Frequently asked questions
From DBTAC:Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (www.adata.org)
- How does the ADA apply to local and state government entities that provide residential facilities?
- Does Title III of the ADA apply to residential housing facilities?
- As a local government entity or housing authority, what architectural accessibility obligations do we have when renovating or reconstructing residential facilities?
- I do not use federal or state funds. As a private owner of a multi-family residential facility, what architectural accessibility standards should I apply for new constructions and/or renovations?
- Where can I find the accessibility standards for dwelling units required to be accessible under the Fair Housing Act's design and construction requirements?
- What accessibility standards do we apply when using federal funds to renovate or construct new facilities?
- My state has an accessibility code in addition to the ADA. Which one do I follow?
- What does the ADA require for new construction and alterations?
- What if the ADA standards do not have specific provisions for an element or building type?
- If I have to rebuild my facility, should I use the current ADA standards or should I use the revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines?
- What is the responsibility of those setting up temporary businesses in trailers to be accessible for people with disabilities?
- What is considered “readily achievable”?
- I sustained damage to my building. How much money do I have to allocate to make those repairs accessible?
- I’m an architect. I am restoring an old building and do not plan to make any changes to the original building plans. Do the ADA standards apply?
- I am the owner of a small business that was damaged by the storms. If I have to rebuild my facility, why do I have to comply with accessibility requirements now if I did not have to comply before?
- I sustained some minor damage to my facility. Will I need to comply with any accessibility requirements?
- If I have to comply with the ADA standards for my newly renovated building, do I also have to make my front sidewalk compliant?
- The facility I need to rebuild was a historic landmark. Is there any exemption for me under the ADA?
- What happens if my historic property cannot be altered or renovated?
- Do I have to make my damaged warehouse accessible?
- Will there be an inspector that will come and inspect my property for ADA compliance?
- Does the ADA permit an individual with a disability to sue a business when that individual believes that discrimination is about to occur or must the individual wait for the discrimination to occur?
- What is the Architectural Barriers Act?
- A building built with federal funds was destroyed. It was constructed in 1981. What standards do I need to use to rebuild?
1. How does the ADA apply to local and state government entities that provide residential facilities?
Under Title II of the ADA, state or local government entities, such as a local housing authority managing residential facilities, must provide general program access to existing facilities. Entities subject to Title II must operate each service, program or activity so that the service, program or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Entities are not required to take any action where they can demonstrate it would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. For more information, see regulation 28 C.F.R. Part 35.150
Generally, newly constructed or renovated non-residential facilities must be designed and constructed according to the ADAAG, depending on the funding source. For example, in instances where federal funding is used to renovate or construct new residential facilities, Title II of the ADA permits the option of using the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards
as the standard for design and construction. UFAS sections 4.1.3, 4.1.4(2)(a), 4.1.4(11), and 4.34 specifically address housing scoping requirements.
2. Does Title III of the ADA apply to residential housing facilities?
Title III of the ADA covers public accommodations and commercial facilities. A public accommodation may include a restaurant, convenience store, hotel or laundry business. Title III of the ADA does not apply to residential housing facilities. However, any place within a residential area that fits within the category of public accommodation will be covered by Title III of the ADA. Typically, rental offices and attached parking are covered by Title III and ADA architectural design standards.
Additionally, if the residential facility makes its amenities available to the general public, as opposed to residents and their guests only, those areas are considered public accommodations subject to Title III. For example, a residential facility may offer swimming pool memberships to the local community or make its tennis courts available on a fee basis. The architectural accessibility of public accommodations is governed by the ADAAG
3. As a local government entity or housing authority, what architectural accessibility obligations do we have when renovating or reconstructing residential facilities?
The Fair Housing Act design and construction requirements apply to "covered multifamily dwellings" designed and constructed "for first occupancy" after March 13, 1991. However, a building was not designed or constructed for first occupancy if:
- It was occupied by March 13, 1991.
- If the last building permit or renewal of a building permit was issued on or before June 15, 1990.
