Reading between the lines: How to approach the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

The ADA is unlike any other building code – because although it reads like one, it is not actually a building code. It is a civil rights law.

We the People

This makes a huge difference, because it is not all black and white; it can be very grey. Instead of just following the letter of the regulations, you must also follow the spirit of the law. The first line of the ADA states “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation…” So, just because something is not explicitly addressed in the ADA standards, it does not mean that element is not required to comply. You must decide if the element could somehow be a barrier to access – otherwise you risk alienating your customers  and opening yourself up to costly litigation.

For example, there is currently no explicit requirement for ‘bed-shakers’ in hotels, but according to the 2010 ADA Standards, hotels must provide “effective communication” to all its patrons or it is discriminating. What were to happen if the fire alarm should go off, and the strobe is not enough to wake a sleeping deaf person?

Built-up curb ramp inside access aisle.

Built-up curb ramp inside access aisle.

Another example is a built-up curb ramp in an accessible parking space access aisle. There is no explicit prohibition against it, but it would violate the requirement for a level access aisle/parking space, making the access aisle/parking space non-compliant.


A good rule of thumb is, “If an able-bodied person can do or experience something in your facility, a person with disabilities should be able to do or have a similar experience as independently as possible.”

If you approach accessible design with this rule in mind, you will be making judgments based on the spirit of the law. You will be better serving your customers, and you are much more likely to be in compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards.





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