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U.S. Access Board Celebrates the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

July 26, 2021

The U.S. Access Board commemorates the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) today. Signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA is a landmark piece of legislation that makes accessibility a civil right and ensures that all people with disabilities have equal access to goods and services, public accommodations, employment, transportation, and other areas of public life. The ADA greatly expanded the Board’s mission by giving it responsibility for issuing accessibility guidelines for the wide range of facilities in the private and public sectors and transportation systems covered by the law. Over the last thirty-one years, the Board’s work developing, supplementing, and updating accessibility guidelines has played a key role in fulfilling the promise of the ADA in making our country more accessible to, and inclusive of, everyone. 

On the first anniversary of the ADA in 1991, the Board published the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) that contain detailed design requirements for buildings and facilities in new construction and alterations. On the same day, the Department of Justice adopted ADAAG as the basis of its enforceable standards, which made compliance with the requirements mandatory under the ADA. Additionally, the Board implemented a toll-free hotline to handle questions on ADAAG and accessible design, as well as instituted a program to provide training to the public. 

Several weeks later, the Board followed up with its ADA guidelines for transportation vehicles and facilities. Published on September 6, 1991, these guidelines address access to different modes of public transportation, including buses, vans, rail vehicles, automated guideway systems, and trams. The Board also issued ADAAG for Transportation Facilities, which included supplemental provisions for bus shelters and stations, rail stations, and airports. The Department of Transportation adopted the guidelines as its enforceable ADA standards for transportation systems on the same day. 

In following years, the Board supplemented ADAAG to address certain facilities and building elements in greater detail. In 1998, the Board supplemented ADAAG to provide greater coverage of state and local government facilities, including courthouses and prisons, and to address access to children’s environments. It followed up several years later with new guidelines for various types of recreation facilities, including play areas, swimming pools, amusement rides, golf courses, boating and fishing facilities, and sporting facilities, among others. Later on, it proceeded to update its ADA guidelines for buses and vans. 

On July 23, 2004, the Board completed a comprehensive review and update of ADAAG. This update was based on recommendations from an advisory committee the Board chartered. The ADAAG Review Advisory Committee represented an assembly of stakeholders, including representatives from disability groups, the design profession, and building codes organizations. The final document was further shaped by over 2,500 comments received from the public. Provisions were updated so that the guidelines continue to meet the needs of people with disabilities and keep pace with technological innovations. The Board also jointly updated its guidelines for federally-funded facilities covered by the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines to make them consistent with the revised ADA Accessibility Guidelines. The Board had also coordinated its work extensively with model code groups and standard-setting bodies. This resulted in a historic level of harmonization between the Board’s guidelines and model building codes, such as the International Building Code (IBC), and industry standards. 

The Board’s work under the ADA and other laws continues to this day. It is currently working to finalize new accessibility guidelines for public streets and sidewalks. It will also be updating its ADA guidelines for rail vehicles and plans to undertake rulemaking on kiosks and other self-service transaction machines. In addition to its rulemaking, the Board undertakes initiatives to promote awareness and gather information on specific topics and new frontiers in accessibility and inclusive design. Last spring, the Board conducted a series of public forums on autonomous vehicles. More recently, it held panel presentations on self-service transaction machines and inclusive fitness equipment

The Board also continues to provide trainings, both in-person and virtually, on its guidelines and standards upon request. For further information or to request training, contact Bill Botten, the Board’s Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator, at training@access-board.gov or 202-272-0014. Additionally, the Board conducts free monthly webinars through its partnership with the ADA National Network and a free bimonthly webinar series in collaboration with the Accessibility Community of Practice of the CIO Council. Webinars cover accessibility in the built environment under the ADA as well as accessibility of information and communication technology. Upcoming webinars are posted on the Board’s Webinars & Training webpage

In addition, the Board provides technical assistance to the public on accessibility and inclusive design on a daily basis. Board Accessibility Specialists are available to answer questions and clarify provisions in the ADA Standards and other accessibility guidelines and standards issued by the Board. Technical assistance is available by calling the Board’s toll-free hotline at (800) 872-2253 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm ET weekdays or by sending an email to ta@access-board.gov. An array of technical guides and animations on accessibility and the ADA Standards is also available for free on the Board’s website.