In July 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, extending civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Generally, Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination by entities to access and use of “areas of public accommodations” and “commercial facilities” on the basis of disability. Regardless of their age, these areas and facilities must be maintained and operated to comply with the ADA.
Buildings completed and occupied after January 26, 1992 are required to fully comply with ADA. Existing facilities constructed prior to this date are held to the lesser standard of complying with the extent allowed by structural feasibility and the financial resources available, or a reasonable accommodation must be made.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) requirements cover buildings consisting of four or more dwelling units with first occupancy after March 13, 1991. If such buildings have one or more elevators, all dwelling units are covered by the Act; otherwise, in buildings without elevators, only ground floor dwelling units are covered by the Act. Townhouses are exempted from the Act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has published Final Design Guidelines (Federal Register, 24 CFR, Vol. 56, No. 44, March 6, 1991, page 9497). The Act requires design and construction to meet the seven design requirements listed below.
The design requirements to which buildings and units must comply are presented in condensed form below. Dwelling units are not subject to these requirements only in the rare and extreme instances when terrain circumstances would prohibit compliance.
REQUIREMENT 1: Accessible building entrance on an accessible route that can be used by a person using a wheelchair must be provided.
REQUIREMENT 2: Public and common use areas of the dwellings must be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
REQUIREMENT 3: Doors designed to allow passage into and within all premises, usable to a person in a wheelchair, must be provided.
REQUIREMENT 4: An accessible route must be provided into and through the covered dwelling unit to allow passage by a person in a wheelchair.
REQUIREMENT 5: All light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls requiring access must be provided at accessible locations.
REQUIREMENT 6: Bathroom walls must provide reinforcements to allow for later installation of grab bars and shower seats.
REQUIREMENT 7: Kitchens and bathrooms must be designed to allow an individual in a wheelchair to maneuver about the space.