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Guide Pratique D’Accessibilité

By Stéphane Pierre Louis | Associate

Cover of the Practical Guide to Accessibility funded by CBM. All text is in French. The central image is the international symbol for accessibility. Radiating out of this image are three spheres, one representing public space, one representing establishments open to the public, and one representing residential buildings for rentalKMA traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in May 2018 to improve its understanding of the country’s accessibility efforts and meet with several NGOs and stakeholders who have been involved in the efforts. At the time of the visit, Haiti was in the process of passing its first-ever accessibility regulations. The Christian Blind Mission (CBM)  took the country’s social context into consideration in their development of a user-friendly technical guide, Guide Pratique D’Accessibilité, that included not only technical diagrams but also colorful illustrations to highlight key points in the new regulations. KMA was honored to participate as the principal drafter of technical diagrams in this pioneering moment.

KMA extends a heartfelt thank you to CBM, the Secretary of State for the Integration of People with Disabilities, GDSI+, SHAA, and all of those who not only made our trip fruitful and efficient but also did the hard work required to move Haiti’s accessibility movement forward.

We look forward to future collaborations with our partners in Haiti.

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Dormitory Accessibility Requirements

by Kathryn Denis | Associate

Dormitory projects must follow both state and federal accessibility regulations.  These regulations often overlap, and the most stringent requirements must be met.  Below is a summary of the three major jurisdictions for dormitory projects:

  • 2010 ADA Standards: Dormitories are considered a form of transient lodging under the 2010 ADA Standards. Therefore, all common use spaces and a prescribed number of units must be mobility accessible (ADA-224.2).  There must be mobility accessible units with roll-in showers and other units with either transfer showers or tubs.  Additionally, a prescribed number of units must provide accessible communication features.  Both mobility and communication accessible units are required to be distributed amongst the various classes of units in the facility.
  • Design and Construction Requirements of the FHA: Dormitories are considered a form of multifamily housing and therefore dormitory units and common use spaces must comply with one of the 10 HUD recognized safe harbors.  If a dormitory building contains an elevator, all units are considered covered units.  Generally, the most significant impact of the FHA requirements will be to unit layouts with private kitchens/bathrooms.
  • State/City Building Codes: States/cities classify dormitory facilities differently.  Typically, local building codes treat dormitories as transient lodging facilities.  However, KMA is aware of some states/cities that treat dormitories as R-2 dwellings.  Many states/cities also have additional requirements for dormitory units that go above and beyond the 2010 ADA Standards and/or the Design and Construction Requirements of the FHA.  For example, in Massachusetts dormitories are considered transient lodging and must provide more units with communication features than required by the 2010 ADA Standards.

KMA strongly recommends a detailed accessibility scoping analysis at the start of a dormitory project.

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Don’t miss “Designing for Inclusive Play”

KMA principal, Josh Safdie, will present with Ken Dobyns, KOMPAN North America; Dawn Oates, The Play Brigade; and Cheri Ruane, Weston & Sampson at this year’s Boston Society of Landscape Architects’ conference. Join them for an insightful discussion on “Designing for Inclusive Play” on May 22nd at Northeastern University. Session and ticket information is available on the BSLA website.

BSLA May 27 2019

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Can You Hear Me Now?

by Julia Garofalo | Designer / Access Planner

Assisted Listening Systems (ALS) are required to be provided in assembly areas per both the ADA and 521 CMR. These devices range in capability and technology but ultimately provide the same service to persons who are hard of hearing. There are four (4) types of systems that are typically used – Radio Frequency (RF), Infrared (IR), Induction Loop, and, in more recent years, Wi-Fi.

The terminology required to understand ALS can be overwhelming. To more readily grasp these requirements, basic definitions are provided below.

Receiver – a device typically worn around the neck that amplifies sound from a speaker

Telecoil or T-Coil – a wireless receiver built-in to some hearing aids; amplifies sound from facilities utilizing Induction Loop technology

Hearing Aid – a personal device worn either in the ear or behind the ear that amplifies sound; can have a “T” switch to toggle the T-Coil on/off.

Radio Frequency (RF) Transmitter – utilizes radio channels to transfer sound to a receiver

Infrared (IR) Transmitter – utilizes infrared technology to transfer sound to a receiver

Induction Loop – a sound system installed in facilities through a loop of wire that creates an electromagnetic field that communicates with “T” switch compatible hearing aids and receivers

Wi-Fi Transmitter – a wireless access point communicates with an individual’s smartphone app to amplify sound

The ADA requires a minimum number of receivers based on the total number of seating with an additional set of receivers that are hearing-aid compatible (see Figure 1). In the state of Massachusetts, the requirements are more stringent. MAAB §14.5 requires the minimum number of receivers provided to be 4% of the total number of seats, but no less than two (2) receivers [1]. To compare, an assembly area with a total of 2001 seats requires 70 receivers under the ADA versus 80 under MAAB.

