Take a Test    Article Library    CEEJ Home    Submit an Article     Contact CEEJ

Article # 0011


By Terry Dyson, PE

 Does a professional engineer have responsibility for compliance with accessibility standards?


 ABA, ADA, ADAAG, FHA and the USAB are not initials for sports teams, television stations, television networks or cable networks.  These initials are acronyms for Federal acts and standards that govern the built environment for accessibility of persons with disabilities. 

 ABA -  Architectural Barriers Act

The ABA, Architectural Barriers Act, was enacted in 1968.  The ABA requires access to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with Federal funds.  The ABA was one of the first acts to establish accessibility standards.

The act established that standards should be created for the design, construction, and alteration of Federal buildings, structures, and facilities including facilities for the Department of Defense and for the United States Postal Service to insure whenever possible that physically handicapped persons will have ready access to, and use of, such Federal buildings including Federal buildings built or altered or leased in part or whole after August 12, 1968. 

 FHA  -  Fair Housing Act

 The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 to prohibited discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion and national origin. The act was amended in 1974 to prohibit discrimination in housing based on sex.  The act was amended in 1988 to prohibit discrimination against people because of disability and because of familial status - the presence of children under the age of 18.  The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

The design and construction standards of the Fair Housing Act apply to covered multifamily dwellings designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991.  A covered multifamily dwelling unit is generally a single-family unit in buildings with four or more units. 

USAB  -  United States Access Board

Due to a lack of compliance and federal standards for the ABA, Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 created the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) to establish standards for and compliance with the ABA.  The ATBCB was later renamed the United State Access Board (USAB) or for short the Access Board.

The accessibility standards were established as the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS).  Four Federal agencies are responsible for the ABA standards: the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service.

ADA -  Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-336 (Public Law 101 of the 101st Congress), was enacted on July 26, 1990.

The ADA established federal standards to prohibit discrimination and ensure equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, government services (state and local), transportation, public accommodations and telecommunications (TDD/telephone relay services).

The rules and regulations of the ADA are enforced by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Transportation (DOT). 

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design were printed in the Code of Federal Regulations on July 1, 1994, as 28 CFR Part 36, revised July 1, 1994.   The regulation prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in "places of public accommodation" (businesses and non-profit agencies that serve the public) and "commercial facilities" (other businesses). The regulation includes Appendix A to Part 36 - Standards for Accessible Design establishing minimum standards for ensuring accessibility when designing and constructing a new facility or altering an existing facility.

In the built environment, design professionals, contractors and building owners have to be aware of the standards, rules and regulations of the ADA in regards to public accommodations and commercial facilities and to comply with these rules and regulations.  The accepted definition for public accommodation is any establishment or business that invites the public to enter the structure that houses the establishment or business such as restaurants, casinos, theaters, bars, hotels, motels, office buildings, service stations, lumber yards, public agency or government buildings (non-Federal except as stipulated) and any other such business.  If the public is invited to the facility to buy at, sell at, meet at, play at, eat at or stay at, then the facility is a public accommodation and the ADA applies.   

What areas of a facility have to comply with the ADA?  Parking, access to the building, common areas in the building such as interior routes and public gathering areas (sales areas, eating areas, restrooms and other such common areas).  The ADA states that covered facilities must accommodate disabled patrons by changing policies and practices, providing auxiliary aids and improving physical accessibility.

ADAAG  -  ADA Accessibility Guidelines

The United States Access Board (a federal agency established in 1973 to ensure access to federally funded facilities) developed the guidelines that were issued as the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities or the ADAAG for short.  The ADAAG serves as the basis for standards used to enforce the design requirements of the ADA.  The ADA standards are enforced by the DOJ and DOT.  The ADAAG were originally published on July 26, 1991 (28 CFR Pat 36, Appendix A). 

The ADAAG details accessibility requirements and guidelines for parking, access routes to the building, access routes in the building, restrooms, meeting areas and other common areas within covered buildings.  The ADAAG also references standards published by ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and the ICC (International Code Council).

The ADAAG has been amended through 2002.  The Access Board has issued revisions to the Accessibility Guidelines for the ADA and the ABA which were published on July 23, 2004.  The new guidelines encompass a total of 304 printed pages.  The date for the incorporation of the new guidelines into the ADA standards has not yet been determined.

