Most building designers are familiar with their local accessibility requirements, however often there is much more confusion when it comes to federal accessibility regulations. The recent introduction of the new 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, make it even more important to understand what is required on the federal level for accessible buildings.

It’s important to emphasize that most designers are subject to at least two sets of accessibility requirements. The first being local accessibly requirements found within a jurisdiction’s building code. The second being federal accessibility requirements found in a number of references whose applicability typically depends on a building’s use and/or funding.

There are four major federal accessibly laws that must be understood to ensure full compliance with federal standards: The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (504), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ABA was created in 1968 and stipulates that all buildings, other than privately owned residential facilities, constructed by, or on behalf of, or leased by the United States, or buildings financed in whole, or in part by the United States; must be accessible to people with disabilities. We often refer to these types of buildings as “true federal buildings”, such as federal court houses and post offices. A building that falls within this use would be subject to the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard (UFAS) or in some cases, the updated standards for accessible design, as published by the US Access Board in 2004. Each federal agency adopts their own reference standard and several have adopted these updated requirements, including GSA, DOD and the USPS. HUD still references UFAS for accessibility requirements.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was enacted in 1973 to eliminate discriminatory behavior towards people with disabilities who participate in federally funded programs. This law extended the ABA to include buildings that take advantage of federal programs. For example, a college campus that accepts students receiving federal tuition loans is required to provide accessible buildings and facilities. Any building that participates in federally funded programs, including federally funded construction loans, must comply with 504. Similar to the ABA, a building that falls within this use would be subject to either the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard (UFAS) or the updated standards for accessible design as published by the US Access Board in 2004.

The FHA is a broad non discriminatory law that prohibits discrimination in housing. Its accessibility design requirements apply to all multifamily buildings, with four or more dwelling units, that are built for first occupancy on or after March 13, 1991. This would include apartments for rent, condominiums for sale, dormitories, nursing homes, timeshares, and extended stay hotels. Typically any multifamily unit that is designed to be occupied by a single tenant for any extended period of time is required to meet the requirements of the FHA. A building that falls within this use would be subject to the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act.

Last, but certainly not least, the ADA was enacted in 1990 and is a broad civil rights law that guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. The ADA contains five Titles. Title I mandates that employers cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Title II prohibits disability discrimination by all state and local government entities. Finally, Title III mandates that no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations offered by a place of public accommodation. Title III entities are subject to the ADA Requirements for Accessible Design.

As of September 15, 2010 the US Department of Justice published a revised set of regulations to replace the 1990 version of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The new 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design must be applied to all newly designed and constructed or altered state and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities as of March 15, 2012. As part of this update, the guidelines are more consistent with model building codes, such as the International Building Code (IBC), and industry standards.

It is important for building designers to understand all four of these federal accessibility laws and to be familiar with the design manuals and requirements associated with them. It should also be noted that unlike local building codes, accessibility laws are often cumulative and more than one law and reference standard might apply to a single project.

Accessibility Services offers AIA registered courses that qualify for HSW Credit that can cover all federal accessibility requirements. Most recently we have added specific training to address the new 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the changes brought about by these new requirements. Please contact Accessibility Services if you would like more information.