What is ADA Accessible Design?

ac·ces·si·ble [adjective] easily used or accessed by people with disabilities, adapted for use by people with disabilities.

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law signed by George H.W. Bush in 1990 prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities promoting equal opportunity for all people. The Department of Justice published regulations enforcing accessibility standards called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Designs [2010 ADA Standards]. These Standards set minimum requirements that are enforced and applied to government facilities, public places of accommodations, transportation, and commercial facilities whether altered or newly designed and constructed and state all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.

We’ve often heard the term “ADA bathroom” or read about products that are “ADA compliant” which implies they meet the guidelines or comply with the standards for accessible designs. Examples of an ADA compliant features include a ramp [Section: 405 Ramps] for existing sites, buildings, and facilities, or unobstructed high forward reach from a wheelchair to access faucets or even light switches [Section: 308.2.2].

What is disability?

As defined by the ADA, a person with a disability is one who has a physical or mental impairment [problems in body function or structure] that substantially limits one or more major life activity [difficulties in executing activities such as dressing oneself, eating, walking, etc.]. In further detail, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) is a framework indicating that disabilities and functioning are outcomes of interactions between health conditions (diseases, disorders, and injuries) and contextual factors (environmental such as social structures and attitudes, climate, terrain, architectural characteristics and personal such as gender, age, social background, education, behavior pattern, and more).

Every disability is unique and exists when the interaction between our bodies and social environments result in limitations and restrictions to full participation at school, work, home or the community. Therefore, these interactive experiences vary from person to person. For instance, a person [personal] with hearing loss [health condition] may encounter functional limitations when in a building [environmental] on a tour with poor acoustics such as concrete floors and/or walls, lack of sound barriers. This creates a loud environment limiting one to socialize or even hearing a tour guide without relying on someone else to repeat or interpret the message [restriction on full participation or being independent]. This demonstrates of how the environment can limit or restrict functional performance even though we may be independent in other environmental settings such as our home.

Who benefits from Accessible Designs?

  • Persons with disabilities + those affected by loved ones with disablities
  • All public entities or accommodations including businesses + commercial spaces
  • All governmental facilities