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Physical Accessibility: Federal Requirements (ADA)

Overview of Federal Accessibility Requirements

The ADA requires the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to publish ADA design standards that are consistent with the guidelines published by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board). On March 15, 2012, the DOJ adopted revised ADA design standards that include the relevant chapters of the Access Board̥s 2004 ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines as modified by specific provisions of the DOJ̥s revised rules implementing Title II and Title III of the ADA. These revised standards are now known as the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These standards must be applied when engaging in new construction, alterations or when meeting program accessibility obligations under Title II of the ADA, or in barrier removal efforts under Title III of the ADA. 

When do the ADA Standards apply?

Most facilities in the public and private sectors are covered by the ADA. Units of government at the state, county, and local levels (Title II) are subject to the ADA and must comply with the ADA Standards in new construction and alterations. All types of public facilities are covered, including schools, hospitals, public housing, courthouses, and prisons. Federal facilities are not covered by the ADA, but by an earlier law, the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and must meet separate, though very similar, standards.

In the private sector (Title III), the ADA Standards apply to places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. Places of public accommodation are facilities that affect commerce and that fall within twelve categories listed in the ADA, including stores and shops, restaurants and bars, sales or rental establishments, service establishments, theaters, places of lodging, recreation facilities, assembly areas, private museums, places of education, and others. Nearly all types of private businesses that serve the public are included in the twelve categories, regardless of size. Commercial facilities include office buildings, factories, warehouses, manufacturing plants, and other facilities whose operations affect commerce.

Bus stops and stations, rail stations, and other transportation facilities are required to be accessible by the ADA too. The ADA also establishes standards for transportation vehicles, including buses, vans, and rail cars. The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) issues ADA regulations to implement the transportation and related provisions of titles II and III of the ADA.

There are some exemptions under the ADA to be aware of. The ADA does not apply to religious organizations and private clubs, entities which historically have been exempt from federal civil rights laws. Places of worship and other facilities controlled by a religious organization, such as a school or day care center, are not subject to the ADA Standards. Private clubs may be similarly exempt depending on their exclusiveness, operations, and other factors. Facilities not subject to the ADA Standards may still be subject to state or local access codes that require accessibility features, even though the ADA may not apply.

Who Enforces the ADA Standards?

DOJ̥s and DOT̥s ADA Standards are not a building code, nor are they enforced like one. They constitute design and construction requirements issued under a civil rights law. The ADḀs mandates, including the accessibility standards, are enforced through investigations of complaints filed with federal agencies, or through litigation brought by private individuals or the federal government. There is no plan review or permitting process under the ADA. Nor are building departments required or authorized by the ADA to enforce the ADA Standards (some building departments even include a disclaimer on their plan checks indicating that ADA compliance is not part of their approval process). Entities covered by the law ultimately are responsible for ensuring compliance with the ADA Standards in new construction and alterations.

Physical Accessibility: State Requirements

Overview of State Requirements:

Building design and construction, including safety and accessibility, are largely regulated and enforced by states and local jurisdictions. Most states and many local jurisdictions have laws or ordinances that address access to the built environment. Several states have their own accessibility codes, while others have implemented requirements based on those of the ADA or adopted access provisions contained in model building codes. The ADA Standards apply nationally in addition to any applicable state or local access requirements or codes. An occupancy permit issued by a local jurisdiction (or a building inspection) does not ensure ADA compliance. Although local building departments sometimes can waive building code requirements, a local waiver does not affect the entity̥s obligation to comply with the ADA Standards.

Northeast ADA Center's Region - Applicable State/Territory Accessibility Requirements:

New Jersey

Enforceable accessibility codes and regulations required in New Jersey are available on the NJ Department of Community Affairs website
Most accessibility requirements enforceable in New Jersey are found in Chapter 11 of the International Building Code/2015, NJ edition https://codes.iccsafe.org/public/chapter/content/5146/ and the NJ Barrier Free Subcode accessed here: http://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/codes/codreg/pdf_regs/njac_5_23_7.pdf

New York State

On March 9, 2016, the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council completed major updates to the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (2016 Uniform Code).

The NYS Uniform Code update incorporates the 2015 International Building Code by reference. Note that Chapter 11 of the 2015 International Building Code contains most (but not all) scoping for accessibility requirements required by the building code.The 2016 Uniform Code Supplement that contains the amendments to the New York State Uniform Code can be accessed here: https://www.dos.ny.gov/DCEA/pdf/2016%20DOS_UniformCodeSupplement_03212016.pdf.

Additional information about the Building Code of New York State is available from the New York State Division of Code Enforcement and Administration website at https://www.dos.ny.gov/dcea/

Puerto Rico

The 2016 Puerto Rico Building Code adopts the 2009 edition of the International Building Code (with amendments). The amendments can be found on the Puerto Rico Building Codes Website accessed here: https://ogpegeo.blob.core.windows.net/public/Freedom-Static-Documents/Documents/2016%20Puerto%20Rico%20Building%20Code%20LPAU.pdf. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Regulation and Permits Administration (ARPE) oversees enforcement of the building code.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The Department of Planning & Natural Resources (DPNR) of the Virgin Islands office of Building Permits oversees enforcement of the VI Building Codes. Accessibility requirements are primarily found in Title 29 of the Virgin Islands Code & the International Building Code as adopted by the Virgin Islands. You can contact DPNR to learn more about the U.S. Virgin Islands Building Code here: http://dpnr.vi.gov/contact/.

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Northeast ADA Center: 1-607-255-6686

ADA National Network: 1-800-949-4232

Email Us: northeastada@cornell.edu