The Fair Housing Act states that in non-elevator residential buildings with four or more dwelling units, all ground-floor units that were designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 must include certain basic features of accessible and adaptable design to make such units usable by a person who is or becomes disabled. The features of accessible and adaptable design required by the act include:
- Public and common use areas that are readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
- Doors designed to allow passage into and within all premises are sufficiently wide to allow passage by persons using wheelchairs.
- An accessible route into and through the dwelling.
- Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and environmental controls in accessible locations.
- Reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars.
- Usable kitchens and bathrooms that allow an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.
These requirements are stated in the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(C) and (f)(7)(B). As technical assistance to these requirements, HUD published “Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines” on March 6, 1991, and supplemented those guidelines with a “Supplemental Notice: Questions and Answers about the Guidelines” published on June 28, 1994. The guidelines are one of eight safe harbors for compliance that HUD has identified.
4. I do not use federal or state funds. As a private owner of a multi-family residential facility, what architectural accessibility standards should I apply for new constructions and/or renovations?
Privately owned residential facilities must comply with all Fair Housing Act requirements (see question three). Similarly, the ADA accessibility standards may also apply to portions of a property that may not be covered by the Fair Housing Act (see question two).
5. Where can I find the accessibility standards for dwelling units required to be accessible under the Fair Housing Act's design and construction requirements?
HUD recognizes eight safe harbors for compliance with the Fair Housing Act's design and construction requirements:
- The HUD Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines
, published on March 6, 1991, and the Supplemental Notice to Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines: Questions and Answers about the Guidelines
[PDF], published on June 28, 1994.
- HUD Fair Housing Act Design Manual
– HUD's adoption of these standards is found in the Preamble to the Fair Housing Act Design Manual (1998).
- ANSI A117.1
(1986) is used with the Fair Housing Act
, HUD's regulations and the guidelines
- CABO/ANSI A117.1
(1992), used with the Fair Housing Act, HUD's regulations and the guidelines.
- ICC/ANSI A117.1
(1998), used with the Fair Housing Act, HUD's regulations and the guidelines.
- Code Requirements for Housing Accessibility 2000
- International Building Code 2000
, as amended by the 2001 Supplement to the International Codes.
- International Building Code 2003
– Effective February 28, 2005, HUD determined that the IBC 2003 is a safe harbor, conditioned upon ICC publishing and distributing a statement to jurisdictions and past and future purchasers of the 2003 IBC stating that, "ICC interprets Section 1104.1, and specifically, the exception to Section 1104.1, to be read together with Section 1107.4, and that the Code requires an accessible pedestrian route from site arrival points to accessible building entrances, unless site impracticality applies. Exception 1 to Section 1107.4 is not applicable to site arrival points for any Type B dwelling units because site impracticality is addressed under Section 1107.7.").
6. What accessibility standards do we apply when using federal funds to renovate or construct new facilities?
Detached single family homes and multi-family homes, whether covered or exempt under the Fair Housing Act, may be required to comply with other federal laws requiring accessibility within dwelling units, public use areas, common use areas and the site. Generally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that housing programs receiving federal financial assistance be designed and constructed to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, including people with mobility impairments. If the federal funding is provided by HUD or the Department of Agriculture, each of these agency’s Section 504 regulations references UFAS as the enforceable design standard. In addition, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with the regulations published by the federal agency providing such federal assistance.
For example, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act would require that detached single family homes funded through the HOPE VI program operated by HUD must comply with HUD's requirements for Section 504. This includes making at least 5 percent of the units accessible to persons with mobility impairments and at least 2 percent of the units accessible to persons with vision and hearing impairments. The applicable standard for compliance is UFAS as previously mentioned.
7. My state has an accessibility code in addition to the ADA. Which one do I follow?
Compliance with both the state accessibility code and the ADA standards is required. Where there are differences, the more stringent provision must be followed.
