What is ADA Program Accessibility?
‘Program accessibility’ is a fundamental principle of Title II of the ADA. Public entities are required to make services, programs, and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Title II of the ADA states:
“A public entity shall operate each service, program, or activity so that the service, program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.” [28 CFR § 35.150 (a)]
Title II applies to all state and local departments, agencies, special purpose districts, and other public entities. All aspects of their operations – including facilities, practices, policies, procedures, and communications – are subject to program accessibility requirements.
Here we focus on the built environment as one aspect of achieving program accessibility.
Achieving Program Accessibility
Title II requirements state that a public entity is not necessarily required to:
- Make every existing facility accessible;
- Take any action that would threaten or destroy the historic significance of a historic property;
- Take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the program, service, or activity;
- Take any action that would result in an undue financial and administrative burden.
There are a number of methods for providing program accessibility that do not require making every existing facility accessible:
- Structural methods, such as altering existing facilities and acquiring or constructing additional facilities.
- Non-structural methods, such as redesigning equipment, assigning aides to assist individuals seeking services, and providing services at alternative accessible sites.
Newly constructed facilities must comply with 2010 ADA Standards for design and construction. The standards require a high level of accessibility. Buildings operated by state and local governments are subject to these standards.
Alterations to portions of existing facilities also must comply with 2010 ADA Standards. Alterations include remodeling, renovation, historic restoration, and resurfacing of circulation paths or vehicular ways.
ADA requirements recognize that alterations may present obstacles to full compliance with accessibility standards. A range of circumstances, including the historic elements in an existing building or physical constraints, may result in such obstacles. The law accounts for this by requiring that facilities be altered to ‘the maximum extent feasible’.
The 2010 ADA Standards also acknowledge that in some cases compliance is ‘technically infeasible’. Removing or altering a structurally essential, load-bearing member or overcoming other physical and site constraints may be considered technically infeasible.
Building owners will be relieved to note that structural changes may be the last resort to achieve program accessibility. Alternatives to providing program accessibility include:
- Relocating program/service to accessible part of same building.
- Relocating program/service to another area or building that is accessible.
- Modifying policies and procedures.
- Delivering program/service in alternate ways.
- Purchasing/modifying equipment and furniture.
Any solution for making a program accessible must consider the policy of integration. A primary goal of the ADA is the equal participation and integration of people with disabilities in the mainstream of daily life. A person with a disability must be integrated to the maximum extent appropriate for that person.
Public entities should locate programs and facilities so that individuals with disabilities are not isolated. Locations should encourage and enable individuals with disabilities to interact among all users and participants.
Entities covered by Title II of the ADA are required to develop a Transition Plan that identifies physical barriers that prevent program accessibility. The plan establishes a process and schedule for removing those barriers over a period of time and identifies who will be responsible for its implementation.
Consult a Specialist
ADA Title II requirements are complex, especially for a large system of programs and facilities. It is a good idea to consult with an accessibility consultant to clarify and interpret ADA Standards and requirements. With guidance, communities can find a reasonable and compliant way to make their unique programs and services accessible to everyone.