Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark law that ensures equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities. Over the past two decades, the ADA has changed the American landscape by improving access to the built environment, programs and services, employment, transportation, and communication for all citizens, including those with disabilities. Since barriers to access stem not only from attitudes and practices but design as well, the ADA established accessibility requirements for buildings and transit systems.
Access Board Rulemaking
The ADA greatly expanded the Access Board's mission and audience. The Board is responsible for developing and keeping up to date the design requirements of the ADA, which apply to a wide range of facilities in the public and private sectors. In 1991 on the first anniversary of the ADA, the Board issued the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for buildings and facilities and followed up shortly after with guidelines for transit vehicles, including buses, vans, and rail cars.
Since that time, the Board has maintained a busy and varied agenda supplementing and updating ADAAG. The Board has issued new guidelines, many the first of their kind, to address access to courthouses and prisons, children's environments and play areas, and various types of recreation facilities, such as swimming pools. New guidelines are in development that will address access to outdoor environments, streets and sidewalks, and passenger vessels. The Board also conducted a comprehensive update of the original ADAAG and is proceeding to update the vehicle guidelines.
"The Board works very hard to set guidelines that are clear, effective, and fair," notes David Capozzi, the Board's Executive Director. "The input and expertise of advocacy organizations, industry, code groups, and consumers, among others, have had a tremendous impact on the work of the Board." The Board's guidelines, like other Federal regulations, are developed under a process that invites public comment. Further, the Board often organizes an advisory committee of stakeholders and interested parties at the outset of a rulemaking to develop consensus recommendations on the substance and structure of a rule. According to Capozzi, these expert panels have been extremely helpful to the Board in crafting new guidelines.
Under the ADA, the Board has promoted accessibility through cooperative partnerships with codes and standards organizations in the U.S. and abroad. As a result, access requirements of the ADA, model building codes, and industry standards have been largely harmonized. "Consistency among codes and standards goes a long way in improving accessibility and compliance," states Marsha Mazz, who serves as the Board's liaison to the codes and standards community. "Harmonization makes sense, is good public policy, and benefits everyone." The ADA has also made the U.S. a global leader in accessibility. Many countries interested in implementing similar protections and design requirements have consulted the Board and other Federal agencies involved in the ADA.
The Board's work under the ADA is not limited to writing guidelines. On a daily basis, the Board provides technical assistance and training to the public on the ADA guidelines and accessible design. For the past two decades, the Board has operated a toll-free hotline to provide technical guidance to architects, designers, manufactures, code officials, advocates, and others. Over that period of time, the Board has answered over 270,000 technical inquiries, including those sent in by email and fax. The Board also regularly provides training on its guidelines at different events and venues across the country. Since the ADA became law, the Board has conducted over 1,500 programs and has provided training to over 140,000 people.
Other laws following the ADA have further expanded the Board's mission. Under the Rehabilitation Amendments Act (Section 508) and the Telecommunications Act, the Board has issued accessibility requirements for electronic and information technologies and telecommunications products. Most recently, the Board has been tasked with writing new standards for medical diagnostic equipment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Board believes that the best way it can honor the ADA is by advancing the work that remains to be done, including its rulemaking agenda. Recent or upcoming Board activities include:
ADA Celebrations and Initiatives by Other Agencies
Other agencies have undertaken initiatives to honor and advance the ADA: