“According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2005 there were 25,780,576 physically handicapped people in the United States.  Physically handicapped is defined, in this survey, as an individual who has substantial limitations for the ability to walk, climb stairs, reach, lift or carry due to a physical condition.” Answers.com

Sixty years ago, there were no accessibility laws in the United States. Disabled people were categorized as “sick” and routinely hospitalized in convalescent homes.  There was no social policy for the disabled… 

While the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not address accessibility, it became the model for future legislation.  Over years, there have been changes expanding the requirements for accessibility from Federal facilities to public facilities and commercial accommodations.


The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (“ABA”), was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The ABA requires that facilities designed, built, altered, or leased (writer’s emphasis) with funds supplied by the United States Federal Government be accessible to the public. The ABA marks an early effort to ensure that federally funded buildings and facilities are designed and constructed to be accessible to people with disabilities. Facilities that predate the law generally are not covered, but alterations or leases undertaken after the law was passed must comply.

The Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) establish the requirements for Federal faculties and are based a compilation of standards directly developed under the ABA and also on standards developed under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act was established in the late 1980’s and became law in 1990. Its standards generally govern accessibility in both Federal and non-Federal property. The agency governing the Federal standards is the United States Access Board.

The American with Disabilities Act was a landmark law, covering all public accommodations and commercial facilities. Its standards document was the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), now referred to as the ADA Standards for Accessible Design enforced by the U. S Justice Department. 

The Federal Housing Act was included as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 became law in 1989. The design requirements apply to all multifamily dwellings built for first occupancy after March13, 1991, which include: 1. All dwelling units in buildings containing four or more dwelling units if such buildings have one or more elevators, and 2. All ground floor dwelling units in other buildings containing four or more units.

The Amendments expand coverage of Title VIII to prohibit discriminatory housing practices based on disability1 and familial status. Now it is unlawful to deny the rental or sale of a dwelling unit to a person because that person has a disability.

As a protected class, people with disabilities are unique in at least one respect, because they are the only minority that can be discriminated against solely by the design of the built environment. The Fair Housing Act remedies that in part by establishing design and construction requirements for multifamily housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991. The law provides that a failure to design and construct certain multifamily dwellings to include certain features of accessible design will be regarded as unlawful discrimination. The Fair Housing Act including the accessibility requirements is administered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Information from the Forward of the Fair Housing Act Design Manual

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a non-governmental organization originally formed in 1919 to establish engineering standards to be applied to industrial operations).  In 1961 ANSI issued Standard A117.1.  Eventually the standard was rewritten so that it could be adopted by a building code to provide access requirements for the code’s jurisdiction 

The International Code Council (ICC) was established in 1994 as a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes.  Several organizations came together under the leadership of the Council of American Building Officials (COBA) and the latest version of the ANSI A117.1 Standard is now part of the ICC’s International Building Code (IBC).

It should be noted that the IBC has no enforcement ability on its own.  Various states and other jurisdictions have adopted the IBC to either become or replace the building code of record.  In that case the ANSI A117.1 becomes the regulation of standing.

California is one of the first states to have created its own accessibility laws. There is a misconception that accessibility is required only since 1982 when the accessibility provisions were adopted into the California Building Code (Title 24).  However, in California, publicly funded buildings have required access since 1968. Privately funded buildings have required access since 1970.  The current Accessibility Code is administrated by the Division of the State Architect.

Much of the information is taken from “The History Overview of State and Federal Disability Access Laws and Regulations” by Richard Skaff and Peter Margen,



My next post will discuss how accessibility reviews are currently handled within the context of real estate due diligence, particularly through Property Condition Reports