Terracon Can Help You Interpret Accessibility Requirements

July 29, 2021

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a federal civil rights law that covers employment, state and local government, and telecommunications, in addition to places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. It is a matter of concern for all businesses because the law requires that goods and services available to the public are also accessible to the more than 60 million Americans with documented or recognized disabilities.

While most business owners and facilities managers know of the ADA, misinformation is common. The dedicated team members of the Terracon accessibility specialists work with clients to clarify requirements, perform assessments, and develop plans for compliance. The team focuses on places of public accommodation, including commercial, healthcare, education, transportation, government, and parks and recreation facilities.

Terracon provides a multifaceted approach to new and existing properties. Our assessments are both proactive and pragmatic. We evaluate properties for potential violations and recommend specific ways to address issues that we identify. Our services include helping clients identify which improvements are reasonable and readily achievable, and which may not be. Sometimes improvements may not be technically or structurally feasible, or they may create an undue burden on the owner.

Terracon’s accessibility specialists shared some common misunderstandings of ADA and what they mean to building owners and managers.

Do you own a business that is open to the public? If you answered yes, then did you know that it must be accessible to individuals with disabilities? Assumptions about these “handicap” standards may create doubts about whether a building is in compliance. Or clients might assume that a business is not required to comply with ADA because it was an existing facility or business. Here’s the “the bottom line.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, which includes businesses, jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places of accommodations that are opened to the general public. The intent of this law is to make clear that individuals with disabilities are given the same rights and opportunities as an abled-body individual.

The International Building Code (IBC) and other state-adopted building codes such as the California Building Code (CBC) contain construction-related disabled access provisions or specify additional references such as ANSI A117.1, which specifies the minimum requirements for both commercial and residential construction and/or alterations. State and local governing bodies do not enforce federal regulations such as the ADA.

MYTHS Debunked
My building or business is old and “grandfathered” in and does not need to comply to any disabled access provisions. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a “grandfather” clause. The term “grandfathering” is a passed down assumption that the ADA standards do not apply to buildings that were built prior to the signing of the 1990 ADA. This is a false claim. If you provide “goods and services” to the general public, you must adhere to the ADA standards, regardless of the age or the historical importance of the building.

Although the ADA does not have a “grandfather” clause, it contains a provision called “safe harbor” in the 2010 ADA regulations for businesses and state and local governments. Visit the ADA National Network at for additional information about the “safe harbor” provisions.

I’m only the tenant and NOT liable. The building owner is fully responsible for all violations. The bottom line is that no matter where you’re located in the U.S., if you provide “goods and services” to the general public, including, but not limited to parking spaces, path of travel to the entrance, sales and service counter heights, aisle width between clothing racks, gas stations pumps, public restrooms, etc., the lessor and lessee are both responsible and liable for the accessibility elements, features, and functions located on the site. It is recommended that the lease agreement between the lessor and the lessee clearly identifies who is responsible for providing and the maintenance of existing site elements, features and functions.

In 2016, California passed a new law, AB-2093, that affects commercial property leases or rental agreement executed on or after January 1, 2017. The goal of the assembly bill is to encourage the disclosure of any accessibility concerns between landlord and tenant during lease negotiations and to provide a framework for how those concerns will be addressed. Discussing who is responsible for barrier removal and liability in the event that an accessibility claim is filed is now an important step in lease negotiations in California.

I just received a final inspection from the City and I don’t need to comply with anything else. The bottom line is that there’s a clear separation of enforcement and compliance between building code and the ADA. Property and business owners must adhere to both during the design and construction phases, even after completion. Although there is a similarity in the scoping and technical provisions, the ADA is an on-going obligation and must be maintained, whereas the building code states that once a site has received final inspection approval, you are compliant until you make an alteration. See the “Existing Building Code” for additional information.

Here are some key dates for compliance:

Visit: for additional scoping and technical requirements for all ADA Title III facilities.

My website does not need to comply because it’s not in person. The bottom line is that this is no longer true. If your business if part of an existing built environment that also provides “goods and services” through the business’s website, then accessibility is required. The US Access Board just published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0, which address some basic web features such as font size, background colors, text descriptors for images, etc. “Cyber Lawsuits” have increased substantially in the last few years and will continue to grow as we continue to move into the 21st century and become more computer-savvy.


The “myth examples” expressed above are just some of common questions or fallacies in our industry. No matter what the myth is, if there is confusion, or businesses just don’t know, a registered access specialist or licensed design professional can assist you by navigating through the “maze of accessibility.”

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