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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The History: Codes

As the nation mourns the passing of our 41st President, George H. W. Bush, one of the most significant laws was signed by President Bush back on July 23, 1990. It was the American with Disabilities Act or the ADA. It was over 28 years ago this became law and one of the most significant Federal Laws, a Civil Right Act, to affect construction and the built environment throughout the country. The standards for providing for people with disabilities has been increased by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) not only in this country. We can see the affects worldwide.

As a Civil Rights Act, it is not a building code and the enforcement of the ADA is at the Federal level through the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ does not review or approve designs/plans for compliance with the Act. It is only when a suite or complaint is filed that the DOJ will act and review it for compliance.

The original ADA and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), now called the Standards, was in place for a long time unchanged. On July 23, 2010, the 20th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, the US Attorney General signed the Final Rules for what is now the called “2010 Standards for Accessible Design” or “2010 Standards”.  The revised guidelines were issued back in 2004 along with changes to the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) which applies to Federal Projects.  The publication of the Final Rules was on July 26, 2010. This is the document we are required to comply with today.

The ADA has five Titles or subjects it covers: Title I/Employment, Title II/State and Local Government Services, Title/III Public Accommodations, Title IV/Communications and Title V/Other Requirements. As a Civil Rights Act, the law goes way beyond the built environment and includes things that Architects do not normally deal with.

So as an architect, what do you need to comply with? Your first responsibility for a project in California is compliance with the California Building Code (CBC) and any local amendments. Compliance is mainly with Chapters 11A and/or 11B of the CBC. The State has attempted to make Chapter 11B align and look like the ADA Standards, but there are differences. So if you comply with the CBC, do you comply with the ADA? The answer is most likely, but there are no guarantees. As part of the ADA, the DOJ is suppose to review local codes for compliance with the Law. The DOJ has only reviewed and certified a few local codes as complying with ADA. Because codes change all the time and there hundreds of versions of the code throughout the United States, DOJ does not have the time or interest in looking all the code that are used for certification.

If you do projects outside of California, most jurisdictions use the International Building Code (IBC), which references the ANSI A117.1 Accessibility Standards. This documents kind of looks like the ADA Standards, but has it differences. It is always best to check with the local jurisdiction as to what code they are using for your project.

Add to this that housing is not specifically regulated by the ADA, only common areas. Housing falls under a different law, the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA), regulated by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This Act originally referenced the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), but now has their own guidelines. That is why we have Chapters 11A/Housing and 11B/Public Accommodations in California.

The future for the ADA is unknown, especially with the current administration. There are a few things on the list that the Access Board, people who write the Standards, wants to incorporate into any revised standards. It took 20 years to get a revised set of Standards. Add to this that ANSI A117.1 is developed and written by another group, a private organization and they have their own ideas of what the code should include. These changes will be seen in future editions of the IBC and revised ANSI A117.1.

For the most part the ADA has accomplished what it was intended to do making it possible for people with disabilities to be a part of everyday life. It has been said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created equal access to minorities by opening a door. The ADA created equality by rebuilding the doors.

Kerwin Lee, AIA ocked0 Grid T