Accessibility Standards for Construction

The ADA requires public and private entities to provide equal access to their goods, services, and activities. A major part of meeting this obligation is providing accessible facilities. When buildings, such as restaurants, shopping centers, medical clinics, schools, courthouses, etc. are inaccessible, they pose a major barrier to people with disabilities and severely limit equal access to participation in public life.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has established standards for accessible design that include detailed provisions for elements, spaces, and facilities. These These standards provide minimum requirements for accessible design to achieve both accessibility and safety for people with disabilities. Note that the 2010 Standards set forth minimum requirements for accessibility. Both public and private entities may design elements that go beyond the minimum standards to provide greater levels of accessibility. 

Exceptions: The ADA requirements for accessible facilities does not apply to religious entities, residential housing, and private clubs.  However, these entities are encouraged to provide accessible facilities, and often do so voluntarily.   

New Construction

 Facilities constructed by both  public and private entites are required to meet the minimum standards provided in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.  These standards for new construction and alterations include detailed provisions for elements, spaces, and facilities. 

All renovations and alterations, regardless of when the building was originally built, must follow the same accessibility standards as new construction

Existing Facilities

Business and Industry (Places of Public Accommodation)

Facilities built prior to the passage of the ADA, still have an obligation to remove barriers 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 by 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 does not require existing buildings to meet the ADA's standards for newly constructed facilities.

Note: There is no "Grandfather Clause" in the ADA. All buildings, regardless of age, are required to remove whatever barriers that are considered "readily achiveable".

Public Facilities (State and Local Governments)

Schools, courthouses, and city recreation centers are examples of facilities covered by Title II of the ADA. Public facilities built prior to the passage of the ADA (1991) have an obligation to provide "program access" regardless of when the facility was built. That means they must provide full access to their services either through removing all physical barriers to accessibility or by finding some other means to provide services, such as moving the service to a different location or floor of a building.