Insights

Are You ADA Compliant? How to Ramp Up Site Accessibility

What is ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law developed by the United States Access Board that was signed into effect in 1990. It protects those with disabilities, impairments that substantially limit major life activities. An impairment may be present for one’s whole life or temporary, such as a mobility impairment while healing from an injury. The act protects those with disabilities from any discriminatory effects of architectural and transportation barriers to promote independence, equality and accessibility for all.

ADA Standards for Accessible Design

The Access Board develops ADA-created federal standards to ensure that infrastructure and buildings accommodate people with disabilities. The standards include the design requirements for public transportation and pedestrian facilities, such as sidewalk and curb ramp width and slope, detectable warning indicators, and traffic signals with height and reach requirements and an audio component. Additionally, commercial buildings are held to accessible design standards, such as dedicated parking for wheelchair users, accessible entrances, a clear path to accessible bathrooms and compliant detection zones.


A detection zone is the space where a cane would detect an object or less than 27 inches above the walking surface. If an object protrudes more than four inches from the wall, it must be in the detection zone. This zone allows people with visual impairments to be aware of any obstructions in their path and move safely.

With the ADA standards in place, facilities providing public accommodations must meet these standards. There are no “grandfather” or exemption clauses for public agencies or businesses from providing accessible facilities built after 1991. The ADA requires all public agencies to perform self-evaluations of their facilities to identify these deficiencies. The findings identified in this self-evaluation are used to develop an ADA Transition Plan outlining the strategy to address the non-compliant infrastructure. 

ADA Transition Plan

An ADA Transition Plan creates an inventory of building and site components that do not meet current ADA design standards and outlines a timeline to address these issues. The plan is formed by first creating an inventory of non-compliant facilities, including physical barriers that limit access to programs, activities or services. Then, the plan outlines the steps to remove these barriers to achieve compliance as well as when these upgrades will happen. Finally, it specifies the agency or owner responsible for the plan’s implementation and any funding sources.

The plan also requires that you outline any restrictions to meeting compliance, such as a limited budget for improvements. States or local agencies, such as departments of transportation, may have additional requirements for ADA transition plans. These may include specific templates or a prioritization schedule. 

The ADA Transition Plan is essential nationwide to demonstrate the owner’s commitment to accessibility for all users. It creates an actionable plan to eliminate discriminatory practices against people with disabilities. A transition plan has additional benefits as well – in many cases, a transition plan is required to pursue federal funding, and owners without a transition plan are more susceptible to legal action.

How to Get Started

Owners can begin their transition plan by reviewing the current design standards and assessing their existing facilities, including parking, entrances and exits, sidewalk clearances and more. It may be possible to incorporate compliance improvements into planned design projects. These details can be outlined in the transition plan.

B&N’s transportation engineers and architects can support agencies and building owners in their pursuit of ADA compliance any step of the way. Our teams have inspected thousands of facilities to determine if they are compliant with current standards. We have also designed compliance improvements and identified ways to incorporate these into planned projects. Our experience has helped us develop cost-efficient inspection and design methods that help ensure equality for the public. 

If you would like to learn more about assessing ADA compliance and developing a transition plan, please contact Amy Rosepiler, PE or Lamonte Woodard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C.

Amy Rosepiler, PE, Director, Columbus Roadway Design Section
Amy Rosepiler, PE
Director, Columbus Roadway Design Section
Lamonte Woodard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Architect
Lamonte Woodard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Architect