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Lessons Learned in Multifamily Housing

by Lisa Pilorz
Senior Access Planner

Often doors and gates that are part of an accessible route through outdoor areas do not provide required maneuvering clearances.   Further complicating matters, when there is an intercom or key fob installed, the required adjacent clear floor space may not be provided.

Areas most vulnerable to this problematic condition include:

  • Pool gates
  • Dog park gates
  • Side doors leading into the building
  • Building entrances from outdoor courtyards/amenity areas

Door Maneuvering Clearance

Doors and gates require a minimum 18” maneuvering clearance on the latch pull side of the door.  Code graphics typically show a 60”x 60” ‘box’ to identify the required maneuvering clearance area.

When walkways are 60” wide, it may seem like the 60” ‘box’ will be provided and meet accessibility requirements.  However, the door is typically not framed all the way to one side and therefore the minimum 18” is not provided.

floor plan showing door swing and 18" clearance on pull sideoverlay showing 60" x 60" box at entrance








Clear Floor Space Requirements

accessible spacing for intercomIf the entrance to the building requires the use of key fob or intercom, the controls require an adjacent level and clear floor space (minimum 30” x 48” dimensions).   Sometimes the concrete/brick walkway does not extend far enough to the side to accommodate the required clear floor space at the controls.  Providing the required clear floor space enhances access for everyone.

These non-conforming conditions are frequently identified, and changed, during plan reviews before the start of construction. Failing that, early construction site visits, ahead of the installation of the final hardscape materials, provide another method of reducing these costly construction errors.


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KMA Gives Back

by Kathryn Denis | Access Planner

This past July KMA staff traded in their smart levels for power tools to help build affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity Metro West/ Greater Worcester.  KMA’s summer outing took place at the affiliate’s Northborough job site located at 33-35 Main Street.  The building, a circa 1800s general store, is being transformed into an affordable 2-family home with an accessible unit on the ground floor.

KMA staff wearing hard hats in front of the Northboro worksiteThe day started off with a meeting about the project and an introduction to the regular volunteers.  We then split into several groups to help tackle different parts of the project.  Some staff members worked on hanging floor joists; others worked on digging footings in the basement; a couple of us laid subflooring; a few even knocked down an exterior wall that needed replacing.  With some guidance from the regular volunteers, KMA staff completed quite a few tasks.  By the end of the day, everyone left feeling tired but accomplished. It was exciting to learn and participate in the carpentry skills we often see in the field.

The approaching holiday season is an appropriate time to reflect on the past year.  KMA is grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a day with Habitat for Humanity creating affordable housing in our local community.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit that builds houses with people in need of affordable housing and then sells the homes to families with 0% interest rate mortgages. These homes are available for purchase by families living within 30 and 60 percent of the Area Median Income who are willing and able to become homeowners, partner with Habitat, and provide 400-500 hours of “sweat equity” working on their future homes, or another Habitat project.

If you would like to learn more about this project or support it with time or monetary donations, please visit the build page on Habitat’s website.

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Lessons Learned in Multifamily Housing

by Lisa Pilorz
Senior Access Planner

Costly problems are often encountered during construction when designs provide only the minimum required clearances.  Bathroom layouts can be particularly tricky.

architectural floor plan layout of bathroomWhen designing a bathroom layout, consider the graphic place holder used for fixtures. Confirm that the dimensions of the toilet graphic match the actual dimensions for the specified toilet.

The graphic image and photo, included here, illustrate the type of fixture placement issue that can occur during construction.  The architectural drawings show the bathroom layout with just enough clearance at the shower; a minimum 30” x 48” clearance adjacent and perpendicular to the shower control wall.

bathroom under construction toilet overlapping clear floor spaceHowever, during a recent construction site visit, I discovered that the location of the toilet will overlap the required clearance by 6”.

Since this condition was identified early in construction, the redesign of the bathroom may be less costly than if discovered in later phases of construction or at project completion.

Verifying specified toilet dimensions when designing and including early construction site walks in your planning are two ways to prevent costly construction fixes.

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Service Animals. Emotional Support Animals. Therapy Animals. OH MY!

by Julie Garland

According to a 2015 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five Americans is disabled. Although there are no data to quantify the number of disabled individuals who rely on service animals, an increase in the use of service animals is now evident. The increased presence of service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals has led owners of businesses, universities, hospitals, and multifamily housing buildings to ask a variety of questions, the most pressing of which is “is there a legal basis for the use of these animals, and how does it apply to my business or institution?” Responses to these questions fall into a variety of categories, which we will review individually below.


