ADA Accessibility – What is it and how does it affect your facility?

PUBLIC LAW 101-336 JULY 26, 1990 104 STAT. 327 commonly called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.

ADA is not a “code” that can be adopted by local governing bodies. Building codes are prescriptive, and stipulate minimum acceptable standards. ADA takes a broader approach, stating that people with disabilities must be provided access, but not stating prescriptive standards for providing accessibility. ADA is regulated through the Federal Courts system, and individuals who believe they have been discriminated against can file suit against the property owner.

This has spawned the ADAAG (Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines). ADAAG contains scoping and technical requirements for accessibility to buildings and facilities by individuals with disabilities identified by the ADA. These scoping and technical requirements are applied during the design, construction and alteration of buildings and facilities covered by Titles II and III of the ADA to the extent required by regulations issued by Federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, under the ADA.

ADA is in part a design issue, and if your project design professional fails to deal with ADA, problems may arise during and after construction as alleged violations of ADA are identified.

Protect your business or organization

ADA has been a boon to a small but assertive group of plaintiff attorneys who have formed alliances with disability activists. They make a business out of inspecting new and old facilities (often without the knowledge of the owner) which falls under the “public accommodations” definition in ADAAG. Filing suit in Federal Court usually follows, alleging violations of ADA. Many times these alleged violations can be disproved, as the accommodation is provided in some other fashion than they expected to see. Frequently the plaintiffs are merely seeking some sort of financial settlement to drop the litigation.

On the other hand, penalties can be significant if it can be shown that ADA was intentionally violated. Otherwise, penalties are not so severe. But the cost to design professionals, owners and their attorneys to defend such a lawsuit is significant.

Even though it has been in effect for more than two decades, the ADA is still evolving today. If the courts define or redefine a section of ADA, and your facility fails to comply, you could be liable, even though the definition was not in place at the time the facility was designed or completed. More detailed technical information is available at the following website: http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm.

Do you have questions about whether your facility meets ADAAG? Call Geoffrey Butler, AIA at 417-521-6106.