New construction must be accessible with few exceptions

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design specify that any facility or part of a facility that is intended for public use must be accessible if construction began after January 26, 1992. The only exceptions are in cases in which it can be demonstrated that full compliance would be "structurally impracticable." In those cases, builders must still accommodate persons with disabilities to the greatest degree possible.

Elevators are not required in facilities that are less than three stories or have less than 3,000 square feet per story, except in the case of shopping centers, professional offices of a health care provider, or transportation depots. Those facilities must provide accessible routes from an accessible entrance.

In the case of dual-use facilities that have both commercial and residential uses, the requirements apply only to the commercial portion of the facility.

Alterations have slightly different standards

The same rules apply to alterations but are somewhat more complex. The ADA defines alterations as including but not limited to "remodeling, renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, changes or rearrangement in structural parts or elements, and changes or rearrangement in the plan configuration of walls and full-height partitions."

In the case of historic properties, the ADA says people with disabilities should be accommodated to the maximum extent feasible subject to "path of travel" requirements. The path of travel refers to the route a person must take to reach the "primary function" of the facility, such as seating in a theater, as well as restrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains. It applies to walks, sidewalks, curb and other interior or exterior pedestrian ramps; floor paths through lobbies, corridors, rooms, parking access aisles and elevators/lifts.

Exemptions apply if the cost of alterations necessary to make the path of travel total more than 20% of the total alteration cost. In those cases, builders and remodelers may be exempt from ADA rules if they make the path of travel "accessible to the extent that it can be made accessible without incurring disproportionate costs." Facilities that are designated as historic under state or local laws must comply "to the maximum extent feasible."

Where are the rules for places of lodging?

Different standards apply to transient lodging facilities depending upon the number of rooms. For example, there are specific requirements for the number of rooms with mobility features, with and without roll-in showers. Group homes, halfway houses, shelters, or similar social service center establishments must comply with the 2010 standards applicable to residential facilities, which include the requirement to provide lifts and accessible parking doorways and mailboxes, among other things.

Certain facilities used for transient lodging, including time shares, dormitories, and town homes may also be covered by the Fair Housing Act, which requires that certain residential structures having four or more multi-family dwelling units adhere to accessible and adaptable design. Property owners and builders should consult related documentation for further information.

What are the guidelines for arenas and stadiums?

Assembly areas need to provide permanent wheelchair spaces and companion seats on all levels. In the case of stadium-sound movie theaters, wheelchair spaces and companion seats must be located within the rear 60% of the seats and with certain required viewing angles.

Helpful resources for new construction and alterations accessibility