Black dog in guide dog harness

Service animals are highly trained pieces of medical equipment. An animal is task trained to assist its owner/handler in mitigating his or her disability. An owner/handler and service animal are commonly called a “team.” The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals. Dogs are recognized under both Title II (state and local government services) and Title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities); miniature horses are recognized under a separate provision. Common tasks for service animals may include but are not limited to: guiding the blind or those with a sensory processing disorder; alerting the deaf; balance work (providing physical support while a handler is moving); and providing deep pressure to calm an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or leading him or her out of a building during an anxiety attack.


When a property owner or manager encounters a person with a service animal, permissible questions are limited to:

(1) “is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

(2) what work or task has the dog or service animal been trained to perform?”[1]

It is against the law to ask for documentation, either paperwork or demonstration of tasks or to further inquire about a handler’s disability.

Keep in mind that there is no legal certification or breed specification to qualify a dog as a service animal.

Service animals are not required to wear a vest, patch, or tag alerting the public to their status as service animals. Most people opt to have their animals wear a vest or patch to help curb interaction with the public.


Under the ADA, service animals are permitted in all public areas of a facility, including areas where pets would not be permitted such as eating establishments, and medical facilities. Fear of dogs or other patrons’ allergies in no way limit a handler and service animal from accessing a public area.

Miniature horses are the exception to this rule. The ADA lists four factors that may preclude a service horse from entering a public area. They are:

  1. “Whether the miniature horse is housebroken;
  2. Whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control;
  3. Whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and
  4. Whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.”[2]

In addition to allowing people and their service animals access to public spaces, business and building owners must not isolate the owner/service animal team from other users of a facility.


The two instances in which it is appropriate to ask a person and their service animal to vacate the premises are:

  1. “The dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it; and
  2. The dog is not housebroken.”[3]


According to a 2013 U.S. Department of Justice memo, “housing providers must meet their obligations under both the reasonable accommodation standard of the FHAct/Section 504 and the service animal provisions of the ADA.”[4] This means that housing providers may not refuse housing to an individual with a service animal.


Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are animals that provide comfort and emotional support to individuals with a verifiable mental or psychiatric condition; they are not task trained. ESAs may be of any species, though they are often dogs, cats, or small animals such as rabbits.  Under the ADA, ESAs are not considered service animals; they are not permitted to accompany their disabled owners into areas of public facilities that are not designated as areas in which pets are permitted.  Federal regulations do allow ESAs to live in public and private housing with their disabled owner.[5] Under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs are considered a “reasonable accommodation.” If a tenant or a prospective tenant can document that an animal provides support or alleviates symptoms of his or her mental or psychiatric condition, a property manager must permit that animal’s residence as a “reasonable accommodation.” The “reasonable accommodation” clause also applies to universities and to multifamily housing.


Therapy animals are typically pets, and are usually dogs that are owned and handled by non-disabled individuals. Therapy animals are neither service animals nor emotional support animals. These dogs have been certified as a result of testing conducted by one of the national therapy dog organizations and are usually evaluated for therapy-required behaviors that result from basic training and social temperament.  The dogs’ owners pay a membership fee that “buys” a certificate denoting that the animal has successfully completed testing, owner/dog liability insurance for when a dog is on a therapy site, updates, and newsletters. Certifying organizations’ tests evaluate a dog’s comfort with strangers, children, mobility aids, and strange movements and noises. Therapy dogs are most frequently seen at nursing homes and in libraries providing therapy support to disabled residents or to helping children improve reading skills through periodic visits, respectively. Tail Wagging Tutors is one such example, as is the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program. These animals do not receive protection under the ADA or the FHA and are not permitted to accompany their owner or handler into public areas or live in housing not designated as pets allowed.


Recognizing each class of animal correctly and treating owner/animal teams appropriately as specified under the ADA and FHAct/Section 504 continues to present challenges in the U.S.

It is our hope that this overview of human/animal partnerships that includes service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals helps to clarify these animals’ roles and the ways in which their use is protected or prohibited by law.  The links below may be of interest to those who seek more in-depth information about any of the topics above.


