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Making Sure Government Buildings Are ADA Compliant

The essence of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance is removing barriers to accessibility that amount to discrimination.

Essentially, state and local government facilities must follow Title II of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to be in full compliance. The standards for removing barriers to accessibility include four different priorities to be addressed, from most to least important:

  1. Access to places of public accommodation from public sidewalks, parking or public transportation by, for example, installing an entrance ramp, widening an entrance, or creating accessible parking
  2. Making goods and services available to the public by, for example, changing the layout of display racks, moving tables, or using Braille or raised character signage
  3. Making public restrooms accessible
  4. Any other measures necessary to make a place of public accommodation accessible

There is a website that provides an interactive comprehensive checklist for ADA compliance, and the ADA itself states that the existence of an implementation plan may be evidence of “good faith effort to comply.” It would be worthwhile for a city to go through the checklist and get a better idea of what would be required for compliance.

Note that Title III of the regulations, which applies to private businesses offering public accommodations, includes both a “safe harbor” for certain buildings based on when they were upgraded and a “readily achievable” exception that would exclude some required accommodations.

However, I have not found any authority that would apply these workarounds to Title II, which applies to government buildings. Therefore, I conclude that government buildings must be upgraded to the 2010 standards, completely and without exception, to be in compliance.

Still, Section 35.150, which applies to existing facilities, provides that a public entity is not required to take any action that would result in “a fundamental alteration in the nation of a service, program, or activity” or “in undue financial and administrative burdens.”

If the decision is made that compliance would result in such burdens, the head of the public entity or his designee must consider all resources available and then make a written statement of reasons for reaching that conclusion. And, the public entity must take any other action that would not be unduly burdensome and nevertheless ensure that disabled persons receive the benefits of the programs or services.

For example, if a city deemed an elevator installation in a particular building to be beyond its budget, it could provide a statement with such an explanation.

The statement would explain why installing an elevator is unduly burdensome financially and administratively. The statement could continue to explain the other steps that have been taken to provide access and accommodations for all persons to use a public facility.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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