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Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)

Signed by: President Lyndon Johnson
Signed on: August 12, 1968

Significance: The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) mandates that buildings and facilities that are designed, built, or funded with federal money be accessible to people with disabilities. It applies to alterations and construction that occur after the bill was signed. The ABA was the first act of Congress aimed at improving the built environment for people with disabilities.

Almost all federal buildings must be accessible to people with disabilities, but that’s not because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s because of the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. The US Access Board enforces the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), and it publishes standards for the ABA. These standards include a long list of specific requirements for making covered buildings (and other facilities) comply with the ABA.

The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) mandates that people with disabilities have “ready access to and use of” federal buildings and facilities that are built or altered after the bill’s signing. The ABA instructs several different governmental agencies to draw up rules for accessibility.

The ABA states that federal buildings 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 physically accessible for people with disabilities. Federal agencies are responsible for ensuring compliance with ABA standards when funding the design, construction, alteration, or leasing of facilities.

Buildings and Facilities

The ABA covers a wide range of buildings and other facilities, including post offices, national parks, VA hospitals, Social Security Administration offices, federal administration buildings, federal court houses, and federal prisons.

The ABA also covers non-federal facilities that are built with or altered using federal grants or loans. Examples are public housing and public transit systems.

A few exceptions are also detailed in the law.

The Rules

The ABA is enforced by the US Access Board. The  Access Board is an independent federal agency responsible for developing accessibility guidelines. These guidelines include specifications for many elements of the built environment, including ramps and elevators, doors and doorknobs, toilets and sinks, fire alarms and signs, and much more. It is important to note that the ABA’s standards are not always identical to those that apply under the ADA.

To read the rules, see ABA Standards, on the Access Board’s website.

Thinking about the ABA

The ABA mandates that federally funded buildings and parks—specifically, those built or altered after the law was signed in 1968—be accessible and usable by people with disabilities. The ABA makes broad statements about accessibility, but following the ABA requires care in many areas of design and construction. In fact, a large body of standards now exists to help designers and builders adhere to the law. The ABA itself is fairly short, and you can read the entire document at the Access Board’s website.

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