Service Animal Links:

Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA

Service Animals, Northwest ADA Center

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals, ADA National Network


Emotional Support Animal Links:

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law: Fair Housing Information Sheet #6, Right to Emotional Support Animals in “No Pet” Housing

Disability Rights of North Carolina: Animals and the Fair Housing Act

Massachusetts Office of Disability Blog: Assistance Animals: Rights Under Fair Housing Laws

FHEO Memo, Subject: Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded programs

Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act


National organizations that certify dogs as therapy dogs include:

AKC Therapy Dog Program

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Pet Partners (f/k/a Delta Society)

The Good Dog Foundation

Therapy Dogs International


[1]    “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.” Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA, U.S. Department of Justice, 12 July 2011,

[2] “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.” 2011.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Subject: Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded programs.” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. April 25, 2013.

[5] Regina Schoenfeld-Tacher et al., “Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, June 2017, accessed October 21, 2017,

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Lessons Learned in Multifamily Housing

by Lisa Pilorz
Senior Access Planner

“Measure Twice, Cut Once” is a relevant phrase to keep in mind during construction.

Getting the location correct for the toilet centerline is akin to searching for the holy grail.   Requirements vary based on the specific bathroom layout – is the toilet next to a wall or between two fixtures? All state and municipal codes are based on the IBC but local amendments and interpretations can result in different requirements.

toilet core hole and waste pipe in unfinished cement floorThe picture to the right demonstrates the not uncommon result of the confusing toilet location requirements. The subcontractor installed the toilet core hole too far from the sidewall to locate the toilet center line 18” from the wall.  The wall framing could not be adjusted.  As a result, the concrete slab needed to be chipped and removed so that the waste pipe could be relocated to allow the toilet installation to be installed in the correct location.

One small problem multiplied by many units can result in very costly fixes.  Checking the location of the toilet core hole, at the very early stages of construction, will result in fewer costly construction errors.




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The Essence of Universal Design

by Julia Garofalo | Intern Architect / Access Planner

As an undergraduate student, I initially majored in Deaf Studies to be a sign language interpreter. Each semester, ASL students had to attend at least one deaf event to interact with members of the Deaf Community. I distinctly remember attending a comedy show featuring a deaf comedian. The comedian would sign his joke while on stage and the interpreter would translate into the intercom for the hearing audience members. First the deaf people in the audience would laugh, since they understood the joke in real time. Next came the hearing people, after the joke was translated over the speakers. Then finally the deaf-blind people would laugh after their personal interpreters signed the joke directly into their palms. Imagine this constant wave of laughter caused by the delayed transfer of a single joke. There were three types of people in the same room experiencing the same thing, but each person experienced it in vastly different ways. That is the essence of Universal Design.

As a graduate student pursuing my Master’s degree in Architecture, I find that when my peers hear the term Universal Design they immediately confine its scope to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A stigma is created that deforms this multifaceted discipline into a checklist of mandated requirements. Universal Design goes beyond slapping a ramp on the side of a building and calling it a day. It strives to design for everyone in various circumstances and phases of life.[1] This scope includes not only the deaf, blind, and mobility-impaired, but also the elderly, arthritic, autistic, and mentally ill. What is important to understand about Universal Design is that it is not a specialty within architecture, but something that all architects should strive to achieve. The principles used in Universal Design can also be employed for “temporary disabilities”. For example, ramps and automatic doors are just as useful to pregnant women and athletes with injuries. Why are we not designing with this in mind?

Let’s examine one of my favorite building designs. Gallaudet University in Washington, DC is “the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students”[2]. The university’s in-house architect Hansel Bauman started a project called DeafSpace. It continually strives to make spaces more comfortable for their students. Communication through sign language puts constant strain on the eyes, so classrooms are painted blue and the windows diffuse light to avoid dark shadows. Line of sight is just as important in the hallways. When two people are signing with each other, one person is simultaneously on the lookout for obstacles such as doors or steps. Automatic doors became the obvious solution to avoid collisions. Even the placement of air conditioners is carefully planned so that the noise does not cause hearing aid interference. In summary, the main concepts of DeafSpace are avoidance of eye strain, safe circulation, and noise reduction. The hearing population can undoubtedly benefit from these same design choices.

During a lecture last semester, I discovered that many of my peers preferred that buildings and spaces are immediately able to be correlated with the architect who designed them. Many argued that their main driver for pursuing architecture was to develop their own recognizable design style. While this is certainly one of my own desires, it is not my sole purpose or goal. Perhaps this is the reason I am one of the few (if not the only) students within my school to be fully dedicated to designing with accessibility at the forefront. Universal Design requires ingenuity on the part of the designer, not solely within technical feasibility, but in fully immersing oneself in the experiences of others. We must be the deaf comedians of design, conveying our thoughts within the exciting variability of human experience.

