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ADA Compliance – How We Got Here

We often hear about “ADA compliant” signage, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not really the whole story on accessibility. ADA compliance – how we got here: the road to our present-day accessibility laws and codes is a tangled one that began nearly three a century ago.  Although many of the nuts and bolts of signage accessibility requirements have converged toward a single standard, it’s worth understanding how the pieces fit together.

Federal Legislation 

  • The ADA is civil rights law, ensuring equality on the basis of disability. Equal architectural access is just one part of the law, and it applies to state and local government facilities, transportation facilities, and certain public accommodations.
  • Architectural accessibility for federally funded facilities falls under an earlier law – The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA).

The Standards

  • The United States Access Board (and its precursors) writes the specifications for the application of equal access. For example, the allowable slope of a ramp, or the height of text on a sign.  These guidelines are the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines (ADA/ABAAG).

The Adopted Standards

  • Several different federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the ADA and ABA within their own area of authority, and each must officially adopt the Standards for them to apply.
  • For the ABA, this adoption established the ABA Accessibility Standard (ABAAS).
  • For the ADA, this adoption established the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADASAD)
  • Non-compliance with these adopted standards is resolved through litigation.

The Model Codes

  • Meanwhile, two organizations develop and publish national standards and model codes. The two organizations are American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Code Council (ICC). ANSI and ICC (and their precursors) also establish best practices and specifications. These specifications are not law but take the form of model codes which governing authorities can reference or adopt.
  • Historically these are updated with a new edition every few years, much quicker than the federal standards.

The Adopted Codes

  • Each state establishes its own building code, as do many smaller governments.
  • Many adopt a particular edition of ICC’s International Building Code (IBC) as law — with the result that different editions are in effect in different jurisdictions.
  • Others, most notably California, write their own code from scratch.
  • Non-compliance with these adopted building codes are resolved by the local Building Inspector.
The bottom line on ADA Compliance – how we got here? Depending on the type of project, “ADA compliant” signage must conform to the ABAAS or ADASAG, plus whatever building code your state or local municipality has adopted (IBC or otherwise). It is always recommended that you discuss your signage project with local authorities to assure your signage is compliant and meets the requirements. Park Place is here to help assist you with your questions concerning ADA compliance. Please use the resources found at or contact your sales representative to discuss your ADA questions.