The Americans with Disabilities Act requires companies that provide goods and services to the public to take certain limited steps to improve and maintain access to existing places of business. This mandate includes the obligation to remove barriers from existing buildings when it is readily achievable to do so. "Readily achievable" means easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.

Many building features that are common in older facilities such as narrow doors, a step or a round door knob at an entrance door, or a crowded check-out or store aisle are barriers to access by people with disabilities. Removing barriers for ramping a curb, widening an entrance door, installing visual alarms, or designating an accessible parking space is often essential to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Because removing these and other common barriers can be simple and inexpensive in some cases and difficult and costly in others, the regulations for the ADA provide a flexible approach to compliance. This practical approach requires that barriers be removed in existing facilities only when it is readily achievable to do so.

The ADA states that individuals with disabilities may not be denied the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that the business provides--in other words, whatever type of good or service a business provides to its customers or clients. A business or other private entity that serves the public must ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities.

One exception for obligation to total compliance with the Standards are buildings that are on a historical registry, for example. However, even in such a case, it is encouraged that such buildings find means to make buildings as accessible as possible for patrons with disabilities, without disturbing the historical nature of the building. Please feel free to contact us with further questions about this.

It should be noted that while the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are currently the federal ADA standards, many states turn to other building codes when it comes to accessibility. For example, in Region 10, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska all use the International Building Code (IBC), while Oregon uses the Oregon Structural Specialty Code (based on the IBC but Oregon-specific). All of these states also use the ANSI A117.1. When an entity, architect, or contractor is building or modifying a building or feature, they first look at the code that the state uses, and if that feature is missing from the code or provides less accessibility than the ADA Standards, the Standards should be used for the specific feature.

Further information about physical accessibility and barrier removal may be found in our Toolkit for Architects and Contractors.

Accessibility Guidelines and Standards

  • 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design These standards, from the Department of Justice (DOJ) were published on September 15, 2010,  and took effect March 15, 2012. The 2010 Standards replace DOJ’s original 1991 ADA Standards (see below) and are the most current ADA standards from the federal government. DOJ allowed immediate use of the 2010 Standards as an alternative to the original 1991 standards.
  • Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design This is guidance guidance from the revised regulations related to 28 CFR 35.151; 28 CFR part 26, subpart D; and the 2004 ADAAG.  It addresses changes to the Standards, the reasoning behind those changes, and responses to public comments received on these topics.
  • ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities
    The ADA Standards issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) apply to facilities used by state and local governments to provide designated public transportation services, including bus stops and stations, and rail stations.  Other types of facilities covered by the ADA are subject to similar ADA Standards issued by the Department of Justice.  Both the DOT and DOJ standards are based on the Board’s ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
  • 2004 ADAAG The ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) of 2004 covered both the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as well as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA). These guidelines cover new construction and alterations and serve as the basis for enforceable standards issued by other Federal agencies. The ADA applies to places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and State and local government facilities. The ABA covers facilities designed, built, altered with Federal funds or leased by Federal agencies. As a result of the 2004 revision and update, the guidelines for the ADA and ABA were, in the 2004 ADAAG, consolidated into one Code of Federal Regulations part.
  • 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design
    The Department of Justice published the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) title III regulations, which included the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (1991 Standards), on July 26, 1991.ADA Regulation for Title III. The Department of Justice regulation implementing Title III of the ADA, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in "places of public accommodation" (businesses and non-profit agencies that serve the public) and "commercial facilities" (other businesses). The regulation includes Appendix A to Part 36: Standards for Accessible Design establishing minimum standards for ensuring accessibility when designing and constructing a new facility or altering an existing facility.
  • UFAS (Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards) (1984)
  • Department of Justice: Common ADA Errors and Omissions in New Construction and Alterations

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