[1] Hubert Froyen, Universal Design: A Methodological Approach (2012), pg. 15.

[2] Gallaudet University, (accessed August 15, 2017).

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Designing for Everyone and Designing for Someone

by Hazel Ryerson, CAPS | Job Caption/Project Designer

One of the challenges I’ve run into at the KMA Design Studio is how to balance the regulatory accessibility requirements for multifamily housing with the needs of an individual resident. Sometimes it works out that we get to meet a resident before designing their unit renovation, and sometimes we don’t.

Mission Park in Boston is a great example of this challenge. In 2015, Josh Safdie AIA, designed the renovations for the accessible units at Mission Park.  This spring we received a call to come back and help them figure out how to make one of the accessible units actually work for the resident who planned to move in.  The unit was recently renovated, with a new accessible bathroom, a new accessible kitchen and new 42” pocket doors.

I looked over Josh’s plans before going to Mission Park to meet the future resident, Ms. Levine. In terms of space allocation and minimum dimensions, this unit exceeded the requirements in many places.

side-by-side unit floor plans

The unit on the left is the existing unit pre-renovation. The unit on the right is the renovated unit.

When I met with Ms. Levine on site it became clear that many of the features in the apartment did not work for her, despite meeting the accessibility requirements.  First off, Ms. Levine uses a scooter, not a wheelchair.  Her scooter has a much larger turning radius than the required 5’ turning radius. This meant that Ms. Levine could not turn around in her kitchen, and making the turn from the hall into either the bedroom or bathroom was extremely difficult.  In addition, Ms. Levine primarily uses her left arm, and because of the length of the scooter, she needs to make a side approach rather than a front approach to her appliances.

young white woman dressed in red sitting on her scooter with dimensions overlaid on the image

We came up with four modifications to the apartment to meet Ms. Levine’s specific needs. We rotated the controls for both the kitchen and bathroom sinks so that Ms. Levine could reach them with her left hand.  We increased the opening size of the pocket doors by retrofitting the doors to be fully recessed into the pockets so that Ms. Levine would be able to make the turn from the hallway into the bathroom and bedroom. We installed additional grab-bars around the tub and toilet in locations requested by Ms. Levine during a discussion about her daily routines.  The updates that we made to Ms. Levine’s unit fell into the category of “reasonable modifications,” and the building management company was more than willing to make the changes.

Ms. Levine’s kitchen sink after renovation

Ms. Levine’s kitchen sink after reasonable modification

Ms. Levine’s bathroom sink after renovation

Ms. Levine’s bathroom sink after reasonable modification

Ms. Levine’s tub after renovation

Ms. Levine’s tub after reasonable modification

The truth is, if Ms. Levine moves out, these changes will likely be reversed as it is unlikely that another person with similar needs will be the next person to move in. For me, this renovation of a renovation brought home the point that there really is no single “accessible user” who will move into an accessible unit.  To make accessible units work for their actual users, we need to design for modification. We need to make accessible units as flexible and easily modified as possible.


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Accessible Starbucks’ Brewer

KMA Senior Access Planner, Lisa Pilorz, recently spotted the new Starbucks’ Serenade Single-Cup Brewer during one of her multifamily accessibility construction audits.

ISA icon on Starbucks Single-cup server kiosk

Single-cup brewers are often included in lounges and common use kitchens and are frequently cited because the controls are not within an accessible reach range.   The new Serenade Single-Cup Server has an International Symbol of Accessibility icon within the accessible reach range, that when pushed allows a user to scroll through the menu using a forward and back arrow.

We hope to see more of these and similar accessible dispensers in our audits.

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To Russia, with Love

by Josh Safdie | Principal

The sixth Paralympic Games, held in the Netherlands in June of 1980, were originally intended by the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees to be held concurrently with the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in the Moscow.  The Soviet organizing committee, however, declined to host the Games, with one official infamously explaining, “There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.”   Fast forward 34 years to the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, and we can follow the slow and difficult arc of social inclusion for people with disabilities in Russia.

The progress, or lack thereof, in this arena in the US and Russia since the end of the Cold War offers a study in marked contrasts – and nowhere is this truer than in the accessibility of the built environment.  The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991 set in motion 25+ years of progress here in the US, while today the Moscow subway system remains entirely inaccessible and the “SNIP” (a federal technical standard with accessibility requirements parallel to those found in the ADA) was enacted only in 2003.

