ADA Frequently Asked Questions Knowledge Base - Architects/Contractors

The ADA is divided into five sections called “titles.” Each title covers a different area. Title I covers employment. Title II covers state and local government programs. Title III covers places of public accommodation. Title IV covers telecommunications. Title V has several miscellaneous provisions that cover things like retaliation and attorney fees.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Actually, what you might have heard called the “new ADA” is really called The ADA Amendments Act – or the ADAAA. After the ADA was originally passed in 1990, cases started being filed and ending up in courts. Some were appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rulings by the Supreme Court, as well as lower courts, began to narrow the definition of disability. Whether a person had a disability in order to sue became the focus of most disputes under the ADA. Congress never intended for it to be that way. The focus of the ADA was supposed to be on access and accommodation, not on whether the person really had a disability. Congress had not foreseen the ways in which the courts would narrowly interpret, and ultimately change, the definition.

So the ADAAA was passed in 2008 and essentially overturned those Supreme Court cases that narrowed the definition of disability. Congress made clear that the definition must be “construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals” with disabilities. So rather than this being a “new ADA,” it really is just going back to the way Congress meant the ADA to be when it was first written and passed in 1990.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Fact Sheet: An Employee View of the Changes from the ADA Amendments Act

What is the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Some parts of the ADA didn’t go into effect until after that date to give entities time to comply with the law, but those compliance deadlines have passed.

Additional information on the history and background on the law is available on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division website at: https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

Timeline of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

I’ll give you the “lawyer answer” – it depends. All people who meet the ADA definition of disability are covered by the ADA in general, but they still may not have rights under particular sections of the ADA. For example, there is a section of the ADA that deals only with employment discrimination. If a person with a disability is not employed and is not seeking employment, then that person would not necessarily be covered by that part of the ADA, although the person would be covered by other parts of the ADA.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What does "regarded as" having a disability mean?

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

FAQ:  Are alcoholics protected by the ADA?

According to the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data, approximately 54 million Americans have a disability.


For additional information, take a look at the following resource:

Fact Sheet: Understanding Disability Statistics

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design can be found at: http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm

The Department of Justice’s ADA web site, www.ada.gov, contains a number of useful documents on accessibility for businesses and state and local governments. For example, for businesses see “ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business” and the section on “Making the Built Environment More Accessible” at: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/smallbusiness/smallbusprimer2010.htm.   

The U.S. Access Board also produces a number of documents on a wide range of accessibility-related topics which can be found at: www.access-board.gov.  For example, check “Guide to Updated ADA Standards” at: http://web.archive.org/web/20130721160340/http://access-board.gov//ada/guide.htm


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: How do the 2010 changes to the ADA Standards for Accessible Design impact parking spaces that already exist?

FAQ: What does the ADA require in new construction?

Fact Sheet: Accessible Parking

Effective March 15, 2012, the applicable standards for new construction and alterations for either a public entity under Title II or a place of public accommodation under Title III are the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.   The 2010 ADA Standards can be found at: http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Where can I find a complete set of ADA standards for accessible design?

No, as of March 15, 2012, the applicable standards for alterations and additions are the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.   The 2010 ADA Standards can be found at: http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm.  

It is important to remember that the 1991 Standards are still relevant after March 15, 2012. Elements not altered after March 15, 2012 that comply with the requirements for those elements in the 1991 Standards, do not need to be modified, even if the new standards have different requirements for these elements.  This provision is called “Safe Harbor.”  However, if your business chooses to alter elements that were in compliance with the 1991 Standards, the safe harbor no longer applies to the altered elements which must now comply with the 2010 ADA Standards.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

FAQ: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

Service Animal Resource Hub

On or after March 15th, 2012 all newly constructed or altered facilities must comply with the requirements in the 2010 ADA Standards. If elements in existing facilities already comply with the 1991 ADA Standards and are not being altered, entities are not required to make changes to those elements to bring them into compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards.

For Title II entities, if the start date for construction is on or after March 15, 2012, all newly constructed or altered State and local government facilities must comply with the 2010 ADA Standards.

For businesses that are covered under Title III, the compliance date for the 2010 ADA Standards for new construction and alterations is determined by:

  • the date the last application for a building permit or permit extension is certified to be complete by a State, county, or local government;
  • the date the last application for a building permit or permit extension is received by a State, county, or local government, where the government does not certify the completion of applications; or
  • the start date of physical construction or alteration, if no permit is required.

If that date is on or after March 15, 2012, then new construction and alterations must comply with the 2010 ADA Standards.

Source: http://www.ada.gov/revised_effective_dates-2010.htm.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Is my building "grandfathered in" under the older 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design or do I need to comply with the 2010 ADA Standards?

FAQ: What does the ADA require in new construction?

