Skip to content

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

August 7, 2011
The Americans with Disabilities Act, more commonly referred to as ADA, was signed into legislation on the 29 of July, 1990, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The legislation encompasses many things beyond Architecture, such as telecommunications and employment.
To add to the confusion of the ADA, most states have adopted there own version of the ADA, or as they are sometimes called, Barrier Codes. With multiple codes comes the chance that conflicts will arise. This requires the Architect to research both the federal and state codes to find the one that is the most stringent or restrictive. For the purposes of the ARE you should only be reviewing the ADA requirements not state or local requirements. Remember the ARE is a standardized national test, so it would not include any state or local requirements.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is enforced by the Justice Department, not the local building department. If the building department is reviewing a project for accessibility they are most likely reviewing compliance with local or state requirements. Because it is enforced by the Justice Department the only way to make someone comply with the code is to take them to court. This does not releave the Architect from the responsibility of complying with the code. As the Architect of a project you are to act in the interest of the Owner and uphold the safety of the general public.The Americans with Disabilities Act has many requirements that an Architect must meet, but it would be impractical for an ARE candidate to learn them all. Below I have provided a few of the more common requirements and the ones you are most likely to come across on the ARE.



Changes in Level (Section 303):

  1. Changes in level ¼ of less can be vertical.
  2. Changes in level between ¼” and ½” shall be beveled with a slope of 1:2 or less.
  3. At changes in level greater than ½” a ramp shall be provided.


Turning Space (Section 304):

  1. A turning space consisting of a 60” diameter circle should be provided to allow a wheelchair to turn around in every space, with the exception of closets. This 60” should be a clear space area, meaning nothing should be on the floor in that area and doors can not open into the turning space either. Note that a “T” shaped area is also acceptable, but the circular shape works best for the design vignettes.


Reach Ranges (Section 308):

  1. There are several reach ranges listed in the ADA, but the most common one would be unobstructed forward and side reaches. The lowest height is 15” and the highest is 48”


Accessible Route (Section 403):

  1. An accessible route is a pathway that allows for a person in a wheel chair to access all the spaces in a building. A clear width of 36” min shall be provided through-out the building. This dimension can be shortened to 32” but only for a length of 2’.


Doors (Section 404):

  1. The minimum width of a doors shall be 32” clear. Note that this is the open space provided when the door is open 90 degrees not the width of the door. When placing doors in the vignettes I would recommending using a 36” door as it is the most common.
  2. On the pull side of the door provide 18” clearance.
  3. On the push side of the door provide 12” clearance.
  4. If doors are provided in a series, for example on either side of a corridor, they are to be 48” apart min.


Ramps (Section 405):

  1. Ramps shall have a slope of no greater that 1:12 meaning for every 12” in the length of the ramp the max vertical distance you can have is 1”.
  2. Ramps shall have landings at the top an bottom of the ramp. They shall be a minimum of 60”x60”
  3. The clear width of the ramp, meaning the width between the handrails, shall be 36” minimum.
  4. The maximum rise in any length of ramp shall be 30” maximum. After 30” you would need to provide a landing. A landing shall be a minimum of 60” x 60”


Handrails (Section 505):

  1. All handrails shall be 34” to 38” measured from the walking surface to the top of the handrail.
  2. A 1 ½” clearance shall be provided between the wall and the handrail.
  3. The cross section of a handrail shall be 1 ¼” min and 2” max.
  4. Handrails at a ramp shall extend 12” min from the top and bottom of the ramp.
  5. Handrails at the top of a stair shall extend 12” beyond the top stair nosing.
  6. Handrails shall extend min one tread length beyond the bottom tread.
  7. Handrails shall return to the wall.



There are many other requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act, I would recommend downloading the latest requirements and spending no more than an hour looking over the document. If you have a solid understanding of the above requirements you should be fine.



Good luck on your next exam!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: