Area of Refuge

Posted by Ellen

Area of Refuge is a technical term associated with the Americans for Disabilities Act, identifying places where people in wheelchairs can wait for extra assistance during an emergency.

For example, say there's a fire in a multi-story elevator building. In response to the fire alarm, the  elevators stop operating normally, and able-bodied people have to exit via stairwells or outside fire escapes. People in wheelchairs are supposed to follow illuminated signs to an Area of Refuge on each floor, usually near the elevator or stairwell, where extra fire resistance has been built into the walls and extra communication equipment is available. Once comunication is established, first responders can locate people in the refuge and rescue them, by overriding the elevator stoppage if possible or by carrying people down the stairs if necessary.

It makes sense, but for reasons unknown to me, Area of Refuge signs are seen very rarely; they're either not there at all in most buildings, or they're so inconspicuous I never notice them.

In fact, this sign in the Double T Diner in Annapolis, Maryland, is the first I've ever seen, which is why I took the picture. I had no idea what it meant and speculated that the worried look on the face of the guy in this picture might suggest he is desperately seeking his own personal place of refuge.

Now that I've studied up on this stuff, I'm still a little confused. The Double T Diner is a one-story, ground-level-only restaurant. What's the need for a Disability-Act area of refuge in a one-story building?