Improving the Accessibility of Buildings for People with Disabilities

Federal laws related to accessibility

In the United States, several laws address accessibility in buildings. Different federal agencies are involved in enforcement. To keep it simple and help you navigate, here are some key names and acronyms:

  • The Access Board. The U.S. Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, also known as the Access Board, is an independent federal agency. Its purpose is to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. It develops the design criteria for buildings, transit, telecommunications equipment, electronic and information technology.
  • The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). The first law to address accessibility in buildings, the ABA passed in 1968. It addresses accessibility of federal buildings and buildings designed, built or altered with federal money. Such buildings include post offices, social security offices, prisons and national park facilities. The Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) provide minimum requirements for construction and alteration of facilities covered by the law.
  • The Fair Housing Act (FHA). This civil rights law, written in 1968, prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin. In 1988, the Fair Housing Amendments Act expanded the law to include disabilities and familial status. In 1990, The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development released technical standards, the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines (FHAG), to help builders comply with accessibility requirements.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, employment, transportation, government services and telecommunications. It was signed into law in 1990. In 1991, the Access Board published the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) to explain how to make buildings comply with the ADA. The U.S. Dept. of Justice enforces the accessibility portion of the regulations.
  • The ADA-ABA Accessibility Guidelines (ADA/ABA Guidelines). In 2004, the Access Board issued updated guidelines for new and altered facilities covered by the ADA and the ABA. To make compliance easier, the Access Board harmonized the guidelines with the International Building Code and its referenced standard, the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. The guidelines serve as a baseline for legal enforcement. The intent is that the ADA/ABA Guidelines will become the referenced accessibility standard for the ADA and ABA, eventually replacing both UFAS and ADAAG.

How does the IBC work with the ADA?

The International Code Council's goal is to meet or exceed the accessibility requirements found in the ADA/ABA Guidelines.

    • What Are We Missing? This article about the certification of different state accessibility requirements originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Building Safety Journal.
    • Update on the New ADA and ABA Standards. This article addresses the coordination effort between the Access Board and the International Codes. It originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Building Safety Journal.
    • ADA-ABA Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities. Visit the ADA-ABA home page on the Access Board site to view the ADA-ABA Guidelines and additional information.
    • Emergency evacuation. The IBC addresses how to evacuate everyone out of a building in an emergency. This new release tells how the International Codes comply with a court ruling on emergency evacuation for persons with disabilities.
    • Building Codes and Accessibility Requirements. This brochure explains
      the purpose of building codes and how the International Building Code addresses accessibility.

  • Accessible Means of Egress. The ADA/ABA Guidelines reference the IBC for accessible means of egress. What does this mean? This brochure will tell you.

How does the IBC work with the FHA?

The 2006 IBC is a 'safe harbor' document for complying with FHA's accessibility requirements. This means the IBC meets or exceed the requirements in the FHAG. So if a building complies with the 2006 IBC, it complies with the FHAG.

  • 2006 IBC meets FHA accessibility requirements. The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development evaluated the 2006 International Building Code and found that the IBC meets FHA accessibility requirements.
  • Final Report of the HUD Review. The Final Report of the HUD Review of the Fair Housing Accessibility Requirements in the 2006 International Building Code (IBC).
  • The Vital Role of the Safe Harbor Codes. In this article, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) explains the importance of coordinating the IBC with FHAG. It originally appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Building Safety Journal.
  • Fair Housing Act Design Manual. Published by HUD, the Fair Housing Act Design Manual: A Manual to Assist Designers and Builders in Meeting the Accessibility Requirements of The Fair Housing Act offers guidance on compliance. Order a copy or download the full text.

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.

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