The Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates 30 years of accessibility
Today’s buildings and community venues are far more accommodating of occupants’ needs and accessible to a greater segment of the population — all thanks to something that happened 30 years ago.
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush. The ADA is a wide-ranging, revolutionary piece of civil rights legislation that covers access, provides protection and expands opportunities for individuals with disabilities by reducing barriers in places of employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, commercial facilities, telecommunications and the built environment. The law ensures equal access to buildings and facilities and that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Curbs, doors, stairs, signage and employment laws have been revised across the country in response to the measure. The International Code Council is proud of the role it has played in this landmark legislation.
“Even before the ADA was enacted, the International Code Council and its founding organizations addressed the needs of persons with disabilities through changes to building and fire safety codes,” explained Code Council Board of Directors President Greg Wheeler, CBO. “The Code Council’s model codes began to address accessibility provisions as early as the mid-1970s. By using this expertise for accessible means of egress, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design avoided reinventing the wheel and potential conflicts between federal requirements and nationally recognized building construction requirements in the model codes. We are exceedingly proud of the role ICC continues to play in creating opportunities for full participation and access for people with disabilities to public and private accommodations.”
“The International Code Council has a history of expertise in addressing issues of public health and safety,” said Code Council Chief Executive Officer Dominic Sims, CBO. “Since 1961 when the first version of the accessibility standard was published, the building safety community has been heavily involved in ensuring buildings are safe and accessible for all. We are exceedingly proud of the role the Code Council has played, in creating opportunities for full participation and access for people with disabilities to public and private accommodations. When buildings are accessible and all applicable standards are met the entire community benefits.”
History of promoting accessibility
Today’s buildings and community venues are far more accommodating of occupants’ needs and are accessible to a greater segment of the population thanks to the landmark legislation signed 30 years ago. Even before the ADA was enacted, the Code Council and its founding organizations worked to address the needs of persons with disabilities through changes to building and fire safety codes as early as 1975, 15 years before the ADA was enacted. With its history of expertise in addressing issues of public health and safety, the Code Council is proud of the role it has played in this landmark legislation and in creating opportunities for full participation and access for people with disabilities to public and private accommodations.
The Code Council publishes the ICC A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, a nationally recognized standard of technical requirements for making buildings accessible and the primary accessibility standard referenced in the International Building Code and used in all 50 U.S. states. Published since 1961, the specifications in the standard make sites, facilities, buildings and elements accessible to and usable by people with physical disabilities. The ICC A117.1 standard helps achieve uniformity in the technical design criteria in building codes and it is referenced by many federal documents and state accessibility laws.
At the request of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Code Council assumed secretariat responsibility for the ICC A117.1 standard in 1987 and has been responsible for the standard ever since. The U.S. Access Board revised the original 1990 ADA Accessibility Guidelines, and the updated regulations were known as the 2010 ADA Standard for Accessible Design, which referenced the International Building Code for accessible means of egress. Many provisions in the 2010 ADA Standard, International Building Code and ICC A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities standard have been extensively coordinated to simplify compliance for builders and code officials.
The 2017 ICC A117.1 standard
The 2017 ICC A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities standard, which ushered in heightened accessibility to persons with physical disabilities and limitations to entrances and promoted additional adaptability to new building design, is intended for adoption by government agencies and organizations to use in updating local building codes.
The 2017 ICC A117.1 standard contains the following additions:
- For new buildings and additions, enhanced dimensions for clear floor space, turning space, and accessible routes for new buildings and additions;
- Provisions incorporating many of the latest public right-of-way criteria for curb cuts, blended transitions, detectable warnings, diagonal parking and street parking;
- New provisions to improve safety for accessible routes through parking lots, and to address accessibility at electric vehicle charging stations;
- New provisions to facilitate the charging of powered wheelchairs in areas such as accessible hotel rooms and wheelchair seating in assembly spaces;
- New provisions for water bottle filling stations, and spaces for sign language interpreter stations and video booths; and
- A new section addressing classroom acoustics to reduce the intrusion of noises from outside the classroom and improve room acoustics.
In particular, the ICC A117.1-2017 Standard includes specifications on what elements make sites, facilities, buildings and elements accessible to and usable by people with such disabilities as the inability to walk, difficulty walking, reliance on walking aids, blindness and visual impairment, deafness and hearing impairment, incoordination, reaching and manipulation disabilities, lack of stamina, difficulty in interpreting and reacting to sensory information, and extremes in physical size.
For more information about the current 2017 edition of the ICC A117.1 — ICC A117.1-2017 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities — there are two publications available from the Code Council: Significant Changes to the ICC A117.1 Accessibility Standard, 2017 Edition, and the ICC A117.1-2017 Standard and Commentary: Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. The latter publication contains the complete text of the ICC A117.1-2017, accompanied by corresponding graphics and commentary to help users of the ICC A117.1 understand the application and intent of the accessibility technical criteria.
ICC A117.1 Committee
The 2017 edition of ICC A117.1 was approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an American National Standard on March 28, 2017. The standard was developed through a consensus-based process that brings together all the stakeholders, including disability-rights groups, code officials, product manufacturers, design professionals, and facilities owners and managers. The Code Council is the secretary of the ICC A117.1, and with its precursor organization the Council of American Building Officials has been responsible for the document since 1987.
The ICC A117.1 is developed through a public hearing and consensus process supervised by ANSI. The document is on a five-year cycle for development. The most recent edition came out in 2017. The revision cycle for A117.1 has opened as of July 1, 2020. Workgroups have been organized and will be soliciting volunteers to join.
The ICC Consensus Committee on Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities — ICC (ASC A117), which developed the 2017 edition of the ICC A117.1 Standard, is developing the next edition of the ICC A117.1 Standard. The Consensus Committee is a continuing committee with representatives from various accessibility organizations that adhere to openness and transparency in the Code Council’s standards development process. All ICC standards committee meetings are open to the public. Any interested party can participate in committee meetings and can be considered by the committee for membership on any work-group that the committee creates.
The ICC A117.1 Committee has worked consistently to enhance the relationship between ICC codes and standards with national accessibility standards to enable code officials, designers and builders to work together during plan review and through construction to build in compliance with current accessibility standards. When buildings are accessible and all applicable standards are met the entire community benefits.
The Code Council has participated for more than 10 years as both presenter and co-sponsor of the National ADA Symposium, which offers training and networking opportunities pertaining to all aspects of the ADA. The annual premiere accessibility event attracts more than 1,000 attendees, including representatives from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Canada and Germany, and includes more than 100 speakers and more than 120 session selections. International Code Council senior staff architects Kimberly Paarlberg and Jay Woodward participate in the National ADA Symposium as presenters on accessibility-related topics.
Click here to read more on how the Code Council is dedicated to improving the accessibility of buildings for people with disabilities.