Fact Sheet: Opening Doors to Everyone

In a situation where the requirements of both a state or local building code and the 2010 ADA Standards need to be considered, the code or Standard that results in greater accessibility takes precedence.  This interpretation is based on the concept of “equivalent facilitation” from section 103 of the ADA Standards which states that alternative designs, products, or technologies may be used as long as they result in substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability.  Thus, a state or local code can be used if it contains a requirement that provides a different but greater level of accessibility than the ADA Standards.

If the use of a state or local code instead of the 2010 ADA Standard is challenged, the covered entity is responsible for defending the use of this code.  The ADA accessibility requirements do not supplant or replace state or local laws that impose higher accessibility standards. The governing principal to follow when state or local codes differ from the ADA is that the one that provides the most accessibility applies.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What does ADA require in new construction?

FAQ:  How will a State or local government know that a new building is accessible?

FAQ: Where can I find a complete set of ADA standards for accessible design?

The ADA does not have a provision to "grandfather" a facility but it does have a provision called “safe harbor” in the 2010 ADA regulations for businesses and state and local governments. A "safe harbor" means that you do not have to make modifications to elements in a building that comply with the 1991 ADA Standards, even if the 2010 ADA Standards have different requirements for them. For example the 1991 ADA Standards permitted controls, such as a light switch, to be 54 inches high maximum for a side reach. The 2010 ADA Standards lowered that to 48 inches maximum. If the light switch was installed before March 15, 2012 (the date the 2010 ADA Standards went into effect) it does not need to be lowered to 48 inches. This provision is applied on an element-by-element basis.  However, if you choose to alter elements that were in compliance with the 1991 ADA Standards, the altered elements must comply with the 2010 ADA Standards.

Please note that “safe harbor” does not apply to elements that were NOT addressed in the original 1991 ADA Standards but ARE addressed in the 2010 ADA Standards. These elements include recreation facilities such as swimming pools, play areas, exercise machines, miniature golf facilities, fishing piers, boating facilities, and bowling alleys. Public accommodations must remove architectural barriers to these elements when it is readily achievable to do so. State and local governments must ensure program accessibility at these recreational areas. 


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Must an employer modify existing facilities to make them accessible?

FAQ: If I am altering or doing an addition to my building, can I still follow the older 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design or must I use the new 2010 ADA Standards?

Architectural Accessibility Laws

There are two types of accessible guest rooms, one type having “mobility features” and the other “communication features.”   The minimum number of accessible guest rooms in newly constructed facilities is provided in Tables 224.2 (mobility features) and 224.4 (communication features) of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design - http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm.  Note that for rooms with mobility features, roll-in showers will be required where the total number of guest rooms provided exceeds 50. 

In alterations and additions, the minimum required number of accessible guest rooms required is based on the total number of guest rooms being altered or added instead of the total number of guest rooms provided in a facility. Note, that where guest rooms are altered, or added, the technical requirements stated in the 2010 ADA Standards apply only to those guest rooms being altered or added until the total number of accessible guest rooms in the entire hotel complies with the minimum number required for new construction as stated in the tables referred to above.

Accessible guest rooms must be dispersed among the various classes of guest rooms, and provide choices of types of guest rooms, number of beds, and other amenities comparable to the choices provided to other guests. Typically, each alteration of a facility is limited to a particular portion of the facility. As accessible guest rooms are added as a result of subsequent alterations, the required degree of dispersion is more likely to be achieved if all of the accessible guest rooms are not provided in the same portion of the facility. 

Source: Section 224.1.1, and accompanying Advisory, of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design - http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What are public accommodations?

Fact Sheet: Accessible Lodging

The cost of incorporating accessibility features in new construction is less than one percent of construction costs. This is a small price in relation to the economic benefits to be derived from full accessibility in the future, such as increased employment and consumer spending.


For additional information, take a look at the following resource:

FAQ: Where can I find a complete set of ADA standards for accessible design?

All alterations that could affect the usability of a facility must be made in an accessible manner to the maximum extent feasible. For example, if during renovations a doorway is being relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the new construction standard for accessibility.

When alterations are made to a primary function area, such as the lobby of a bank or the dining area of a cafeteria, an accessible path of travel to the altered area must also be provided.

The bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area must also be made accessible. These additional accessibility alterations are only required to the extent that the added accessibility costs do not exceed 20% of the cost of the original alteration. Elevators are generally not required in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center or mall; the professional office of a health care provider; a terminal, depot, or other public transit station; or an airport passenger terminal.

See the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design for more information regarding alterations: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Is my building "grandfathered in" under the older 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design or do I need to comply with the 2010 ADA Standards?

FAQ: If I am doing a renovation on a hotel, how many guest rooms need to be accessible?

Fact Sheet: Overview of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design

Places of public accommodations and commercial facilities should use the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design for readily achievable barrier removal, new construction and alterations. 

See the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design for more information: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What does the term “readily achievable” mean?

