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Historic Buildings and the ADA
There are many misconceptions regarding historic buildings and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
First of all, although many buildings have details of architectural significance, they are not considered historic landmarks unless they are registered at the federal, state or local level as historic landmarks.
- Secondly, once a building is deemed an historic landmark, the exceptions for accessibility under the ADA may not as significant as people think.
Alterations in historic buildings must comply with the same standards as other alterations to existing buildings unless it is determined in accordance with defined procedures (ADAAG 4.1.7) that compliance with accessibility requirements for accessible routes, ramps, entrances or toilets would threaten to destroy the historic quality of the building.
If this were to be the case, then some deviations from the strict standards specified in the law may be used instead.
Per the ADAAG, Minimal Requirements for Accessibility in Historic Buildings are:
- A minimum of one accessible route from the site to an accessible entry. (A ramp with a 1:6 slope for a maximum 2 foot length may be used at an exterior entry.)
- At least one accessible entry shall be provided. (If public entries cannot comply, then a non-public, unlocked entry may be provided, with directional signage provided at the public entries.)
- If toilets are provided, at least one toilet on an accessible route must be provided. (A unisex privacy restroom may be used.)
- An accessible route shall be provided to all public spaces at the level of the entry.
- Displays and written information must be viewable by a seated person, including horizontal displays at 44" maximum.
Again, these minimal requirements may only be used by exception, when it is formally and properly determined that meeting the standard requirements for alterations to buildings cannot be done, in order to preserve the historic nature.
If you own an historic landmark, work with your landmarks board, architect and ADA Consultant to arrive at good, compliant solutions.