of our industry, the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI), the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) and the Brick Institute of America (BIA) submitted a study done by Dr. Rory A. Cooper, from the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Penn., who conducted an evaluation of the vibration exposure during electric powered wheelchair driving and manual wheelchair propulsion over selected sidewalk surfaces. Dr. Cooper found that there was really no significant difference in the vibrations between concrete or brick pavers and therefore should be considered acceptable as a pedestrian access route for wheelchair users. The point could also be made that the brick pavers are much easier to repair and more flexible than their concrete counterparts.

The Access Board recently met again in mid-January to discuss the guidelines and the comments received. Dr. Cooper presented his findings to the Board, and representatives from MCAA (also representing IMI) and ICPI met personally with one of the newest Board members to educate them about the issue. Thus far, the response to the study has been favorable, but more work needs to be done on the final specifications before the guidelines are published in early spring. Accordingly, ICPI, NCMA, BIA, MCAA and IMI will continue to work with the Board and its staff to ensure that they adopt the industry's technical specifications for "smoothness" as part of any final guidelines. We expect those guidelines to be submitted in early Spring and we will report back to you on the actions taken by the Board.







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