ADA Accessibility – What is it and WHY?


In honor of the 26th anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), I wanted to take a little time to discuss the importance of the ADA legislation and its effect on tenants and landlords in the California construction and real estate industry.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, updated in 2010 and 2013 and is soon to be updated again in 2016 by the state of California.  It covers the following items concerning public facilities and access:

  • Paths of Travel (from street to building and from ADA parking to building)
  • Disabled parking stalls
  • Sidewalks and walkways
  • Curb cut and pedestrian ramps, handrails, guardrails and stair sets
  • Building entrances, corridors, rooms, service counters, and restrooms
  • Drinking fountains, elevators, signage and so much more!

Generally, what this means is all new construction must comply with these standards and if you own or lease an existing space that is not in compliance with the most current ADA act, it must be brought up to code if you choose to remodel the space and pull a permit.  It is important to understand that regardless of any kind of mental or physical disability or limitations, all Americans deserve the same level of access to public facilities and should not be denied these rights.  Unfortunately, some circumstances of the ADA legislation can be another example of California Lobbyists and Lawmakers trying to make a difference in society and passing laws that are not quite fully understood or completely misinterpreted at local levels, and that don’t actually help the people they are serving.

In this two-part blog, I would like to go over the two most important ADA accessibility issues –EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR  – plaguing existing buildings.  What they mean, how they are interpreted, and some costs associated with them.

PATH OF TRAVEL All paths of travel must be in compliance in order for someone to enter the building from the exterior.  This includes an accessible path of travel from the public street or right away and an accessible path of travel from the ADA parking stalls.  The path of travel from the public street or right away to the main entrance of the building must be accessible in case the person with disabilities needs to utilize public transportation. This requires a sidewalk or curb ramp to have a slope of no more that 4.5% in the downhill direction with no handrail or an 8.33% slope in the downhill direction with a handrail.  It also requires no more than 2% in cross slope (across the width of the sidewalk or curb ramp).  Those requirements are also present from the ADA parking stalls to the main entrance of the building, but there must also be the additional application of truncated domes warning sight impaired people they are entering a vehicular route from a pedestrian walkway.  The proper ADA parking signage and striping is also required, mounted at the mandated ADA height and widths per the 2013 code.

Path of travel can be very expensive – from the addition of truncated domes (>$10,000) to a complete remodel of the path of travel from the parking stalls ($35,000 to $150,000) or to the path of travel to the street (can be upwards of $150,000)  It is important to understand your local governments requirements because each city has a different interpretation of the state law.  Also – there are different opportunities in different cities to take advantage of “variances” where if the cost of the tenant improvements you are constructing fall below a certain amount (usually under $120,000) – you are only required to perform ADA upgrades that equal 20% of the value of the permitted construction.  Generally, cities require that any upgrades begin from the exterior of the space unless there is an existing condition that makes it impossible to perform.

Most existing buildings constructed before 2010 do not apply and there was a revision to the 2010 Act published in 2013 that changes the size and the application of the truncated domes so anything before 2013 not upgraded, must be done in order to be in compliance.

Stay tuned for the next blog regarding INTERIOR ADA ACCESSIBILITY.