Our Guide to ADA Compliance and Existing Facilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA has a set of requirements that existing facilities must meet to stay compliant. However, they have confused many building owners or managers, who believe that ADA compliance applies only to new construction or modifications. They think their buildings are exempt because they existed before the ADA’s enactment. As a result, they believe that their facilities do not need to be accessible.

The ADA states that older buildings must remove barriers that impede accessibility. It is also crucial to understand the circumstances that call for barrier removal to implement ADA compliance. Here’s what you need to know:

The ADA Compliance and Barrier Removal

The ADA is a federal statute that outlaws discrimination against those with disabilities. It has five titles, and Title III enforces the prohibition of discrimination by private entities that operate as commercial facilities and other places of public accommodation. That means all new construction and alterations to these places must comply with ADA’s requirements for accessible design.

Title III also states that public accommodation discrimination includes the “failure to remove architectural barriers…in existing facilities” unless it can be fully demonstrated that removing the barrier is “not readily achievable” or they can provide accommodations through other methods. It defines readily achievable as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” It also mentions factors that building owners must consider when determining if barrier removal is feasible, such as the financial resources of the facility, impact on its operation, the nature of the cost of the barrier removal, and more.

Examples of Removing Barriers

The United States Department of Justice or DOJ develops and implements the regulations that enforce ADA compliance. It stipulates in the Title III regulations different examples of ways building managers and owners can remove barriers that impede access to those with disabilities. These examples include paving curb cuts to sidewalks and entrances, widening doors, using accessible hardware on doors, rearranging furniture, increasing toilet partitions to make more space for maneuvering, removing high pile, low-density carpets, and more.

The regulations also specify the priorities facilities must consider when trying to meet the barrier removal requirements. These priorities include installing an entrance ramp, widening an entrance, or constructing accessible parking to places of public accommodation, changing the layout of display racks and moving tables to make goods and services more accessible to the public, and adding Braille or raised character signage.

The Safe Harbor Provision

The ADA Title III regulations contain a safe harbor provision. It states that a facility’s elements built or altered before March 15, 2012, that abide by the 1991 Standards are not required to change to meet the 2010 Standards. However, if a pre-existing element did not comply with the 1991 Standards before March 15, 2012, the component must be altered to meet the 2010 Standards to a readily achievable extent.

It’s important to note that this provision does not relate to elements in existing facilities that were excluded from the 1991 Standards but are currently regulated by the 2010 Standards. These particular elements must satisfy the 2010 Standards. Some features that are not covered by the safe harbor provision include amusement rides, play areas, residential facilities, recreational boat facilities, swimming pools, and golf facilities.


Ensuring a building meets ADA compliance has been a source of confusion for many owners and managers. However, it has provisions covering existing buildings to ensure they’re accessible to all, particularly those with disabilities. Having your building inspected by a professional will let you know if you’re fully compliant with the ADA or if you have further barriers to remove.

All Things Inspector carries specialty tools, like door gap gauges, and a custom line of ADA site survey equipment to ensure your building has ADA compliance and knee clearance. Check out our products today to get what you need to guarantee compliance!

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Merle Parkins

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