Table 219.3 Receivers for Assistive Listening Systems from 2010 ADA StandardsFigure 1. ALS requirements from ADA §219.3 [2]

I attended a seminar offered by Acentech, an acoustical consulting firm based in Cambridge, MA, where the presenters explained the each of the ALS systems in detail. There are several pros and cons to consider for each system type, ranging from cost to interference. The table below gives a side-by-side comparison for each system:




  • 17 channels available
  • Easy portable or fixed installation
  • Lowest installation cost
  • Large coverage area indoors or outdoors
  • Excellent sound quality
  • T-Coil hearing aid compatible
  • Transmission not private
  • Possible radio interference
  • Limited to 8 simultaneous channels
  • Listeners need a receiver
  • Some receiver management needed
  • Secure transmission within confined room
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Not as susceptible to interference
  • Multiple rooms with no interference
  • No license requirement
  • T-Coil hearing aid compatible
  • 4 channels can be used
  • IR emitters cannot be concealed
  • Emitters need to be placed properly for optimum coverage
  • More emitters needed for larger areas
  • Most IRs have issues with direct sunlight
  • Listeners need a receiver and be in line of sight with emitter
  • Some receiver management needed
  • T-Coil hearing aids do not need receiver
  • Management of receivers minimized
  • No license required
  • Hearing aid tuned to compensate for specific hearing loss
  • Transmission not private
  • Single channel only
  • Not all potential users have T-coil hearing aids
  • Installation and repairs can be difficult and costly
  • Susceptible to interference from other electrical equipment
  • Works off existing Wi-Fi systems
  • Free phone app
  • No device management
  • Dependent on end user to bring device or download the app
  • Latency of old vs. new phone models

Figure 2. Data taken from Acentech presentation [3]

One of the most interesting takeaways from the ALS seminar was that the baby boomers seemingly do not associate themselves with the ADA. In other words, it seemed as if they didn’t correlate their hearing impairments as a disability but rather a natural cycle of aging. To be fair, hearing loss is common in the aging community, however, it was intriguing to witness this disconnect. Many in the audience joked at the irony of requiring so many hearing devices in a space where no one uses them. Another common joke was that Americans tend to hide their flaws/disabilities from the rest of the world. Take eyewear for example – the impairment of vision has become a symbol of fashion or presumed intelligence. Hearing aids, however, haven’t achieved that cachet just yet. They are widely associated with the elderly, regardless of the multitudes of children and young people who use them as well.


[1], 521 CMR 14: Places of Assembly, Section 14.5,

[2] United States Access Board, Chapter 2: Scoping Requirements, Section 219,

[3] Acentech,

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Access in a Split Level Ranch


KMA recently finished a project installing a 3-stop vertical platform lift in a split-level ranch style home in Wellesley MA. The lift was necessary as one member of the family has MS. The “before” photo shows that homeowner had been using multiple stair chairs to get between the different levels of the house.

The project’s goal was to sensitively insert the lift into the existing house without interfering with the view of the woods or view from the formal sitting room.  We were able to locate the shaft for the lift in the middle of the house so that the lowest level is at the garage, the next level is on the first floor at the living room, and the last stop is on the second floor near the bedrooms.

KMA worked closely with D.M. Power Construction and Garaventa Lift to figure out how to use a non-standard door at the living room level that better matched the other doors in the house. This way, in the most formal room of the house, the lift door blends in with the existing style of the room.  The doors at the garage level and on the second floor are the standard Garaventa Lift doors. All the doors are on automatic openers.

On the second floor, the space for the lift came out of an extra bedroom. The space that was left was converted into an office and three large windows were added to take advantage of the view.

The upgrade from stair chairs to a platform lift is enormous, it gives the homeowner greater independence, saves time and allows her to freely move around all the rooms in her house, out the garage door, and into the neighborhood.

Lift vs. Elevator:

We often get asked which is better, a lift or an elevator. There are pros and cons to both. In Massachusetts, the maximum level change allowed for a lift is 12 vertical feet. This means that a lift can really only take a person between two floors of a house. Luckily, in this case, because the house is a split level, the lift can get to all three levels. Another issue with lifts that came up in this project is that when operating a lift, the button must be held down continuously the entire time the lift is in motion. If the rider releases the button, the lift will pause where it is, even if it is between landings. The best part about lifts is the price, they are significantly more affordable than elevators.

