Vredenburgh & Associates, Inc.

Human Factors, Ergonomics, Safety,
Organizational & Biomechanics Consulting

Research

Accessibility and Environmental Design

 

Vredenburgh, A.G., & Zackowitz, I.B. (2012). When a Dog is Just a Dog? A Case Study Evaluating the ADA service animal rules. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 56th Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Vol. 56, 720-723.

This case study evaluates the American’s with Disabilities Act requirements regarding service animal use. The first author was retained as a defense expert in a case where a woman placed her small dog on a table at a restaurant and when she was asked to sit at an exterior table, she sued the restaurant on the basis of disability discrimination. This paper evaluates the relevant facts of the case and clarifies when an animal qualifies as a service animal, and when a dog is just a dog.

Vredenburgh, A.G., & Zackowitz, I.B. (2011). Research in Motion: A Case Study Evaluating the Accessibility of Public Transit in our Nation’s Capital. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 55th Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 584-588.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by Congress two decades ago, there are still public facilities that have a long way to go in order to meet the goal of being "barrier-free." Unfortunately, some of these places include public transportation systems that many people with disabilities rely on daily. During a recent consulting job regarding accessibility and environmental design, we decided to put the public Metro system in Washington, DC to the test. We wanted to determine how easy it is to access and use the system for people who rely on wheelchairs. We were surprised that this case study revealed serious and multiple barriers to accessibility. We learned that many human factors issues regarding accessible design were not achieved by this system, even at a modest level.

Vredenburgh, A.G., Williams, K., Zackowitz, I.B., & Welner, J.M. (2011). Evaluation of Wheelchair Users’ Perceived Kitchen and Bathroom Usability: Effort and Accessibility. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 27(3), 219-236.

jpi2Kitchen and restroom accessibility for people with mobility impairments is required by the Fair Housing Act, and various building codes, which provide specifications for apartment kitchen and bathroom design. These design recommendations are based on limited empirical research and frequently do not take into account users of non-wheelchair assistive devices (e.g. walkers, canes, etc.). This study evaluated the degree to which users of manual and motorized wheelchairs could perceive differences in kitchen and restroom design and their effects on usability. Participants performed various tasks simulating usage of an adjustable kitchen and bathroom with different combinations of appliance and fixture placement, and made valuations of room usability for each test configuration. Results suggest that the relative placement of appliances often does not make a difference in usability and that a few specifications actually made usability more difficult for wheelchair users. Furthermore, some designs that deviate from these specifications were more accessible for non-wheelchair users using other assistant devices.

Zackowitz, I.B Vredenburgh, A.G, Calkins, L, Kessler, D. (2010). The current state of legal, design, and residential usability issues for people with various disabilities. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 54th Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 753-756.

One of the many challenges facing people with disabilities today is finding accessible housing, since the abilities and disabilities of this group vary widely. The Fair Housing Act was enacted to prevent housing discrimination and covers private multi-family housing and requires that all ground floor apartments (including condominiums) and all floors of elevator buildings of four or more units, built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, comply with the Act. There is disagreement among experts about how best to accommodate people with disabilities. This panel will bring together experts to discuss the current state of legal, design and usability issues for people with disabilities.

Zackowitz, I.B Vredenburgh, & A.G. (2010). Evaluation of Methods to Remedy Existing Multi-Family Housing to Maximize Accessibility to Residents. In Tadeusz Marek, Waldemar Karwowski & Valerie Rice, (Ed.). Advances in Understanding Human Performance: Neuroergonomics, Human Factors Design and Special Populations. 613-623.

There is substantial disagreement concerning how developers and owners of existing multi-family housing should remedy properties that have been found by a court not to meet FHA requirements. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is not a building code; nor does it have any legally required dimensions as to how to design an accessible building. Thus its application tends to be inconsistent. The FHA was enacted to prevent housing discrimination of people in protected classes including race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and people with disabilities. There is disagreement among experts regarding how best to accommodate people with disabilities. This paper addresses two different approaches to remedy existing, already constructed multi-family housing: uniformly applying “safe harbors” retroactively and tailoring units to users’ specific needs. Satisfying safe harbor standards during construction ensures avoidance of FHA claims. However, since the capabilities and limitations of people with disabilities differ significantly from one person to the next, we discuss the two approaches in their relative ability to best serve the residents’ specific and individual needs after the building has been constructed.

Vredenburgh, A.G., Williams, K. Zackowitz, I.B. & Welner, J.M. (in press). Evaluation of Wheelchair Users’ Perceived Kitchen and Bathroom Usability: Effort and Accessibility. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research.

Vredenburgh, A.G., & Zackowitz, I.B. (2009). Evaluating Common Approaches Used to Accommodate People with Disabilities Residing in Existing Multi-Family Housing. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 53rd Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

A high degree of ambiguity regarding the Fair Housing Act (FHA) law is causing disagreement concerning how developers and owners of existing multi-family housing should remedy properties that do not meet the accessibility requirements. The FHA is not a building code; nor does it have any legally required dimensions as to how to design an accessible building. Thus its application tends to be inconsistent. The FHA was enacted to prevent housing discrimination of people in protected classes including race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and people with disabilities. There is disagreement among experts regarding how best to accommodate people with disabilities. This paper addresses two different approaches to remedy multi-family housing accessibility: uniformly applying “safe harbors” and tailoring units to users’ specific needs. Satisfying safe harbor standards ensures avoidance of FHA claims. However, since the capabilities and limitations of people with disabilities differ significantly from one person to the next, we discuss the two approaches in their relative ability to best serve the residents’ specific and individual needs.

