History of Accessible Facility Design

by the WBDG Accessible Committee

Last updated: 07-31-2013

The accessibility movement has common roots with the civil rights movement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These roots lie in the structure and implementation of laws dealing with accessibility.

The first nationally recognized accessible design standard was the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. Released in 1961, this standard was based upon research done by the University of Illinois and funded by the Easter Seals Research Foundation. It served as an important reference for private entities and local and state governments. In 1974, the standard received federal input when the Department of Housing and Urban Development joined the Secretariat of the committee in charge of the standard.

Since 1968, when the Architectural Barriers Act was passed, the federal government has taken steps to address accessibility and its enforcement in facilities designed, built, altered, or leased using certain federal funds. The timeline below details many of these steps.

Milestones of Accessible Design Requirements

YearMilestone
2010U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design—Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for all facilities except transportation facilities.
2008Department of Defense (DOD) ABA Accessibility Standard for Department of Defense Facilities (PDF 1.8 MB)—Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
2006U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standard—Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities—Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
2005U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Standards for Facility Accessibility—Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
2004ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities—Updated and published in the Federal Register in July of 2004
2003Equal Opportunity Commission Management Directive 715—Provides a roadmap for creating effective equal employment opportunity (EEO) programs for all federal employees as required by Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act
2002Help America Vote Act—Regulates equipment and voting booths for equal access voting areas
2002ADA Accessibility Guidelines—Amended to include guidelines for recreation facilities
2000ADA Accessibility Guidelines—Amended to include guidelines for play areas
1998ADA Accessibility Guidelines—Amended to include guidelines for state and local government facilities and building elements designed for children's use
1991U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design - Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. DOJ adopted ADAAG as its standard for ADA Title III new construction and alterations.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design of Transit Facilities and Vehicles - Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. DOT adopted ADAAG as its standard for new construction and alterations of transit facilities.
1991Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines—Provides minimum technical and scoping criteria for compliance with the FHA
1990Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability; establishes design requirements for the construction or alteration of facilities required to be accessible. It covers facilities in the private sector (places of public accommodation and commercial facilities) and the public sector (state and local government facilities).
Title I—Access to workplace
Title II—State and local government services
Title III—Places of public accommodation and commercial facilities
Title IV—Telecommunications: hearing or speech impairments
Title V—Miscellaneous instructions to Federal agencies that enforce the law
1988Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA)—Requires adaptable features in certain covered multi-family dwellings with 4 or more units
1984Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS)—Contains accessibility scoping and technical requirements implementing the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
1973Rehabilitation Act—Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors
Section 504—Each agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its programs. Agencies that provide federal financial assistance also have section 504 regulations covering entities that receive federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations.
1968Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)—Requires that facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds be accessible to persons with disabilities
1964Civil Rights Act—Made racial discrimination in public places illegal, required employers to provide equal employment opportunities, stated that uniform standards must prevail for establishing the right to vote
1961American National Standard Institute (ANSI) A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities—Became the private sector model for a technical standard for accessible features. This document was most recently updated and published in 2009.

Summary information about these regulations is available at the Department of Justice's Guide to Disability Rights Laws.