Project Manager: Hazel Ryerson, CAPS | KMA

Architect: Josh Safdie, AIA, NCARB | KMA

Builder: D.M. Power Construction

Homeowner: Private

Photographer: Jarred Stanley Sadowski

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Houghton Village Unit Renovation

Newton, MA

Work is complete at the Houghton Village accessible townhouse unit.  KMA designed the renovation of a 4 bedroom unit to include the following fully accessible features: a new kitchen connecting to a new back porch, a new entrance ramp, entrance hall, bedroom addition and fully accessible bathroom.  These changes allow for the first floor of the unit to be fully accessible. The unit now meets all the Massachusetts accessibility requirements and was designed for the specific needs of Abbi, the teenage son who lives in the townhouse with his parents and siblings.

Project Manager: Hazel Ryerson, CAPS | KMA

Architect: Josh Safdie, AIA, NCARB | KMA

Engineer: Gale Associates Inc

Builder: Sugrue & Associates Inc

Owner: Newton Community Development Foundation

Photographer: Jarred Stanley Sadowski

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Sitting Pretty

by Julia Garofalo | Intern Architect / Access Planner

The first time I came across an oversized chair was during my bariatric consultation appointment in 2013. At the time I weighed 300 lbs and was an expert at knocking things over thanks to what my grandfather would have referred to as “womanly hips.” For the first time in my life, a piece of furniture could hold my weight and was designed to do so. At restaurants, I used to strategize my seating arrangement based on proximity to adjacent tables to not disrupt others when I stood up. There were plenty of times where I got stuck in armed chairs, theatre seating, and even rollercoaster seats due to my large frame. To those who think forcing people with eating disorders to use smaller chairs would encourage them to lose weight, guess what? It doesn’t. If anything, it makes us eat more out of stress. My lifestyle was in no way healthy, but it was comforting to know that the world could accommodate me as I was and not constantly berate me with strictly Lilliputian objects.

gray blue oversized chair in doctor's office

Oversized chair in doctor’s office

These chairs (referred to as bariatric, oversized, or extra wide) have seen a boon in the healthcare industry since[1] and seem to pop up wherever I go. My most recent encounter was during a routine doctor’s appointment last week. This time I weighed 195 lbs – I discovered my ability to knock things over was due in part to genetic clumsiness. Though I lost all that weight, I still feel as though I need to maneuver carefully around people and things. After 15+ years of being overweight/obese, it became muscle memory. I found myself sitting in the oversized chair the minute after I checked in. This time I was delighted to be able to see the fabric beneath me rather than being completely eclipsed by my thighs. These chairs should not be pigeonholed in the medical field. It unintentionally creates an identity as being a “sick person’s chair” or a “fat chair.” By providing these seats in more social/cultural environments (i.e., restaurants, cafés, museums, libraries, etc.), it facilitates more interaction between “the obese” and “the skinny.” It becomes more than a chair; it becomes a welcoming invitation to exist within the space.


[1] Allen, C. (2014, June 11). Bariatric Chair – Welcome Everyone to Your Medical Office [Blog Post] Retrieved March 26, 2018, from

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The Price of Mobility

by Maxwell T. Goldman
Access Planner

I’m a great shopper, and thanks to the web, most people are. With so many choices, and so many retailers online and in stores, getting exactly what I want, when I want it is easier than ever.  In the rare instance when I do make a bad purchase, I can always return it or sell it to someone else.

However, this is not the case when it comes to purchasing mobility equipment. Shopping for mobility equipment is extremely stressful and unpleasant. So far, I’ve run into a variety of problems, big and small. I’ve outlined three of the most common challenges in this blog post.

Challenge #1: No Test-Drive

The usability, comfort, and fit of mobility equipment are critical. I’ve had good experiences when I’ve been able to test equipment out before purchasing it, and stressful experiences when that has not been possible.

In high school, the first mobility equipment I had was a pair of forearm crutches. Fortunately, I was able to go to a local drug store, test them out, and purchase them on the spot. When I began college, my mobility had declined, and I needed to purchase a mobility scooter. My doctor’s office coordinated a presentation with a scooter vendor, so I was able to view several different scooters. After comparing them, I chose the one I liked best and compared prices online. I was able to buy the model I wanted,  new and heavily discounted, online for about $500 less than the vendors were offering.

The most challenging thing about having a scooter has been transporting it independently. In college, I drove a sedan, which meant that I could not transport it myself. As my mobility got worse, I decided it was time to find a solution where I would not need to rely on others to put my scooter in my trunk. My solution was to find a lift that I could put in an SUV to do the lifting for me. It took three different cars, two different lifts, lots of money, and lots of frustration, to find a solution that works. All this happened because there is no way to test lifts in vehicles without installing them, and there are no “demos” anywhere to test out. Today I have a satisfactory solution that involves a ramp instead of a lift.