I have had the good fortune to travel to Moscow on several occasions over the past four years to run educational programs for architecture students, developed in collaboration with the Russian NGO Perspektiva.  These programs bring together young designers and people with disabilities, or “user/experts,” from around the country for anywhere from three to seven days.  The students learn first-hand from the user/experts what daily life in the city is like for them, walking together through the streets and squares and discussing their experiences in real time.

[foogallery id=”1870″]

Then, through a speculative process of design, they envision a future Moscow that is accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The students and user/experts work together to turn the barriers of the city into the seeds of innovation, articulating a shared vision of inclusion through vivid illustrations of a Moscow that could be.  By way of this work, they come to understand how cultural, political, and physical barriers can stand as an impediment to social progress – and how we as architects must approach our own work in order to break down these barriers.

Teaching and working in foreign settings has always been compelling to me.  I believe that somehow the mild discomfort of not being able to speak a language, or even read a train schedule, opens one up to unexpected discoveries.   For my students in Moscow, I think something similar may be true when working with a foreign instructor.

[foogallery id=”1871″]

As a child of the 1980s, I was taught that the Russian people were hard, closed-minded, and authoritarian, with little interest in equality or justice.  The young people with whom I have worked in Moscow, however, have proven to be just the opposite.  This post-Soviet generation has received me with open minds and open hearts, and they have embraced the content of my teaching in the same way.  Despite the physical and attitudinal barriers that are still so pervasive in their country, these students seem truly to relish in the opportunity to learn and implement principles of inclusive and Universal design as they apply to the built environment.  As long as their enthusiasm continues, I hope to keep returning to Russia, with love.

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Accessibility in Haiti (\ak.sɛ\)

by Stéphane Pierre Louis | Intern Architect/Access Planner

What is accessibility in Haiti?

The Haitian people are known as a resilient people, primarily because a lack of resources forces people to find ways to deal with what is, or should I say what isn’t…  Being a developing third world country, the vast majority of people are born in harsh situations which may cause short or long term physical disabilities they aren’t able to properly care for.

Handicap International was established in Haiti in 2008, working mainly in orphanages, but accessibility remained a foreign term in Haiti for a very long time.  After the earthquake of January 2010, Haiti was dealing with an increased number of the population who, 1) had lost their vision due to ocular trauma from being trapped under the rubble/in dust for days; or 2) had lost limbs and/or the physical capabilities they once had.  Integrating accessibility in new designs in Haiti became a pressing issue.

At the time, and until recently, the Secretary of State for the for the Integration of People with Disabilities was Gerald Oriol, Jr., a quadriplegic from the higher economic class in Haiti. Oriol was in a unique position to have his voice heard by the local authorities and consequently be the voice of a historically stigmatized group.  Under the direction of the Secretary of State, new construction, renovations, and consulting emerged that focused on accessibility.  On March 13th, 2012, the Haitian Senate, accompanied by different international organizations, voted into effect the first law in favor of people with disabilities. Enacting this law was the first step toward new projects, groups, and efforts, all directed towards creating an inclusive society not only in design but also in social activities.

On December 3rd, 2012, Haiti celebrated its first official “International Day of People with Disabilities”: it consisted of a sale-exposition of artifacts made by disabled people, a solidarity walk of about 15 miles, a soccer game in collaboration with the Haitian Association of Amputee Soccer, and various other activities involving people with disabilities.  Highlighting disabled citizens’ talents and their abilities to engage in physical activities not only shone a light on the large number of people with disabilities living in Haiti but also gave them a platform in a society that simply did not know how to deal with their disabilities.

On last year’s “International Day of People with Disabilities”, I saw multiple friends showcase beautiful pieces of clothing on Instagram created by a disabled woman, with the hashtag #InternationalDayforPeopleWithDisabilities.  It warmed my heart to see this had become a trend in Haiti; not the “hashtagging” movement but supporting and showcasing people with disabilities.

As a young professional evolving in a firm that specializes in accessibility and universal design, it makes me want to share all of what I’m learning with my homeland, and join forces with the people who have begun the movement in Haiti.  I look forward to seeing KMA involved in access consulting in projects in Haiti and finding ways to invite KMA as guest speakers into the design colleges for workshops and/or conferences.  I believe it would be efficient to start at the educational level: instructing architecture/design students the importance of, and how to integrate, accessible/universal design into their projects.  In this manner it becomes habit to make a facility accessible; it isn’t just what is left to do in a project if there is extra budget.

Links of Interest:

Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of People with Disabilities (BSEIPH)

Coverage of the Haitian National Amputee Soccer team


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