Military bases are operational strongholds and community hubs for service members and their families. However, a high standard of living and operational efficiency is only attainable when these bases’ infrastructure is accessible to everyone.
Nearly a third of veterans aged between 21 and 64 reportedly live with disabilities. This statistic highlights the urgent need to create environments that comply with legal standards and allow all service members to participate, including those who sustained injuries before, during or after their time in uniform.
Implementing military base accessibility solutions requires extensive planning and execution. Strategic transformation of the environment effectively serves people with disabilities. Let’s examine the approach of integrating compliant, efficient solutions.
The Challenge for Accessibility on Military Bases
Accessibility within military environments encompasses the needs of those with varying degrees of physical, sensory, cognitive and emotional disabilities. The standard disability measurement for veterans falls into two categories, as defined by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
- ACS disability: These disabilities may or may not result from military service. They cover issues such as hearing, vision and cognitive decline.
- Service-connected disability: A disease or injury received in the line of duty.
Service members face more challenges than the civilian population, including heightened physical demands and high-stress environments. The culture shock of transitioning out of the military can introduce new barriers. Accessible facilities for military bases support these service members, offering them independence. Accessibility extends to areas including:
- Living quarters
- Recreational areas
- Military camps
- Mess halls
- Government buildings
Military personnel and their families have always presented wide-ranging accessibility needs. Many older military bases predate modern accessibility standards, so they need extensive updates and retrofits.
Bases are where people work, live, train, shop and spend most of their time. The high intensity of use puts additional stress on facilities, meaning that accessibility features must be durable to withstand heavy traffic.
Laws and Regulations
Accessibility legislation in the United States started with 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets the minimum standards for public facilities, including military bases. Military installations often go above and beyond, guided by the Universal Design principle developed in 1997. The concept is to create environments everyone can understand, use and access, regardless of their age or ability.
For military bases, this means incorporating a mix of features:
- Tactile guides
- Auditory signals
- Adjustable workstations
- Accessible technology
Other legislation impacting accessibility facilities include the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards and the Architectural Barriers Act. Both of these promote and have laws requiring buildings and facilities to include everyone.
Common Accessibility Barriers
Accessibility barriers can include physical and sensory obstacles. We must identify and understand these barriers and work toward developing comprehensive strategies that welcome all service members and their families.
- Physical and structural barriers: The most apparent barriers are physical, like steps and curbs that can impede wheelchair users. Another area for improvement is narrow doorways, halls and bathrooms that cannot accommodate mobility devices. Poorly designed living quarters can hinder disabled service members’ daily activities and be a source of frustration.
- Sensory: Sensory disabilities include blindness and deafness. The degree of vision and hearing loss can differ for everyone. Thoughtful signage, directions or explanations, such as Braille and auditory cues in elevator areas, can cater to all senses.
- Technology: Professionals who design websites, digital kiosks and software applications might prioritize accessibility.
Case Study — Military Medical Testing During COVID-19
The world will forever remember 2020 as the year the COVID-19 pandemic began. Limiting the spread of a highly contagious virus necessitated quick setups for medical testing, specifically in community areas like military bases. The National Ramp Commercial Access division’s team partnered with contractors to build functional, accessible facilities for military bases in a short period.
We manufactured, shipped and installed decking, ramps and skirting within record time to reach tight deadlines. The ramps all included platforms for safe entry and exits. Premade ramps are easier to install on-site for military base accessibility.
Training and Awareness
All military and civilian personnel can benefit from education and sensitization training. Training programs must be comprehensive and address the broad spectrum of disabilities. There should be an increased familiarization with legal requirements for accessibility and best practices for assistance.
The environment needs to foster an inclusive culture that values diversity and accessibility. Areas to focus on include encouraging attitudes and behaviors that support the participation of all community members. The training should foster improved awareness during daily life, such as the importance of clear pathways and functional accessibility equipment.
Continuous Improvement Over Time
Accessibility doesn’t end when the construction project wraps up. It is an ongoing process that ensures system maintenance and improvement. User feedback can inspire some of these changes. To encourage this process, military bases should implement clear and user-friendly mechanisms for reporting issues and making suggestions. These could be in the form of traditional suggestion boxes or online surveys. Consider also opening the floor for comments during public meetings.
Routine audits can ensure everything meets or exceeds current ADA standards and is in working order. You can also make future-forward improvements. Consult with professionals, architects and engineers to ensure goals and objectives are accessible to all.
Implement Accessibility With National Ramp
Accessibility is a fundamental right that should be available for every service member, veteran and their families. National Ramp supports this right by creating ADA-compliant facilities such as high-quality, American-made commercial-grade aluminum ramps, platforms, walkways and stairs, all designed with durability and ease in mind. We ensure all our products comply with the latest legislation from the ADA and OSHA.
Contact us today to learn how we can help you improve inclusivity in your environment.