FAQ: Where can I find a complete set of ADA standards for accessible design?

The ADA public accommodations provisions permit an individual to allege discrimination based on a reasonable belief that discrimination is about to occur. This provision, for example, allows a person who uses a wheelchair to challenge the planned construction of a new place of public accommodation, such as a shopping mall, that would not be accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs. The resolution of such challenges prior to the construction of an inaccessible facility would enable any necessary remedial measures to be incorporated in the building at the planning stage, when such changes would be relatively inexpensive.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Who is protected from employment discrimination?

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

Existing codes remain in effect. The ADA allows the Attorney General to certify that a State law, local building code, or similar ordinance that establishes accessibility requirements meets or exceeds the minimum accessibility requirements for public accommodations and commercial facilities. Any State or local government may apply for certification of its code or ordinance. The Attorney General can certify a code or ordinance only after prior notice and a public hearing at which interested people, including individuals with disabilities, are provided an opportunity to testify against the certification.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: How will a State or local government know that a new building is accessible?

FAQ: What does the ADA require in new construction?

Certification can be advantageous if an entity has constructed or altered a facility according to a certified code or ordinance. If someone later brings an enforcement proceeding against the entity, the certification is considered "rebuttable evidence" that the State law or local ordinance meets or exceeds the minimum requirements of the ADA. In other words, the entity can argue that the construction or alteration met the requirements of the ADA because it was done in compliance with the State or local code that had been certified.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: How does the ADA affect existing State and local building codes?

FAQ: Where can I find a complete set of ADA standards for accessible design?

FAQ: What should be applied to a situation when both the local or state code and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design need to be considered?

Private individuals may bring lawsuits asking for court orders to stop discrimination. Individuals may also file complaints with the United States Attorney General, who is authorized to bring lawsuits in cases of general public importance or where a "pattern or practice" of discrimination is alleged. In these cases, the Attorney General may seek monetary damages and civil penalties. Civil penalties may not exceed $55,000 for a first violation or $110,000 for any subsequent violation.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: How can I file an ADA complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice?

Federal Agencies and Resources

The ADA does not cover strictly residential private apartments and homes. If, however, a place of public accommodation, such as a doctor's office or day care center, is located in a private residence, the portions of the residence used for that purpose are subject to the ADA's requirements.


For additional information, take a look at the following resource:

Fact Sheet: Accessible Lodging

A wheelchair is a manually operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor, or of both indoor and outdoor, locomotion.  Individuals with mobility disabilities must be permitted to use wheelchairs and manually powered mobility aids, i.e., walkers, crutches, canes, braces, or other similar devices designed for use by individuals with mobility disabilities, in any areas open to pedestrian traffic.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources: 

Fact Sheet: The ADA & Accessible Ground Transportation

Power Driven Mobility Devices

Fact Sheet: Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

Appropriate auxiliary aids and services for individuals with hearing loss may include:

  • qualified interpreters on-site or through video remote interpreting (VRI) services;
  • notetakers;
  • real-time computer-aided transcription services;
  • written materials; exchange of written notes;
  • telephone handset amplifiers;
  • assistive listening devices;
  • assistive listening systems;
  • telephones compatible with hearing aids;
  • closed caption decoders;
  • open and closed captioning, including real-time captioning;
  • voice, text, and video-based telecommunications products and systems, including text telephones (TTYs), videophones, and captioned telephones, or equally effective telecommunications devices;
  • videotext displays;
  • accessible electronic and information technology;
  • or other effective methods of making aurally delivered information available to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Appropriate auxiliary aids and services for individuals who are blind or have low vision may include:

  • qualified readers;
  • taped texts;
  • audio recordings;
  • Brailed materials and displays;
  • screen reader software;
  • magnification software;
  • optical readers;
  • secondary auditory programs (SAP);
  • large print materials;
  • accessible electronic and information technology;
  • or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals who are blind or have low vision.

For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What funding assistance is available for individuals with disabilities to purchase assistive devices, ramps, etc.?

Fact Sheet: Effective Communication

Examples include the simple ramping of a few steps, the installation of grab bars where only routine reinforcement of the wall is required, the lowering of telephones,  restriping parking lots, and similar modest adjustments.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What is the process to request a reasonable accommodation in employment? 

FAQ: What does the term “readily achievable” mean?

Fact Sheet: Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

The ADA requires that all new construction of places of public accommodation, as well as of "commercial facilities" such as office buildings, be accessible. Elevators are generally not required in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center or mall; the professional office of a health care provider; a terminal, depot, or other public transit station; or an airport passenger terminal. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design set minimum requirements – both scoping and technical -- for newly designed and constructed or altered public accommodations and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

See the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design for more information regarding new construction: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Where can I find a complete set of ADA standards for accessible design?

FAQ: What standards must places of public accommodations and commercial facilities use for readily achievable barrier removal and in new construction and alterations?