Tag Archives: curb ramps

Gamifying and Crowdsourcing ADA Inspections

The Makeability Lab at the University of Maryland is on a mission to "collect street-level accessibility information from every street in the world and enable design and development of a novel set of location-based technologies for accessibility." In order to achieve this goal, they set up an interactive website where people can inspect, identify, and label accessibility issues along sidewalks and at curb ramps.

The accessibility issues generated by this site are fairly basic, but would still be very helpful to cities interested in quickly and easily identifying issues. Currently the site is focused on auditing infrastructure in the Washington, D.C. area.

The group also plans to use the inspection data collected to "create new types of map-based accessibility tools, such as AccessScore, an interactive map of a city's accessibility, and RouteAssist, personalized routing algorithms based on a user's reported mobility level."

In addition, they are using the labels people assign to issues to develop algorithms to allow the computer to automatically find accessibility issues in the future.

So far 218 people have inspected almost 400 miles or 37% of Washington, D.C. If you are interested in volunteering your efforts, you can visit their website at http://sidewalk.umiacs.umd.edu and click on the "Participate" button.

Project Sidewalk Participate Screen

 Before beginning, you'll be offered a quick tutorial. You can also create an account to track your contributions. Here are a few screenshots taken while I inspected about a half mile of sidewalk in the Bellevue neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The first shows a section of heaved and cracked sidewalk I labeled as a surface problem. You can see I was able to choose this option from the group of issue icons located above the street-view image.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem

When you place an icon on the image, a box pops up as shown in the screenshot below to allow you to choose the severity of the problem. The site gives some guidance on this, but there is still a lot of judgment in assigning a rating. Initially I wasn't going to give this specific problem the worst rating, but then decided the slope looks severe enough I don't think a wheelchair would safely navigate across the heaved section. Below the rating, there is a space for a more detailed description of the problem.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem Rating

The screen also shows which neighborhood I am in, where I am at on the street, how many miles I have audited and labels I have placed. As you complete assigned sections, the site summarizes your progress as shown below:

Project Sidewalk Mission Summary

Finally, you can view your dashboard to see your overall contribution to the site. Below is my current status after only working on it for a short time:

Project Sidewalk Dashboard

As you can see on my dashboard, the locations of the problems I found are displayed on a map. A zoomed in view of this is shown below. I was not sure if there was a way to see everyone's contributions, but if so, this would be very helpful to a city engineering or public works department in managing their sidewalk or street repair program. It would also be helpful if the data could be extracted from a given area so it could be overlaid in a city's GIS with other data such as land use, destinations such as schools and hospitals, and locations of capital improvements and developments.

Project Sidewalk Map Zoomed

Because the site is so easy to use, cities could also partner with schools and ask students to participate in inspections. This would help to engage students in their community and build awareness of the needs for and barriers to accessibility.

From what I can tell, the group also has the code for the site over on GitHub. Their license grants permission to make use of the software according the terms specified, and instructions for setting up your own development site are provided in a README file.

You can follow the group's progress through their Twitter feed: @umd_sidewalk.


Climbing the Uphill Battle for ADA on a Non-compliant Curb Ramp

Curb RampMy primary involvement in ADA has been as an engineer designing and building infrastructure in the right of way and in years past, as a building inspector approving private development. During my career, I have always made a dedicated effort to learn about and meet the requirements of this federal law. But it's been a challenge shared by many other building and design professionals due to the lack of guidance materials and solid instruction from federal and state agencies. Fortunately over the last year that has changed for us in Illinois with state and federal agencies providing more training. But as frustrating as it has been for us, I can't begin to imagine how it is for those who have a disability and need to use these facilities. And today, I came up against another completely unbelievable hurdle.

The law was passed in 1990, and it has taken 20 years for the design community to receive clear guidance on how to comply with the law. The effect this seems to have had is that many engineers look upon the law as a joke thinking why comply – next year federal and state agencies will change it again. Or they ignore it or only partially comply because it must not be important enough if it has taken this long to put achievable guidelines in place. And they do not normally interact with the community most affected to see the impact of their decisions.

