Author(s): Ron Cote. Published on September 1, 2015.

WHILE VISITING THE EXHIBIT BOOTHS at the NFPA Conference & Expo in June in Chicago, I was reminded of the range of resources NFPA offers in the area of accessibility for people with disabilities.

NFPA accessibility expert Allan Fraser once again coordinated a portion of the exhibit floor, known as the “Accessibility Expo,” where a select group of manufacturers displayed products that contribute to making accessible means of egress nearly the equivalent of traditional means of egress. NFPA’s accessibility advocacy group, the Disability Access Review and Advisory Committee (DARAC), staffed an information booth within the Accessibility Expo area.

Allan also edits and distributes e-ACCESS, NFPA’s newsletter on fire and life safety for people with disabilities. The newsletter has been published quarterly since 2007; the latest e-ACCESS was sent to approximately 45,000 people around the world. You can read the newsletter online.

NFPA’s leadership in the area of accessibility also reveals itself in provisions of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. Its provisions requiring new buildings to have accessible means of egress are in agreement with those of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG); its successors, the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADA-ABA-AG) and the 2010 ADA Standards; and ICC/ANSI A117.1, the American National Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.

In buildings that are fully protected by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system, the accessibility documents, including NFPA 101, permit a floor to serve as an area of refuge without special fire-rated or smoke-resistant barriers and without having to prove that tenability can be maintained into a fire emergency. The basis for the leniency is the belief that the sprinkler system will control the fire. The provisions recognize that the area may become smoky or misty and potentially frightening to a person who remains behind when most others have evacuated, but the area should not be endangering.

NFPA 101 requires the area of refuge in a sprinklered building to have an additional feature not required by the other accessibility documents: a two-way communication system between each elevator landing and the fire command center or a central control point approved by the authority having jurisdiction. This system must include both audible and visible signals to help ensure that the occupants who remain on the floor know that their call for rescue assistance has been received.

The NFPA 101 requirements for ramps are also in agreement with those of ADAAG, ADA-ABA-AG, 2010 ADA Standards, and ICC/ANSI A117.1. A new ramp must comply with the following: it must not exceed a slope of 1 in 12; any cross slope must not exceed 1 in 48; level landings must be provided at top, bottom, and at intermediate points after each 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rise; the ramp and landings must be at least 44 inches (112 centimeters) in clear width; changes in travel direction are permitted to be made only at landings; handrails must be provided at both sides; minimum 42-inch (106-centimeter) guards are required at open sides; and minimum 4-inch (10-centimeter) curbs are required at open sides to prevent a wheelchair wheel from hanging up at the side edge.

It is comforting that new, code-compliant buildings offer occupants, regardless of their mobility, comparable egress systems.

RON COTE, P.E. is principal life safety engineer at NFPA.