August 14, 2023
Source: U.S. Access Board
On August 12, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) into law at his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, and remarked the next day “it is humane legislation — which had the unanimous support of both Houses of Congress. I am pleased and proud to sign it into law.” Tomorrow marks the 55th anniversary of the ABA, one of the earliest measures by Congress to address access to the built environment by requiring federal and federally leased facilities to be accessible for people with disabilities.
The impetus for the ABA involved many people with disabilities, disability advocates, and organizations who fought for accessibility and inclusion. One key figure was Hugh Gregory Gallagher, who [had] polio at 19 years of age in 1952 and developed paralysis from the chest down. In 1962, Gallagher became Administrative Assistant to Senator E.L. “Bob” Bartlett (D-Alaska) and began working on equal rights for people with disabilities. Over the next few years, he was successful in advocating for several accessible design installations, including ramps and accessible routes at the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, The Kennedy Center, and airports, hospitals, and other public buildings.
These successes, coupled with a realization that even more significant action was needed, led Gallagher to draft the text of the bill that would become the ABA — “the first law asserting the civil and constitutional rights of disabled people ever passed anywhere.”
With Senator Bartlett as the sponsor and ten co-sponsors, the bill was introduced in the 90th Congress, 1st session, on January 12, 1967, and referred to the Committee on Public Works. The bill was passed unanimously in the House on June 17, 1968 and in the Senate on July 26, 1968.
The ABA covers a wide range of facilities, including U.S. Post Offices, Veterans Affairs medical facilities, national parks, Social Security Administration offices, federal office buildings, courthouses, and federal prisons. It also applies to non-government facilities that have received federal funding, such as certain schools, public housing, and mass transit systems.
Several years after the ABA had become law, Congress observed that compliance was uneven and that no initiatives to create federal design standards for accessibility were underway. As Congress developed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, it decided to include Section 502, which created the U.S. Access Board (originally named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) and charged the agency with issuing ABA Accessibility Standards and leading the ABA compliance and enforcement program. The ABA Standards provide scoping and technical requirements that cover specifications for ramps, parking, doors, elevators, restrooms, assistive listening systems, fire alarms, signs, and other accessible building elements.
To this day, the Board continues to enforce the ABA through the investigation of complaints. Individuals may file an ABA complaint using the Board’s Online ABA Complaint Form or by email or mail.
Compliance and Enforcement Section
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Access Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111