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FAQs: Architecture/Design

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination and provides for equal access and opportunity. Former President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.

The ADA applies to situations in these five areas:

  1. Employment [Title I]
  2. State and local government [Title II]
  3. Public accommodations (private businesses) [Title III]
  4. Telecommunications [Title IV]
  5. Transportation and miscellaneous provisions [Title V]

Definition of Disability under the ADA

The ADA prohibits discrimination against any qualified individual with a disability. Specifically, the ADA protects three categories of individuals:

  1. Individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.
  2. Individuals who have a record of a physical or mental impairment.
  3. Individuals who are regarded as having an impairment, whether they have an impairment or not.

The ADA does not include a list of covered disabilities under the law. Therefore, to determine if you are covered under the law, you need to determine if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.

The definition of disability does not include simple physical characteristics, common personality traits, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantages.

The ADA also excludes coverage for individuals who currently use illegal drugs, certain sexual disorders and preferences, and compulsive gambling, kleptomania, and pyromania.


FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions on ADA National Network

What is the ADA National Network?

The ADA National Network consists of ten (10) regional centers funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) under the U.S. Department of Education.

The ADA National Network (formerly known as DBTAC - Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center) is the leader in providing information, guidance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tailored to meet your needs. Its mission is to:

  • Facilitate voluntary compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
  • Conduct research to reduce and eliminate barriers to employment and economic self-sufficiency and to increase the civic and social participation of Americans with disabilities

What services does the ADA National Network provide?

The ADA National Network consists of ten (10) regional centers and is the leader in providing information, guidance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tailored to meet the needs of business, government and individuals at local, regional and national levels. Each regional ADA Center offers the following core services:

  • Technical Assistance:Highly trained specialists are available to answer your questions about the ADA, including advice and information on what is required, who is covered, and how to work through ADA-related questions.Call the national toll free hotline at 1-800-949-4232 [voice/tty]. All calls are strictly confidential.

  • Education and Training: Provide customized training and distance education opportunities (i.e. Webcourses, Webinars, Podcasts, and National ADA Initiatives) about the ADA and disability-related laws to disability organizations, State and local government agencies, and private businesses.

  • Materials Dissemination: Distribute publications with accurate information about the ADA. Provide up-to-date ADA information via websites, social media, email, discussion lists, newsletters, and printed materials.

  • Information and Referral: Provide referrals to local organizations for advocacy assistance or issues outside of our work scope.

  • Public Awareness: Promote the ADA in a positive manner in media outlets.

  • Local Capacity Building: Work closely with business, disability, governmental, rehabilitation, and other professional networks to assist with ADA efforts in your State and local communities.

How do I contact the ADA National Network?

If you have questions, need resources or want training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), contact your ADA Center for information, guidance, events, and various materials and online tools to make your efforts easier, as well as help you brainstorm and develop solutions for your customers.

  • Call National Toll-free Hotline: 1-800-4ADA [voice/tty] (1-800-949-4232)
    or complete the Questions and Help on the ADA [online form].

    All calls and contacts are strictly confidential. Highly trained specialists who have over 20 years of experience are available to answer your questions about the ADA, including advice and information on what is required, who is covered, and how to work through ADA-related questions.

  • Training on the ADA
    Find various Events & Educational Materials, including FAQs on the ADA and National ADA Initiatives to learn about the ADA and disability-related topics.

    Experienced staff and training specialists are available to help you design and/or conduct a customized workshop or presentation for your target audiences. Contact your ADA Center or call the National Toll-free Hotline: 1-800-4232 [voice/tty].

  • Visit website: ADA National Network

Southeast ADA Center


Architecture/Design & the ADA

What are the specific standards for accessibility under the ADA? How does the ADAAG compare to other standards?

The standards to be used in new construction and alterations covered by the ADA are the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards). The substance and form of ADAAG is drawn from several sources, particularly the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) and the American National Standard Institute’s (ANSI) standards.

The technical design standards in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design resemble the 1986 ANSI standards in large part. The numbering and format of the ADA Standards also resemble ANSI. However, there are significant differences between the ADA Standards and the 1986 ANSI standards. First, the ADA Standards contain scoping requirements—specifications as to how many, and under what circumstances, accessibility features must be incorporated. The ADA Standards also focus on certain areas not addressed in ANSI, such as dressing rooms, restaurants, automated teller machines, and mercantile establishments.

The ADA Standards apply to all areas in new construction and alterations, except where limited by scoping requirements.

What buildings are covered? What are the standards for making new buildings accessible?

As a general rule, all newly constructed places of public accommodation and commercial facilities, occupied after January 26, 1993, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities to the extent that it is not structurally impracticable (i.e., unique characteristics of the land prevent the incorporation of accessibility features in a facility). “Readily accessible and usable” means that facilities must be built in strict compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. There is no cost defense to the new construction requirements.

What is an alteration according to the ADA? What are the standards for alterations?

As a general rule, all alterations to a place of public accommodation or commercial facility must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities in accordance with ADA Standards to the maximum extent possible. An alteration is any change that affects usability. It includes remodeling, renovation, rearrangements in structural parts, and changes or rearrangement of walls and full-height partitions. Normal maintenance, re-roofing, painting, wallpapering, asbestos removal, and changes to electrical and mechanical systems are not alterations, unless they affect usability.

When an alteration is made to a primary function area, not only must that alteration be done in compliance with the ADA Standards, but there must also be an accessible path of travel from the altered area to the entrance. The path of travel requirement includes an accessible route to the altered area and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving the area. Alterations to provide an accessible path of travel are required to the extent that they are not disproportionate to the original alteration, that is, to the extent that the added accessibility costs do not exceed 20% of the cost of the original alteration to the primary function area.

The U.S. Access Board released the ADA/ABA Guidelines in 2004. Should I follow these guidelines or the ADA Standards for Accessible Design?

On July 23, 2004, the U.S. Access Board issued updated accessibility guidelines for new or altered facilities covered by Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act. These guidelines address a wide range of facilities in the private and public sectors. These guidelines are not mandatory on the public, but instead serve as the baseline for enforceable standards (which are) maintained by other Federal agencies. In this respect, they are similar to a model building code in that they are not required to be followed except as adopted by an enforcing authority. Under the ADA, the Department of Justice (and in the case of transit facilities, the Department of Transportation) is responsible for enforceable standards based on the Board’s guidelines. These agencies will update their ADA standards based on the new guidelines. In doing so, they will indicate when the new standards are to be followed. Several other agencies (the General Services Administration, Department of Defense, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Postal Service) hold a similar responsibility for standards used to enforce the ABA.

The Department of Justice has published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) and is in the process of revising the Department's ADA regulations to adopt design standards that are consistent with the revised ADA Accessibility Guidelines published by the U.S. Access Board on July 23, 2004. The ADA requires the Department of Justice to publish regulations that include accessibility standards that are consistent with the Access Board's guidelines. Until the Department's rulemaking is complete, the revised ADA Guidelines are effective only as guidance to the Department of Justice and to the Department of Transportation. The revised guidelines have no legal effect on the public; therefore the ADA Standards for Accessible Design incorporated into the ADA Title III regulations continue to be the enforceable standard.


More FAQs

  1. What obligations does an employer have if an employee discloses his or her HIV status?

  2. What is a reasonable accommodation for a person with HIV?

  3. To what extent does the ADA require that Internet web pages be accessible to people with visual disabilities?

  4. What is the relationship between requirements of the FMLA, the ADA, and Title VII?

  5. Are all employees who are protected by Title VII or the ADA also entitled to leave under the FMLA?

  6. Is there a conflict between the FMLA provision allowing employers to ask for certification that an employee have a serious health condition and ADA restrictions on disability-related inquiries of employees?

  7. Does title II of the ADA prohibit public schools from conducting drug and alcohol testing of students or employees?

  8. Does the ADA cover the Federal government?

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