Engineers, Architects and the ADA

From our work with other professionals, including experts and attorneys, there appears to be some confusion over “ADA.” Many times, the acronym, “ADA” is generically used to refer to handicap accessibility, and usually that accessibility is thought of as wheelchair accessibility. So what exactly is “ADA?”

Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines

ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA is a federal civil law that was signed into legislation on July 26, 1990, and its primary purpose is to prevent discrimination of those with disabilities. The Act not only includes requirements for architectural design, but also includes requirements for employment, communication, and discrimination. Forensic engineers and architects are primarily involved in the 2004 Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) which provides requirements for architectural design. Note: the 2004 ADAAG is the most recent update.

Here are a few important items to remember about the 2004 ADAAG:

  1. The ADAAG is not a building code. It is a federal civil law enforced by the Department of Justice.
  2. Building code officials do not review construction drawings for ADAAG compliance.
  3. Generally speaking, the ADAAG is only applicable to places of public accommodations, including but not limited to, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, theaters, parks, schools, gyms, etc. ADAAG is also applicable to commercial facilities that may not necessarily accommodate the public, such as a factory. Federal facilities are not covered by the ADAAG but are covered under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) which has requirements similar to those in the ADAAG.
  4. ADAAG is not applicable to private residential structures such as single family houses, condominiums, and apartments. Multi-family housing in the private and public sectors are subject to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
  5. ADAAG is not applicable to places of worship such as churches.

The ADAAG addresses not only wheelchair accessibility but also provides design guidelines for the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, and those with physical impairments such as those who have lost use of their extremities.

Americans with disabilities act accessibility Guidelines

Figure 1: ADAAG protruding object requirements for the visually impaired. (


The ADA is only applicable to those who have a physical or mental impairment. The website states:

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others has having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Because the ADA is only applicable to individuals with a physical or mental impairment, violations of the ADAAG may not necessarily be applicable when, let’s say, evaluating the slip and fall of an otherwise healthy adult.

If you have a slip, trip and fall or workman’s comp case where the physical trauma was allegedly caused by violations of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, call the professionals at Western Engineering immediately: 303-757-4000. We can help!


Read more about this author: Jeremy A. Kozik, AIA, NCARB, LEED GA, Architect

Jeremy Kozik
WERC  Architect, Structural Dept.



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