ADA and Construction

Prior to 1990, a wheelchair-bound person would have been hard-pressed to access most public places.  With no elevators, no ramps, and no bathrooms big enough to accommodate a wheelchair in most public places, going out was a huge hassle at best and impossible at worst.  All of this changed with the institution of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandated that all privately owned places open to the public must be easily accessible to people with disabilities.

Building codes issued since then reflect these changes, and any new construction work must follow ADA guidelines.  As one might imagine, entirely new facilities are subject to these new rules, but “new construction work” includes not only new facilities, but any modification or alteration work on pre-ADA buildings, as well.  For instance, if an old restaurant wants to remodel its bathroom, the new bathroom must be handicap-accessible, even if the old one wasn’t.  Like with any other building codes, the DOB will not issue permits for project plans that fail to follow ADA guidelines.  Finished work found to be in violation after the fact will not only receive fines and penalties, but be subject to litigation.

In addition, the statute applies to a certain extent to pre-ADA facilities that haven’t undergone any recent construction work, as well.  Technically, regardless of when they were built, pre-ADA buildings have an obligation to “remove architectural barriers” that might impede a person’s access, such as multiple stories only accessible by stairs.  However, this is not a hard and fast rule, and the obligation only applies when it is “readily achievable” to make such changes.  In many circumstances, making changes to comply with the ADA is practical from neither an architectural nor financial standpoint.  Whether a pre-ADA facility is obligated or not, then, depends on individual circumstances.  It would be unreasonable, for instance, to expect a small business to install an elevator, whereas a large corporation could easily do so.  In these cases, the facility is not expected to comply with the ADA in full, but to make accommodations as much as is reasonably possible.