The Accessibility Standards and the Professional Engineers

In the design and construction process, there is involvement by the building owner, architect, professional engineers, the contractor and the contractor’s subcontractors. 

Building owners have to be aware of the standards, for the building owner is ultimately responsible for their building to comply with the accessibility standards.  Most building owners depend on their design professionals to know and comply with design standards and codes including accessibility standards.   

The contractor and the contractor’s subcontractors have to be aware that their construction has to comply with the accessibility standards even if not visible such as installation of backer in walls for anchoring of grab bars.

Many professional engineers believe that the accessibility standards apply only to architects to comply with which is not the case.  Professional engineers have to be cognizant of accessibility standards such as audible and visible alarm requirements, access routing across a site, access to buildings and other such requirements that the accessibility standards have established.  Professional engineers are professionally responsible to incorporate the accessibility standards into their designs for buildings that are required to comply with the accessibility standards. 

If a professional engineer fails to incorporate the federal accessibility standards into the professional engineer’s design, such omission can be enforced in Federal court with potentially severe consequences.  As the old adage states:  “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” 

State Requirements

Many states have established state statues for accessibility standards for facilities and buildings constructed in their state.  The professional engineer should consult with each state in which he is actively providing professional services to determine if there are additional state mandated accessibility standards established by that state that he is required to incorporate into his design(s).

The State of Texas has the Architectural Barriers Act and the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS) which is enforced by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.  Professional engineers providing engineering services in the State of Texas are required to comply with these accessibility standards if the standards apply to his design.

Available Information

All of the agencies maintain contact telephone numbers and web sites to provide information and copies of the standards and acts.  The design professional should avail himself of the information available.  The written standards should be the basis for answers to the design professional’s questions.  

Information may be obtained from:

ADA:                           www.ada.gov

ADA Hotline:              1-800-514-0301  (Voice)

                                    1-800-514-0383  (TTY)

 Access Board:          www.access-board.gov

Access Board:          1-800-872-2253  (Voice)

                                    1-800-993-2822  (TTY)

                                    1-202-272-0081  (Fax)

 FHA:                           www.fairhousingfirst.org

FHA Hotline:              1-888-341-7781  (Voice/TTY)

HUD UFAS Hotline:  1-800-872-2253

 TAS:                           www.license.state.tx.us

1-877-278-0999 X 42133 (Toll Free in Texas)
1-512-463-3211 X 42133
1-512-475-2886 FAX
1-800-735-2989 (Relay Texas - TDD)


The information utilized in this writing was obtained from information contained in the following web sites.





Article # 0011         TEST QUESTIONS:

1.   The Fair Housing Act originally prohibited discrimination in housing based on what? 

  1. Race, color, sex, and religion

  2. Disability, race, religion and sex.

  3. Race, color, religion, and national origin.

  4. The credit rating of the lessee.

2.   When was the ADA enacted?

  1. July 4, 1776.

  2. December 24, 1994

  3. July 26, 1990.

  4. January 1, 2000


3.   Which federal agency is responsible for the ADA Standards for Accessible Design?

  1. HUD

  2. DOJ

  3. ATFE

  4. ADA


   4.   In what year was the federal ABA (Architectural Barriers Act) enacted?

  1. 1968

  2. 1978

  3. 1988

  4. 1998

5.   The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in?

  1. Apartment Buildings

  2. Commercial Facilities

  3. Residences

  4. All of the above

6.   What was the original name for the (USAB) United States Access Board?

  1. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board

  2. Americans with Disabilities Access Board

  3. Disabilities Access Board

  4. Accessibility Standards Board


 7.   A covered multi-family dwelling per the FHA is described as a single-family unit with?

  1. Two units

  2. Three units

  3. Four or more units

  4. None of the above

8.   In what year was the Fair Housing Act amended to prohibit discrimination against people because of disability?

  1. 1968

  2. 1988

  3. 1994

  4. 1795

9.   Whom should the professional engineer consult with to determine the requirements of the standards?

  1. The standards.

  2. The agency web sites.

  3. A colleague.

  4. All of the above


 10.   Who is responsible for compliance for the accessibility standards?

  1. Architect

  2. Contractor

  3. Professional engineer

  4. All of the above

Take a Test    Article Library    CEEJ Home    Submit an Article     Contact CEEJ