8. What does the ADA require for new construction and alterations?
The ADA requires that all new construction – and to the maximum extent feasible, all alterations – be designed and constructed to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. This covers buildings and facilities covered by titles II and III. Private residential homes are not covered by the ADA. The design standards and scoping requirements are found in the ADAAG. The ADAAG comprises the standards as issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. 28 CFR Part 36
9. What if the ADA standards do not have specific provisions for an element or building type?
According to the Access Board, facilities for which there are no specific ADAAG criteria are nevertheless subject to other ADA requirements, including the duty to provide equal opportunity. In many cases it is feasible to provide access by incorporating basic elements specified in ADAAG, such as ramps and other parameters of an accessible route. Where appropriate standards exist, they should be applied. Scoping may be derived from similar occupancies or uses, considering the range of experiences provided; in general, a reasonable number, but at least one of each type of element should be designed to be accessible. ADAAG 2.2 – Equivalent Facilitation also permits the use of alternative designs and technologies that provide substantially equivalent or superior access to and usability of a facility. Such innovative approaches may also be useful in providing access to facility types for which no specific standards have been written. For more information, see the ADAAG frequently asked questions
10. If I have to rebuild my facility, should I use the current ADA standards or should I use the revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines?
The ADA standards issued by the U. S. Department of Justice are the legally enforceable standards at this time. The U.S. Department of Justice is in the process of updating the ADA standards to be consistent with the revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines
. The revised guidelines may be used for guidance in areas where no accessibility standard exists, such as recreation facilities and play areas, or for those provisions that exceed the current ADA standards.
11. What is the responsibility of those setting up temporary businesses in trailers to be accessible for people with disabilities?
The ADA standards cover temporary buildings and facilities as well as permanent buildings and facilities. Examples of temporary buildings or facilities include, but are not limited to: temporary classrooms, bleacher areas, exhibit areas, temporary banking facilities, temporary health screening services or temporary safe pedestrian passageways around a construction site. Businesses operating temporarily in leased or borrowed trailers must comply with the ADA’s requirement to remove barriers in existing facilities where it is readily achievable. For more information, see the Readily Achievable Barrier Removal Checklist for Existing Facilities
. (Please note: the PDF file of the checklist contains diagrams that the HTML version may not.)
12. What is considered “readily achievable”?
Readily achievable means "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." Examples include the simple ramping of a few steps, the installation of grab bars where only routine reinforcement of the wall is required, the lowering of telephones and similar modest adjustments. The ADAAG is used to provide guidance when considering barrier removal for existing facilities. There are tax incentives available for qualified businesses and other public accommodations that may be used to defray the costs of barrier removal. For more information, see the Tax Incentives Packet
13. I sustained damage to my building. How much money do I have to allocate to make the repairs accessible?
The ADA architectural accessibility standards apply to all building repairs that are considered alterations, or a change that affects usability. Certain improvements, such as re-roofing, painting or changes to mechanical and electrical systems, are excluded unless they affect the usability of the facility. Any new work done to an existing building as part of an alteration must meet the ADA standards to the maximum extent feasible. If the alteration affects an area of primary function, or principal use area, of the building, it may be necessary to include other improvements in order to provide an accessible path of travel to the altered areas.
Additional work may be required if the “path of travel” requirements are triggered. If alterations are made to an area containing a primary function, an accessible path of travel, or continuous route connecting the altered area to an entrance, is required. When provided, phones, restrooms and drinking fountains that serve the altered area are also required to be accessible. Since this may involve modifications beyond the intended alteration, compliance is required to the extent it is not disproportionate to the cost of alterations to the primary function area.
“Disproportionality” is defined by the Department of Justice rule 28 CFR Part 36.403
as costing more than 20 percent of the costs of the alteration to the primary function area.
14. I’m an architect restoring an old building and do not plan to make any changes to the original building plans. Do the ADA standards apply?
The ADA standards set minimum requirements for accessibility in alterations. Each element or space that is altered must meet the technical criteria for new construction where technically feasible. Where an entire room or space is altered, the room or space must be made fully accessible. Comprehensive renovations will trigger more of the ADA standards than limited small-scale projects.
