Improving the Accessibility of Building for People with Disabilities

The odds are that many of us will experience a disability at some point in our lives. Maybe it's temporary, like a broken leg. Or it may be more permanent, such as mobility impairment, vision loss or reduced hearing. Such disabilities, whether temporary or permanent, may affect how we get around at home, at work, when we're out shopping or seeing a museum, or even when we visit the doctor.

Many buildings are easily accessible for people with disabilities. Other buildings may not be as easy to maneuver around. Many different groups are working to improve accessibility in the United States. Federal agencies, state and local governments, codes and standards organizations, the construction industry and disability advocacy groups have all worked together to make buildings accessible.



Attorney General Eric Holder signed final and most current regulations revising the Department of Justice ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Click to read more.

Access the intent of the A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities

The most current accessibility standards and commentaries help explain the background behind accessibility requirements. These commentaries are available for purchase from the ICC Store.

New DOJ Reviews to Include 2010 ADA Standard

2010 Standard references International Building Code for accessible means of egress requirements
Codes and standards developed by the International Code Council are referenced in the most current federal accessibility regulations. Click for more information.

U.S. Access Board Advisory Committee presents recommendations on courthouse access

The Board organized the Courthouse Access Advisory Committee to promote accessibility in the design of courthouses.

Access Board compares new ADAAG, original ADA, 2003 IBC

View the Access Board's 2003 comparison.

Want to get an overall understanding of accessibility?

Keep reading to learn about the codes, standards and laws that address accessibility of buildings.

What is the International Building Code?

The International Building Code (IBC) is the most widely adopted building code in the United States. The International Code Council, a membership association dedicated to building safety and fire prevention, develops the IBC and other International Codes.

When referenced in local, state or federal legislation, the International Building Code becomes the minimum requirement for construction. A jurisdiction either uses the code as is or amends it to fit specific needs of the community.

The International Code Council is committed to meeting or exceeding the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Accessibility requirements are incorporated into the International Codes as the codes are updated, through the International Code development process.

To find out what codes and local amendments are enforced in your area, contact your local building department.

Are the International Codes are used in your community?

What is the ICC/ANSI A117.1?

The ICC/ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities is a nationally recognized standard of technical requirements for making buildings accessible. Published since 1961, it is referenced by many federal documents and state accessibility laws. The IBC also references the ICC/ANSI A117.1.

The International Code Council is the secretary of the ICC/ANSI A117.1. The International Code Council, and its precursor organization, the Council of American Building Officials (CABO), have been responsible for the document since 1987. The ICC/ANSI A117.1 is developed through a public hearing and consensus process supervised by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The document is on a five year cycle for development. The most recent edition came out in 2003.

Find out more about the development of the ICC/ANSI A117.1 and activities of the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Committee.

Why use the IBC for accessibility?

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines (FHAG), as federal guidelines, must go through a rulemaking process to be amended or updated. The process can take a long time.

The IBC is updated on a three-year cycle. The International Code Council uses an open-hearing, consensus process to develop its building safety and fire prevention codes, including the IBC. It is an inclusive process that allows input from all individuals and groups, including federal agencies and disability advocacy groups. Each cycle includes the opportunity for public comments. Final decisions are made by International Code Council voting members-code enforcement and fire officials who, with no vested interests beyond public safety, represent the public's best interest. This process allows for new ideas, techniques and products to be incorporated in the requirements.

The IBC contains all the scoping (e.g. what, where and how many) provisions for accessibility. Anyone can propose modification to these requirements. View information on the code development process.

Most jurisdictions update their building codes on a regular basis. Therefore, as new technologies and accessibility provisions are incorporated into the IBC and adopted by jurisdictions, they are built into new construction.

The International Code Council and new technologies

Through the normal code development process, the International Code Council incorporates new technologies into the codes. The International Code Council is also involved in other activities to address technology.

  • Code Technology Committee (CTC) The International Code Council established the CTC to look at broad picture items and suggest improvements to the code through the code change process. The committee will address several accessibility-related issues, including: Day care/Adult care/Assisted Living; Emergency evacuations with elevators; and IBC coordination with the new ADAAG. All meetings are open to the public.
  • Workshop on Use of Elevators in Fires and Other Emergencies. The International Code Council and other organizations participated in this workshop coordinated by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Visit the ASME site for workshop papers and follow-up meetings on improving the use of elevators for evacuation during emergencies.
  • "Elevators and Egress." This article looks at the use of elevators as an evacuation option in case of emergencies. It originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Building Safety Journal.

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