About the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Summary: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) calls for many aspects of the built environment to be accessible to people with disabilities. The requirements for making that happen are found in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. People often wonder where these 2010 Standards apply. Do they apply to parks? What about federal buildings? Or community colleges? In this article, we explore the broad range of places covered by these standards. We also touch briefly on how these standards are enforced and we give an overview of what’s in each chapter of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to publish ADA requirements that apply to the design of our built environment—things like office buildings, hospitals, sidewalks, and subways. These rules are published by the DOJ in a 10-chapter volume called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. They contain a great deal of specific requirements. (Although these standards are from 2010, as we publish this article in 2020, they are still the current standards.)

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design contains design and construction requirements that go with the ADA, which is a civil rights act. The 2010 Standards are not a building code—there is no plan review or permitting process that accompanies them. What they are is a detailed look at how to provide access for people with disabilities in the built environment.

Organizations, businesses, and government entities that are covered by the ADA are responsible for ensuring that these requirements are met. Because there is no approval process or other review certification, the 2010 Standards are enforced by complaints filed with federal agencies. They are also enforced through lawsuits filed by private individuals or the federal government.

Where do the 2010 Standards apply?

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design must be followed for the built environment of any area that the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) covers. This includes locations covered by Title II—anything government-related at a state or local level. (Federal facilities are covered by the Architectural Barriers Act.) This also includes everything that falls under Title III, which concerns most places where commerce takes place, which the ADA calls places of public accommodation.

Government-related facilities

It’s important to remember that Title II of the ADA covers all state and local government locations. Just one example is public schools. This includes elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, as well as public colleges and universities. It also includes places like public libraries, town playgrounds, county courthouses, and state prisons, and much more.

Places of public accommodation

Title III is about places of public accommodation, and it tells us that places of public accommodation may not discriminate against people with disabilities. A public accommodation is a business or nonprofit organization open to the public where commerce takes place. Examples are food courts, museums, and medical offices. Additional examples include daycare centers, private schools, eye doctors, laundromats, and aquariums.

Private transportation—such as a touring bus company, taxi service, or cruise line—also falls under the ADA. For example, locations like bus stops and stations, railway stations, and other transportation facilities must be accessible. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) issues ADA regulations related to Title II and III for transportation.


The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design do not apply to religious organizations and private clubs. Historically, these sorts of organizations have been exempt from federal civil rights laws, and the ADA has followed this precedent. However, these organizations still must follow any state or local access codes that apply. (With a private club, whether it is exempt from the ADA depends on its exclusiveness, operations, and other factors.)

For more information about where the 2010 Standards apply, consult Chapter 1: Using the ADA Standards, published by the US Access Board.

What’s in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design?

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design has 10 chapters. It looks at scoping requirements and technical requirements. For example, with accessible parking, a scoping requirement is how many spots must be available. As another example, a technical requirement says how wide these spots must be.

Here’s a quick look at what’s in each chapter.

Chapter 1: Application and Administration

This chapter has important general information, including these topics:

  • Equivalent facilitation: Equivalent facilitation is when you provide an alternative to what’s in the 2010 Standards that will result in the same—or a better—accessibility experience for people with disabilities.
  • Conventions: Information about dimensions, calculation of percentages, and tolerances.
  • Referenced standards: This gives the names of the standards referenced in the 2010 Standards. It also says where to find them. In some cases, it provides more detail about a standard.
  • Definitions: The 2010 Standards uses a lot of terms in a specific way. You’ll find definitions of everything from “accessible” to “work area equipment,” as well as “entrance,” “golf car passage,” and “use zone.”

Chapter 2: Scoping Requirements

In this chapter, find out the scoping requirements (how the Standards should be applied) to new construction and alterations to existing covered places. You’ll also find a list of general exceptions.

Chapter 3: Building Blocks

Learn about features that are key building blocks for accessibility. These include what the floor or ground surface should be like, and how to handle changes in level. They also include requirements to make the environment easier to move in and safer for everyone by defining such things as what is the minimum amount of turning space to provide so a person using a wheelchair can turn; or where and how an object can be in an accessible pathway so that a person who is blind can safely navigate around it.

Chapter 3 also discusses requirements for ensuring that important objects—such as a toilet, light switch, or door—are usable.

Terms that come up in Chapter 3 are changes in level, turning spaces, clear floor or ground space, and knee and toe clearance, as well as protruding objects, reach ranges, and operable parts.

Chapter 4: Accessible Routes

The previous chapter has some information about accessible routes, but Chapter 4 has more details. It covers walking surfaces, doorways, ramps, and curb ramps. It also has information about elevators and platform lifts.

Chapter 5: General Site and Building Elements

Look here for information about accessible parking spaces and passenger loading zones. Chapter 5 also talks about stairways and handrails.

Chapter 6: Plumbing Elements and Facilities

This chapter has design and usability requirements for plumbing fixtures like water fountains, toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and showers. It also has specifications for saunas and steam rooms. Plus, it also addresses washing machines and dryers.

Chapter 7: Communication Elements and Features

This chapter focuses on items in a building or site that communicate information or alerts. It has requirements to make this information detectable by people with sensory-related disabilities. It covers fire alarm systems, signs, telephones, detectable warnings, assistive listening systems, ATMs, and two-way communication systems.

Chapter 8: Special Rooms, Spaces and Elements

Read this chapter for information about many types of rooms and areas. It covers assembly areas, such as auditoriums. It has details on locker rooms and kitchens. It also discusses medical care and long-term care facilities, transient-lodging guest rooms, holding and housing cells, and courtrooms. And, it talks about residential dwelling units. It ends with information about transportation-related facilities, such as bus shelters and rail platforms.

Chapter 9: Built-In Elements

Chapter 9 has requirements for built-in items, such as surfaces for eating and working, as well as benches. You’ll also find details for checkout aisles and for sales and service counters, plus information about food service lines.

Chapter 10: Recreation Facilities

Access for recreation sites are covered in this chapter. It lays out requirements for swimming pools and amusement parks as well as amusement rides, recreational boating facilities, exercise machines and equipment, fishing piers and platforms, golf and miniature golf courses, play areas, swimming pools, wading pools, and spas. Plus, it discusses shooting facilities with firing positions.

Summing Up

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design provides requirements for many different types of organizations and businesses. These requirements help people to comply with the ADA to make sure that their facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. Of course, always consult state and local building code requirements to make sure that a facility complies with state/local requirements that require accessibility as well.

The 2010 standards include many specific details. While thinking about those details, it’s helpful to remember that the big-picture goal is to ensure accessibility for all.

[ Read: State- and territory-based accessibility requirements ]


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