Challenge #2: Cost

The cost of mobility equipment is high and is rarely covered by health insurance.[1]  Medicare usually covers 1 piece of mobility equipment per person, but as you can imagine, this is not enough it you want to get around, get in and out of your house and get in and out of your car, because heaven forbid your mobility needs are different indoors and outdoors!  I’m more than a few decades shy of qualifying for Medicare, so I have had to navigate the private insurance market. Even after upgrading to one of the most deluxe (and expensive!) insurance plans, I’m still forced to pay out of pocket for all my equipment.

Challenge #3: Resale and/or Disposal

As someone with an evolving disability, my mobility is sometimes better and sometimes worse. This means that sometimes I need new equipment and sometimes I need to get rid of my old equipment.

A few years into college, after two years of daily use and countless potholes, my “new” scooter was beginning to fail. Its “One-Year Warranty” had expired, so I had the choice to either fix it or buy another one. I chose not to look at used scooters because it was difficult to find something of decent quality that was still under warranty. I ended up buying another new scooter on SpinLife, the same website I used to buy the old one and have been pleased with it, even after two years.

Till this day, however, I’m still trying to get rid of the old scooter, and no matter how much I discount it, it appears that nobody is interested because it’s used. I’ve had the scooter listed on Craigslist for over a year, and at this point, and I think I will donate it. Organizations like MassMatch and MedShare allow people to donate used mobility equipment to people in need both locally and internationally. The REquipment program at MassMatch gives people access to a diverse inventory of high-quality used equipment, all at no cost. For more information about recycling used mobility equipment, the Wheelchair Foundation provides a list of organizations that can help.

My primary goal in writing this post is to educate others about shopping for mobility equipment and perhaps save someone the frustration I went through during my trial and error. My larger goal is to start a conversation about how to improve the experience of shopping for mobility equipment and ensure more people get what they want for a fair price.


[1] “Financial Assistance and Payment Options for Wheelchairs and Mobility Scooters.” Paying for Senior
Care, May 2016,


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Winter on Wheels

by Maxwell T. Goldman
Access Planner

The first time I used my scooter in the snow was an experience I’ll never forget. I was a sophomore in college, heading back to my dorm after class when suddenly, what started out as little fluffy flakes, quickly became white-out conditions. As I turned up my dial to accelerate, I realized that no matter how fast I was going, my little scooter would be no match for the slushy 1.5-mile trek ahead of me. I was halfway up the hill leading to my dorm when my scooter got stuck. As the wheels spun in place, I remember thinking “why don’t I live somewhere warm?” Luckily, as I pulled out my cellphone to call public safety, two generous strangers walking by gave me a push, and within minutes I was safe and warm inside. Although the experience was frightening, it’s nothing compared to what other people with mobility challenges face in cold weather situations. For some, being stuck can be the difference between life and death.

Since that experience, I make sure to plan ahead during inclement weather, and so far, I’ve been lucky not to repeat it. Although I have the privilege to control certain variables, like bribing my little brother to shovel out my car, or having my dad carry me across our icy driveway, many people with mobility challenges rely on variables outside their control to stay safe. When sidewalks are not plowed, or when snowbanks create impenetrable barriers at curb cuts, living independently can be a challenge.

Max with cane between snow banks.

Max, supported by his cane, standing in a shoveled path with 42″ of snow on either side.

In the city of Boston, property owners are required to clear a 42-inch-wide path (or the full width of the sidewalk) within three hours after a snowstorm ends (“Rules on Clearing Snow”). If Massachusetts property owners are unsure about their obligations, they can view a  “Sidewalk Snow Removal Map” which indicates whose responsibility it is to clear the sidewalks within each community. Additionally, Boston residents can use the Bos: 311 app or call the mayor’s hotline at 617-635-4500 to report sidewalks that haven’t been cleared.

Although communities in the snow belt will eventually remove all the snow from city streets, including sidewalks and curb cuts, people with mobility difficulties often need help in the critical window between when the first flakes fall, to when the dust finally settles. Unfortunately for people living in Boston, there are limited resources to get help during this window. The consensus is that people in need of snow removal should reach out to neighbors and volunteer programs. In Boston, for the 2017-2018 winter season, I was only able to find one snow removal program, the “Snow Angels,” which will remove snow on demand for the elderly and disabled in South Boston.

Hopefully, with more awareness about snow removal and more volunteer programs to help the mobility challenged, people and communities will take it upon themselves to help each other and create a safer place.



“Rules on Clearing Snow.”, 4 Dec. 2017,

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