Statutory Background

The Access Board is responsible for developing and maintaining accessibility guidelines for the construction and alteration of facilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.1 The Board holds a similar responsibility under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968.2 The Board's guidelines provide a minimum baseline for other Federal departments responsible for issuing enforceable standards.

The ADA 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. To ensure that buildings and facilities are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, the ADA establishes accessibility requirements for State and local government facilities under title II and places of public accommodation and commercial facilities under title III. The law requires that the Board issue minimum guidelines to assist the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in establishing accessibility standards under these titles. Those standards must be consistent with the Board's guidelines.

The ABA requires access to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with Federal funds. Similar to its responsibility under the ADA, the 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).

Each Federal department responsible for standards based on the Board’s guidelines under the ADA or the ABA is represented on the Board. These departments have been closely involved in the development of this rule. Through this process, the Board and the standard-setting agencies coordinated extensively to minimize any differences between the Board’s guidelines and their eventual updated standards.

Rulemaking History

ADA Accessibility Guidelines

On July 26, 1991, one year after the ADA was signed into law, the Board published the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).3 The Board supplemented ADAAG to include additional requirements specific to transportation facilities on September 6, 1991.4 The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) incorporated ADAAG into their ADA implementing regulations, thus making ADAAG the enforceable standard under titles II and III of the ADA.5

In developing the original ADAAG, the Board identified subjects for further rulemaking based on information it received through public comments. Some addressed areas that had not been specifically covered by an access standard or code before. The Board initiated a long-term agenda of rulemaking a year after ADAAG was first published. It proceeded with this agenda independently from its update of the original document. On separate tracks, the Board developed ADAAG supplements covering:

State and local government facilities (1998)6
building elements designed for children’s use (1998)7
play areas (2000)8
recreation facilities (2002)9
These supplementary guidelines have not yet been adopted by the DOJ as enforceable standards under the ADA.

In 1994, the Board initiated an effort to update the original ADAAG by establishing an advisory committee to thoroughly review the document and to recommend changes. The ADAAG Review Advisory Committee consisted of 22 members representing the design and construction industry, the building codes community, State and local government entities, and people with disabilities.10 The committee was charged with reviewing ADAAG in its entirety and making recommendations to the Board on improving ADAAG’s format and usability, reconciling differences between ADAAG and national consensus standards, and updating its requirements so that they continue to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Following a consensus-based process for the adoption of recommendations, the committee met extensively over a two-year period and fulfilled its mission with the issuance of a report, "Recommendations for a New ADAAG," in September, 1996.

The advisory committee’s report recommended significant changes to the format and style of ADAAG. In fact, its recommendations reorganize much of the document. The changes were recommended to provide a guideline that is organized and written in a manner that can be more readily understood, interpreted, and applied. The recommended changes would also make the arrangement and format of ADAAG more consistent with model building codes and industry standards. The advisory committee coordinated closely with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117 Committee, which was in the process of updating its standard. The ANSI A117.1 standard is a national consensus standard that provides technical requirements for accessible buildings and facilities. The A117.1 standard is referenced by the International Building Code and various state codes, among others. While ADAAG requirements derive in large part from an earlier version of the ANSI standard, there are considerable differences between them. Both the advisory committee and the ANSI committee sought to reconcile differences between ADAAG and the ANSI A117.1-1998 standard.

ABA Accessibility Guidelines

The Board issued minimum guidelines for federally funded facilities under the ABA in 1982. These guidelines served as the basis for enforceable standards known as the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). The Board has coordinated the update of its ABA guidelines with its review of ADAAG in order to reconcile differences between them and to establish a more consistent level of accessibility between facilities covered by the ADA and those subject to the ABA.

ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines

On November 16, 1999, the Board published a proposed rule to jointly update and revise its ADA and ABA accessibility guidelines. This proposal was largely based on the ADAAG Review Advisory Committee’s report. In preparing the proposed rule, the Board had reviewed all of the committee’s recommendations and adopted most of them with some changes of its own. Additionally, the Board developed new figures to illustrate various provisions and provided updated advisory information. In an accompanying discussion of the proposed revisions, the Board posed a number of questions to the public on a variety of issues to solicit information for its use in finalizing the rule. The proposed rule contained three parts:

application and scoping requirements for facilities covered by the ADA
application and scoping requirements for facilities covered by the ABA
a common set of technical provisions referenced by both scoping documents
The proposed rule also incorporated supplements to ADAAG that the Board developed independently from its review of ADAAG. In 1998, the Board issued a supplement to ADAAG covering State and local government facilities, including courthouses and prisons. At the same time, the Board published specifications for building elements designed for children’s use as amendments to ADAAG, which, as originally published, only contained requirements based on adult dimensions. The Board also incorporated into the proposed rule requirements for residential housing which were based on those developed by the ANSI A117 Committee in 1998.

The proposed rule was made available for public comment for six months. During this comment period, which ended May 15, 2000, the Board held public hearings in Los Angeles, CA (January 31, 2000) and in the Washington, DC area (March 13, 2000), which provided an additional forum for people to provide comment, either orally or in writing. About 140 persons provided testimony at these hearings.

More than 2,500 comments on the proposed rule were submitted to the Board by mail, e-mail, or fax. Almost three quarters of the comments were submitted by individuals, primarily persons with disabilities. Most of these comments addressed reach range requirements for people of short stature, access for people with multiple chemical sensitivities, movie theater captioning for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and access to certain elements, such as automatic teller machines (ATMs) for people with vision impairments. Comments were also submitted by trade associations and manufacturers, disability groups, design and codes professionals, government agencies, and building owners and operators, among others. Some of the most common topics included alarms, handrails, assembly areas, van spaces and ATMs. Comments received after the deadline were entered into the docket as the Board has a policy of considering late comments to the extent practicable.

The Board has finalized the guidelines according to its review and analysis of the comments to the proposed rule. Comments and resulting changes in the rule are discussed below in the Section-by-Section Analysis.

From the outset of this rulemaking, the Board has sought to harmonize the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines with industry standards, particularly the ANSI A117.1 standard and the International Building Code (IBC). On April 2, 2002, the Board placed in the rulemaking docket for public review a draft of the final guidelines to further promote such harmonization.11 The ANSI A117 Committee and the International Code Council (ICC) were in the process of updating the ANSI A117.1-1998 standard and the IBC, respectively. The Board proposed changes to these documents based on the draft final guidelines, some of which were approved. In addition, the Board made revisions to the guidelines for consistency with proposed changes to the ANSI A117.1 standard and the IBC. As a result, some of the remaining differences between the draft final guidelines and these documents were reconciled. Changes to the guidelines as a result of this harmonization, as well as public comments received on the draft final guidelines, are noted in the Section-by-Section Analysis.