Vredenburgh, A.G., Hedge, A. Zackowitz, I.B. & Welner, J.M. (2009). Evaluation of Wheelchair Users’ Perceived Sidewalk and Ramp Slope: Effort and Accessibility. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 26(2), 145-158.

The use of ramps to improve building accessibility for wheelchair users’ is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and various building codes, all of which specify requirements for ramp design, including their maximum running slope and cross slope. Design recommendations for either the running slope or the cross slope requirements are based on limited empirical research. This study evaluated the degree to which users of manual and motorized wheelchairs could perceive differences in the running slope or in the cross slope of ramps, and in the perceived effort (Borg scale) required to negotiate these ramps. Participants traversed two adjoining ramps with different combinations of running slope and cross slope, and made comparative judgments of slope differences. Results suggest that for a transit distance up to 6m (20-feet) a ramp should not exceed a maximum cross-slope of 5% or a maximum running slope of 7%.

Zackowitz, I.B., & Vredenburgh, A.G. (2007). When Communication Failure Contributes to an Injury: A Case Study of Para-Transportation for Wheelchair Users. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 51st Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 559-563.

Our firm was retained to investigate an injury sustained by an elderly woman who was confined to a wheelchair at the time of the incident. The woman was utilizing a public para-transportation service for people with disabilities when the van she was riding stopped short. As a result, she slid out of her wheelchair and suffered a compound fracture of the leg. This case went to trial with the seatbelt manufacturer and transportation entity as defendants. Looking beyond the obvious issues of seatbelt failure and driver training, this paper will examine communication as a necessary part of the safety system. Communication involves the sharing of information in a complex system where users are not domain experts. In this case, communication as part of a public para-transportation safety system is evaluated.

Vredenburgh, A.G. & Zackowitz, I.B. (2008). Who turned off the lights? Proceedings of the Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics 2nd International Conference, Las Vegas, NV.

In this paper, we describe a forensic case that illustrates environmental design issues for residential facilities licensed to care for the elderly, and catering especially to those individuals with mobility impairments. We discuss the user population, behavioral expectations, environmental design and vision and how those factors relate to our forensic investigation.

Vredenburgh, A.G., Hedge, A., Zackowitz, I.B., & Welner, J.M. (2007). Vol. 13. Using human factors engineering to evaluate existing walkway accessibility standards. In Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Denver, CO: Publication Printers, Corp., 172-173.

Attendees to this presentation will gain an understanding of the process involved in conducting original research as part of a forensic human factors investigation as well as insight into how to evaluate the psychological or human factors that often interact with engineering issues. This presentation will impact the forensic community by demonstrating an approach to evaluating accessibility requirements. The authors demonstrate the use of original research to evaluate perceptions of wheelchair users. The FHA requires that walkways be “accessible.” This study was conducted to evaluate the threshold point at which slopes, cross-slopes, and their interaction are detectible to wheelchair users.  It also evaluated the degree to which wheelchair users could perceive a difference in slope and cross-slope by assessing their ability to detect the relative difference between two paired walkways/ramps (one conforming, one non-conforming). Participants’ perceived workload exerted in negotiating these surfaces was also evaluated.

Vredenburgh, A.G. & Williams, K. (2005). Evaluating the effects of frost heave on the feasibility of compliance with existing walkway accessibility standards. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 49th Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 813-817.

Existing American standards specify criteria for maximum walkway running and cross-slope. Many regions of the United States experience seasonal weather changes. Winter snow can cause frost heave of concrete that can change the slope of concrete sections throughout the year. The current study evaluates the extent of these seasonal changes on walkway slope. The findings indicate that the fluctuation of running and cross-slope makes it impossible to comply year-round with existing standards.

Zackowitz, I.B., Vredenburgh, A.G., & Hedge, A. (2005). A critical analysis of the usability and design of aluminum wheelchair ramps. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 49th Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 803-807.

A common method to improve accessibility for pedestrians and wheelchair users is the widespread use of ramps. Ramps for handicapped access are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA has specific guidelines for many aspects of ramp design. Although these specifications detail ramp requirements, they do not necessarily guarantee that a ramp will be trouble-free for users. A recent study that evaluated how wheelchair users perceive differences in slope and cross slope revealed design problems for modular aluminum ramps. The purpose of this paper is to identify aluminum ramp design issues that resulted in usability difficulties for wheelchair users in that study. When designing an environment, it is critical that the wide range of users test it. This paper demonstrates that attempting to provide greater accessibility in one area may create new barriers in another.

Vredenburgh, A., Cohen, H.H., Hornick, R., Laughery, K., Leonard, D., Olsen, R., Smith, L., Thompson, D., Wogalter, M., & Zackowitz, I. (1997). Mock trial: How human factors experts contribute to civil litigation. Case 1: A pedestrian’s encounter with a tripping hazard. In Proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, (1) 524-528.