The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes design requirements for the construction and alteration of facilities in the private and public sectors. These requirements are known as the ADA Accessibility Guidelines or "ADAAG." ADAAG contains requirements for new construction and alterations. The Access Board develops the requirements as "guidelines" to serve as a basis for "standards" enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Regulations issued by DOJ and DOT contain enforceable standards based on ADAAG. These regulations spell out what facilities are subject to the standards. It is important that the regulations be used along with the design standards they contain or reference since they provide important information on coverage. These regulations address different types of facilities:
Like most Federal regulations, ADAAG was developed under a rulemaking process that invites public comment through publication in the Federal Register. It was published in July 1991 for places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. It was also published in September 1991 for public transit facilities (identical to the other but with a chapter covering bus stops and stations, rail stations, and airports). The standards used by DOJ and DOT were issued at the same time as the Boards ADAAG. Changes and additions to ADAAG are also published through the same rulemaking process that provides public notice and the chance to comment. Note that any changes the Board makes to ADAAG do not become enforceable until they are adopted into the standards maintained by DOJ or DOT.
In July 2004, the Board completed a comprehensive update of ADAAG, along with an update of its guidelines for Federally funded facilities covered by the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). The new guidelines serve as the basis for updated standards that are used to enforce the design requirements of the ADA, as well as the ABA:
Because the ADA is civil rights law, enforcement of its design requirements are not overseen by a local building code official. Enforcement of these requirements, and other provisions of the law, are enforced through private suit or by certain federal agencies when discrimination is alleged. A few states have adopted ADAAG as their accessibility code and implement its provisions through state and local building code officials in the same way as other applicable building regulations are applied, reviewed, and enforced. Several jurisdictions have submitted their building codes and/or standards for review by the DOJ. Standards that meet or exceed the minimum accessibility requirements of the ADA will be certified as equivalent.
ADAAG compliance does not relieve the designer from complying with the provisions of a state or local access code; where such a code contains more stringent requirements, they must be incorporated. Conversely, adoption of ADAAG or certification of the equivalency of a state/local code will not relieve covered entities of their responsibilities to meet the accessibility standards imposed by the ADA.
The Board is developing new guidelines that will cover access to outdoor developed areas and to public rights-of-way.