15. I am the owner of a small business that was damaged by storms. If I have to rebuild my facility, why do I have to comply with accessibility requirements now if I did not have to comply before?
The ADA standards are triggered when newly constructing or altering a building or facility. Public accommodations that manage or own existing facilities not undergoing renovation or new construction also have an obligation to remove barriers when readily achievable without much difficulty or expense.
16. I sustained some minor damage to my facility. Will I need to comply with any accessibility requirements?
Generally, ADA alterations or renovations standards apply to areas of a building or facility when altered. However, all ADA covered facilities must also comply with the Readily Achievable Barrier Removal standards applicable to existing facilities. This is an on-going barrier removal standard that applies to facilities not undergoing renovation.
17. If I have to comply with the ADA standards for my newly renovated building, do I also have to make my front sidewalk compliant?
It depends. If the sidewalk is part of the scope of work, the general obligation under the ADA requires that you make it accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The current Design Manual for Accessible Rights of Way
is available from the U.S. Access Board. The U.S. Access Board is in the process of revising the accessibility guidelines for public rights-of-way. Guidance on designing sidewalks and associated elements can be found in the board’s most recent draft guidelines
18. The facility I need to rebuild was a historic landmark. Is there any exemption for me under the ADA?
Alterations to historic facilities are required to comply with general ADA standards. The ADA standards contain alternative provisions for accessible routes, ramps, entrances, toilet rooms, access between floors and displays if following the standards would threaten or destroy the historic significance of a feature of a qualified historic facility (qualified historic facilities are facilities listed in the National Register of Historic Places or facilities designated as historic under state or local law). The decision to use the alternative provisions must be made in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer.
For helpful technical assistance and recommendations, see Making Historic Properties Accessible
by the National Park Service. This document provides detailed guidance on the assessment and possible alterations necessary to comply with ADA general accessibility requirements.
19. What happens if my historic property cannot be altered or renovated?
In meeting overall program accessibility requirements in historic preservation programs, a public entity shall give priority to methods that provide physical access to individuals with disabilities. In cases where a physical alteration to an historic property is not required, alternative methods of achieving program accessibility include:
- Using audio-visual materials and devices to depict those portions of an historic property that cannot otherwise be made accessible.
- Assigning persons to guide individuals with handicaps into or through portions of historic properties that cannot otherwise be made accessible.
- Adopting other innovative methods.
- Indicating the official responsible for implementation of the plan.
For more information, see 28 C.F.R. Part 35.150(b)(2)
20. Do I have to make my damaged warehouse accessible?
Yes. The ADA covers commercial facilities, such as office buildings and warehouses. Use the ADAAG for scoping requirements.
21. Will there be an inspector that will come and inspect my property for ADA compliance?
No. There is no official inspection process under the ADA. Designers, architects and those responsible for the operation of the building are required to comply with the ADA. State and local governments may review for compliance with state and local building codes.
22. Does the ADA permit an individual with a disability to sue a business when that individual believes that discrimination is about to occur or must the individual wait for the discrimination to occur?
The ADA permits an individual to allege discrimination based on a reasonable belief that the planned construction or alteration of a place of public accommodation, such as a shopping mall, would not be accessible. The resolution of such challenges prior to the construction of a facility would enable any necessary remedial measures to be incorporated in the building at the planning stage, when such changes would be relatively inexpensive.
23. What is the Architectural Barriers Act?
The ABA applies to facilities designed, constructed, altered or leased with certain federal funds and requires compliance with UFAS until the design standards are updated. The ABA is enforced by the U.S. Access Board.
24. A building constructed in 1981 with federal funds was destroyed. What standards do I need to use to rebuild?
The accessibility standards for federal buildings and facilities have recently been revised. GSA’s new ABA standards, which became effective on May 8, 2006, apply to all federally funded facilities, except residential, postal and military facilities, which are covered by standards enforced by other federal agencies. The U.S. Postal Service similarly updated its standards that govern post offices and other postal facilities effective October 1, 2005. The standards applicable to residential housing remain as described above. Further information on the status of these efforts is posted on the Access Board’s Web site