So one hurdle is just convincing engineers they need to follow the law. Our state has come out with the opinion that if a professional engineer knowingly designs or builds or approves a non-compliant ramp, they will pursue taking away their license. This is serious for someone who relies on the license for their job. Yet, when I share this with other engineers they do not believe it or think it could happen.

Fortunately there are engineers out there who do care and try to comply. I wonder sometimes what makes the difference. For myself, my dedication has built up over time as I better understood the requirements and particularly as I began to interact with those who have disabilities. They have really been the ones who helped me understand the importance of each regulation. Not complying does truly cause them hardship and at times it is painful and severe. It makes me wonder if we should be requiring a certification for ADA design that includes training and interaction with disability communities and groups.

Anyway, as difficult as all that has been to work through, today I got a call from a couple in our city complaining about a curb ramp we installed. They didn't like the design because they felt it would make it difficult to mow. I had tried to explain in two emails and out on the site that we were obligated to construct the ramp in that manner due to federal law. That the city risked liability and loss of use of road funds for highway improvements should we choose to ignore the law. And I added the part about losing my license. But they would have none of that. They questioned why other ramps are non-compliant, but it's difficult to convey how and why we got to this point over 20 years in just a few minutes. So they could not understand.

But in the end, I could tell by their attitudes, the bottom line for these people was that they were going to force the city to put in a ramp they liked no matter what. They obviously had total disregard for the law and our need to comply. They even threatened calling the newspaper and the state of Illinois to "tell on us." Which didn't make sense to me – were they going to tell them we put in a compliant ramp they don't like? Of course both they and their child had no visible disabilities.

All I could think was if I feel this frustrated and helpless just trying to build compliant infrastructure, how must someone feel who has to try to use non-compliant infrastructure? I can't even imagine telling someone with a disability, we chose not to comply with the law because these people thought it would cause them some difficulty in mowing around the ramp. We might be able to some day have designers on board, but how will we ever get healthy people with no disabilities to accept the need for compliance when all they care about is not having a minor inconvenience in mowing? And how can people have such total disregard for others?




Social Media Tools for Construction Geeks

If you have an iphone, download AudioBoo for free – now! – particularly if you work in any construction-related field. This handy tool allows for the ability to combine an IM, a photo, a location map, and a 3-minute audio blurb in one upload. This upload can then be found on the AudioBoo Website for anyone’s viewing pleasure. But even better, it can also automatically get pushed out to your Twitter and/or Facebook feed.

So next time you see something particularly interesting out on construction, use AudioBoo on your iphone to share with the rest of us! Here is one I did today – it was also automatically sent to my Twitter feed and my Facebook wall. (Click the link to see the full post.)

Lack of Expansion Material Causes Concrete Failure



Visualizing the ADA in 3-D

Tired of trying to get a curb ramp built that meets the ADA? Instead of photos of your kids are you carrying around pictures of a compliant curb ramp to show the contractor? Join the club – ever since the curb ramp section of the ADA was finalized, sidewalk design and construction have never been the same. The basic concept is simple; the need is imperative. However, getting it to all fit existing conditions and educating the contractor about the requirements have been the stumbling blocks.

This is why the Public Works Resource Center in Second Life has started a project to develop 3-D visualizations of the design solutions presented in the following Special Report: Accessible Public Rights-of-Way Planning and Design for Alterations, developed by PROWAAC. Perhaps seeing the designs in 3-D in a virtual environment can enhance the understanding of these regulations.

3-D Visualization of the Design Solution 1.01 in the PROWAAC Report
3-D Visualization of the Design Solution 1.01 in the PROWAAC Report

Some other ideas for using virtual worlds to increase understanding of the ADA requirements are:

  • Creating a virtual build of the existing conditions to try out different ideas. If this was built in a community area, others could come by and offer input and help working with a method similar to that of the Wikitecture project.
  • For training purposes, educators could build sample intersections and have students place pre-made components to show their understanding of the regulations.
  • For now, as each 3-D build becomes available, it will be added to a design solution libraries at the Public Works Resource Center in Second Life.