Issues & AdvocacyFederal
The Americans with Disabilities Act – 20 years later
letter from AIA President George H. Miller, FAIA
July 26, marked the 20th anniversary of a landmark piece of legislation that the American Institute of Architects was instrumental in shaping - the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law banned, for the first time, discrimination against people with disabilities. It required business, buildings, transportation, public transportation, and other services to accommodate the disabled and outlawed workplace discrimination against disabled workers.
As we do simple things like cross the street, signs of the ADA’s positive impact on the lives of Americans are apparent. Most curbs now are sloped in cities where before they were obstacles. We take little notice of these accomplishments today, but at the time of its passage, many observers – including some within the architectural community – were worried that the ADA would unfairly penalize businesses and do more harm than good.
With time, the architectural profession and the AIA helped debunk these fears and myths. Beginning in the 1990s, our profession took the lead in designing solutions to implementing the ADA. Today, with the experience and hindsight of the past 20 years, we have another chance to lead the way and make an even more positive impact on this noble initiative.
As part of the commemoration of the ADA, President Obama announced the publication of two final rules that will amend the Department of Justice’s regulations implementing Titles II and III of the ADA and set the roll-out date for the final rules by the DOJ controlling accessibility in public and privately-owned buildings.
Architects have been waiting to see and implement these new rules for over six years. Improvements to the guidelines that have been available since 2004 from the U.S. Access Board (an independent Federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities) are now about to become “the law of the land” for all public and private facilities. As a profession, we need to be ready to understand and implement these new rules and be the agent for maintaining America’s reputation as world’s most hospitable nation for the disabled community.
Available on the DOJ and Access Board websites, the new rules will take effect 18 months after they are published officially in the National Register. The AIA has taken an active role in working toward these improved rules for more than a decade and, as a result, we are now positioned to expand the opportunities for every American to fully enjoy recreational activities and participate in business, travel, and entertainment.
Here is some history: detailed criteria for designing for disabled children and other facilities (e.g., judicial and detention buildings, amusement parks) had been developed as guidelines by the Access Board, but never were officially implemented. With the help of architects and others, however, many have been incorporated into model codes and standards. In 2004, the Access Board issued a comprehensive revision to its guidelines (ADAAG). DOJ then issued its advanced notice of proposed rule making (ANPRM) in 2004, asking for specific input to the new guidelines and their draft rules for adopting them.
Consequently, the AIA established a task group to study the new guidelines and the proposed DOJ rule. Many of the AIA's comments were incorporated into the revised rules, but as late as 2008, we indicated to DOJ that its proposed six-month implementation schedule was too narrow. Today, we are gratified to announce that DOJ has taken our advice and established an 18-month implementation time for both the design community and owner/developers and regulators to prepare for these new rules. Other aspects of the new rules, such as the "grandfathering" of facilities in compliance with the prior rules for barrier removal, are also included in the most recent regulations.
DOJ's rules are expected to be published in the National Register in the next few weeks, starting the clock for the 18-month time frame for mandatory implementation. Copies of the rules are available at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/titleII_combined.html for Title II rules governing state and locally owned facilities and http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleIII_2010/titleIII_combined.html for Title III rules governing privately owned facilities.
The AIA provides its members and the public information on federal, state, and local regulations through its Government and Community Relations Department, continuing education programs, and online seminars, as well as at the annual AIA Convention. The AIA and our profession will continue to lead this effort to improve the environment for all Americans by making sure that its members are fully educated about these new rules and regulations. As such, the AIA has created a resource page aimed to help AIA members understand the new rules and their implications for architects. The AIA will also be hosting a series of webinars and in-person seminars, available for continuing education units. Please continue to check the resource page for dates. We will all benefit from achieving accessibility for the entire disabled community.