Proposed ADA-ABA

Statutory Background

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.) recognizes and protects the civil rights of people with disabilities and is modeled after earlier landmark laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and gender. The ADA requires that buildings and facilities be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. The ADA establishes accessibility requirements for new construction and alterations of State and local government facilities under title II and places of public accommodation and commercial facilities under title III. The law requires that the Access Board issue minimum guidelines to assist the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in establishing accessibility standards under titles II and III. These standards must be consistent with the Access Board's guidelines.

The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA) (42 U.S.C. 4151 et seq.) requires that facilities designed, built, altered or leased with certain Federal funds be accessible to persons with disabilities. Similar to its responsibility under the ADA, the Access Board is charged with developing and maintaining minimum guidelines for accessible facilities that serve as the basis for enforceable standards issued by four standard-setting agencies. The standard-setting agencies are the Department of Defense (DOD), the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

Rulemaking History

On July 26, 1991, the Access Board published the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).(1) On the same day, the Department of Justice published its final regulations implementing title III of the ADA which incorporated ADAAG.(2) The Access Board amended ADAAG to include additional requirements specifically applicable to transportation facilities on September 6, 1991 (3) which DOT incorporated into its final ADA regulations.(4) The Access Board modified ADAAG, and DOJ and DOT modified their standards on two occasions: to revise specifications for automatic teller machines (July 15, 1993) and to suspend requirements for detectable warnings at curb ramps, hazardous vehicular areas, and reflecting pools (April 12, 1994; July 29, 1996; November 23, 1998).(5)

The Access Board published amendments to ADAAG on January 13, 1998, that cover State and local government facilities and building elements designed for children's use.(6) The amendments for State and local government facilities add a section on judicial, legislative, and regulatory facilities which covers access to restricted and secured entrances, security systems, assembly seating, speakers' platforms, and to courtroom spaces. Another section covers detention and correctional facilities which provides scoping and technical requirements for accessible cells. In addition to these two new sections, ADAAG was amended to address elevators, entrances, TTYs, sales and service counters, and airport security systems in State and local government facilities. As originally published, ADAAG provided specifications based only on adult dimensions. The amendments for building elements designed for children's use provide alternate specifications based on children's dimensions for drinking fountains, water closets, toilet stalls, lavatories and sinks, and built-in seating and tables. The technical requirements permit departures from existing ADAAG specifications for elements designed for use primarily by children instead of adults.

In 1994, the Board established an advisory committee to conduct a complete review of the guidelines and to recommend changes. The ADAAG Review Advisory Committee consisted of 22 members representing the design and construction industry, the building code community, State and local government entities, and people with disabilities. (7) The committee was charged with reviewing ADAAG in its entirety and making recommendations to the Board on:

  • improving the format and usability of ADAAG;
  • reconciling differences between ADAAG and national consensus standards, including model codes and industry standards;
  • updating ADAAG to reflect technological developments and to continue to meet the needs of persons with disabilities; and
  • coordinating future ADAAG revisions with national standards and model code organizations.

The advisory committee organized itself into subcommittees and met extensively over a two year period. Non-members were invited to participate in subcommittee meetings. The advisory committee followed a consensus-based process for the adoption of recommended changes to ADAAG which included a process for the submission of dissenting opinions. The advisory committee's work culminated in publication of a final report, "Recommendations for a New ADAAG" (September, 1996), which is available from the Board. Vice President Albert Gore recognized the work of the advisory committee and its constructive relationship with the Board and presented both entities with his "Hammer Award" which recognizes exemplary reinvention of the Federal government. The award commended the manner in which a variety of public and private sector interests were brought together to update the guidelines. The advisory committee's report recommends changes to both the format and substance of ADAAG.

The Board developed minimum guidelines for federally funded facilities covered by the ABA in 1982 that served as the basis for the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). To further the goal of uniform standards, the Board is proposing to update these minimum guidelines based on the revisions to ADAAG. This will establish consistency between both guidelines so that the public and private sectors are held to a similar level of accessibility. This will facilitate compliance where a facility is subject to both the ADA and the ABA, such as a State or local government facility built with Federal money.

The Board's minimum guidelines do not directly impact the public. Instead they provide a minimum baseline for other Federal departments responsible for issuing enforceable standards. Each Federal department responsible for issuing and maintaining standards based on the Board's guidelines under the ADA or the ABA is represented on the Board. Representatives of these departments serve as Board members and staff liaisons and have been closely involved in the development of this proposed rule. Through this process, the Board and the standard-setting agencies coordinated extensively to seek consensus to minimize any differences between the Board's guidelines and their eventual standards.