What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law passed by Congress in 1990. It was created to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA restricts discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including workplaces, schools, transportation, and all public and private spaces that are open to the general public (“An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act“, 2018).

Design Standards for ADA

The Department of Justice published ADA regulations in July 1991 which were used until 2011. On March 14, 2011,  the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design went into effect. These standards dictate ADA requirements in building design such as maneuvering clearance, water closet clearances and center lines, handrail requirements, and much more. ADA Title III regulations state that path of travel areas, such as aisles and other pedestrian passages, must be a continuous and unobstructed. New construction or altered facilities must comply with the accessibility standards. When readily achievable, existing facilities must remove any structural barriers to accessing or travelling within a space. Examples include widening doors, adding ramps, installing grab bars in restrooms, creating accessible parking, etc.

Exemptions to ADA Standards

ADA exemptions are given at the discretion of the jurisdiction in which the project is located. Typically ADA exemptions are requested on behalf of historic properties or projects with a minimal scope of work. Keep in mind that exemptions are taken into consideration by the local building department and are not a fixed instance.

Penalties and Non-Compliance

Facilities that do not comply with ADA standards may face certain penalties from the Department of Justice (DOJ) such as a monetary fee. [The ADA lists enforcement cases from 2006 to present online.] One example of an ADA enforcement case is a settlement agreement with Jo-Ann Stores, a popular retailer of crafts and fabrics.

JoAnn Store; St. Petersburg, FL

In 2006 the DOJ opened an investigation on Jo-Ann’s due to complaints from customers regarding violations of Title III. The customers alleged that there were architectural barriers for wheelchair users such as inaccessible store entrances and cluttered aisles. After an investigation of several Jo-Ann Stores, the DOJ determined that the barriers did in fact exist and concluded that Jo-Ann’s violated the ADA’s requirements. In cooperating with the DOJ, Jo-Ann’s reached a settlement in which they would need to take necessary measures to survey and remove all barriers from stores within a designated time-frame. Jo-Ann’s was required to hire an ADA consultant, implement new nationwide policies, pay $2,000 to plaintiffs, and take further measures to comply with the agreement. If conditions were not met in the timeline provided, they would be liable to pay large civil penalties.

Get an ADA Expert

ADA compliance is typically reviewed by the local jurisdiction during a building review. The architect handling a project’s design is responsible for designing with disabled access and ADA requirements in mind. Permit Advisors often works as a mediator between the architect and plan reviewer to ensure that ADA compliance needs are both met and satisfying the client’s and jurisdiction’s needs. Even with predatory lawsuits at an all-time high, there are ways to protect yourself. The best way is to hire an expert!


An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act. (October, 2018). ADA National Network. Retrieved from https://adata.org/factsheet/ADA-overview

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? (October, 2018). ADA National Network. Retrieved from https://adata.org/learn-about-ada

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. (September, 2010). Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm