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Guide to the ADA Standards

Application [§201]

The ADA Standards apply to the various types of facilities subject to the ADA, from simple structures to complex, multi-building sites such as university campuses and airports. Requirements in the standards apply to both exterior and interior spaces and elements provided on a site, usually without distinction. Provisions for parking, for example, apply equally to exterior lots and to parking garages. The standards cover permanent facilities and temporary facilities (other than those used in construction), such as reviewing stands, stages, portable toilets, and temporary classrooms.

In new construction, all areas must be fully accessible, including multiple spaces of the same type, unless otherwise specified. Areas not required to be fully accessible include:

  • certain limited-use or raised spaces that are exempt (§203)

  • employee work areas (partial access) (§203.9)

  • spaces covered by scoping provisions that require only a specified portion of the total number to comply, such as dressing rooms and patient bedrooms (various provisions in Chapter 2)

Example: Retail Facility

retail icon

This example of a retail facility shows how scoping requirements for certain elements and spaces (sales counters and fitting rooms) apply and indicates employee work areas.

Plan of a retail facility with a sales floor, rows of fitting rooms, toilet room, and the following areas highlighted as employee work areas: area behind sales counters, office, stock room, and loading dock. Figure notes: Sales Counters (§227) Access is required to at least 1 of each type of sales counter provided. If counters are dispersed throughout a facility, accessible counters also must be dispersed. Fitting Rooms (§222) Access is required to at least 5% (but no less than 1) of each type of use in each cluster. Toilet Rooms (§213) Public use and common use toilet rooms, including employee restrooms, must comply. Employee Work Areas (§203.9) Partial access is required to areas used only by employees for work (worker side of sales counters, offices, stock room, and loading dock).

Example: Clinical Suite

medical symbol

This facility includes public and common use areas and employee work areas.

Floor plan of clinical suites with waiting area, exam rooms and doctors’ offices, mechanical rooms (exempt space), dressing rooms, toilet rooms, break rooms, and highlighted as employee work areas: reception/files area, nurses’ station, and janitor’s closet. Figure notes: Public Use Spaces (§201) – waiting area - Full access to public use areas, including waiting areas and corridors Exam Rooms and Offices (§201 and §203.9) All exam rooms and offices used by the public must be accessible, but elements within these rooms that are used only by employees for work are not required to comply. Mechanical Room (§203.5) Exempt Space Employee Work Areas (§203.9) Partial access to areas used only by employees for work (reception/ file areas, nurses’ station, and janitor’s closet) Dressing Rooms (§222) Access is required to at least 5% (but no less than 1) of each type of use in each cluster. Toilet Rooms (§213) Access is required to all public and employee toilet rooms (or no more than 50% of single user toilet rooms for each use at each cluster). Common Use (Non-Work) Areas (§201) Full access to break rooms and to other employee areas not used for work purposes

Exception Based on Structural Impracticability in DOJ’s 2010 ADA Standards and DOT's ADA Regulations

DOJ’s 2010 ADA Standards and DOT's ADA regulations specify that full compliance is not required in new construction in rare circumstances where unique characteristics of terrain make the incorporation of accessibility features “structurally impracticable.” In such a case, the new construction requirements apply except where the responsible entity can demonstrate that it is structurally impracticable to meet those requirements. This exception is very narrow and should not be used in cases of merely hilly terrain.

Even in those circumstances where the exception applies, portions of a facility that can be made accessible must still be made accessible. In addition, access must be provided for individuals with other types of disabilities, even if it may be structurally impracticable to provide access to individuals who use wheelchairs.

This exception is found in DOJ’s 2010 Standards at §35.151(a) for title II and §36.401(c) for title III and in DOT’s ADA regulations at §37.41(b).


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