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SPOTLIGHT ON: Tenant Improvement, Construction, and Remodeling


The recent updates to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design were detailed at the SPECS session, “The ADA: 20 Years +1.” The session, part of the Tenant Improvement Construction/Remodeling workshop track, also gave a brief overview of the law and its enforcement.

According to the speaker, more than 200 private ADA lawsuits are filed in U.S. Federal Courts across the United States each month. The suits are filed mainly by disability organizations, disability rights advocates and law firms.

“ADA is a complaint-driven law, and it’s not going away. The firm of William Charouhis has filed more than 450 ADA Title I and III cases in Florida, including three Class Action ADA suits,” said Joan Stein, president and CEO, Accessibility Development Associates, Pittsburgh.

The ADA is a civil rights law and, as such, it is enforced by the Department of Justice. It’s important that retailers understand their risk with regard to the ADA, according to Stein.

“Penalties, which are paid to the U.S. Department of Justice, can start at $55,000 for the first violation, and then $110,000 for each subsequent violations,” she explained.

Stein emphasized that the ADA always supersedes state or local building codes.

“Another important point to keep in mind is that building codes can be negotiated,” Stein said. “But there is no negotiating civil rights.”

DIFFERENCES: Stein explained that the new regulations not only update the federal requirements based on advances in technology and lessons learned since the 1991 standards were first established, but also attempt to make ADA more consistent with building codes.

In addition, they clarify or expand policies on things such as effective communication, service animals, and motorized wheelchairs and mobility devices.

One of the most important things to remember about the new 2012 standards is that dimensions not stated as a “maximum” or “minimum” is absolute. Construction tolerances, Stein added, are gone.

Important technical differences include the following:

• Height reach ranges: Under the 1991 standards, reach ranges allowed for a maximum of 54 ins. above the finished floor for a side approach and a maximum of 48 ins. above the finished floor for a front approach. Under the 2010 standards, however, it is 48 ins. maximum for either front or side.

• Parking: One in every six accessible parking spaces must now be van-accessible.

• Handrails: These are required even with other means of access.

• Toilet centerlines: Under the old standard, the toilet centerlines — the space from the sidewall to the center of the toilet — was an absolute 18 ins. Under the 2010 standards, it is a range of 16 ins. to 18 ins. for a toilet in a standard, accessible stall.

• Clear-floor-space requirements for water closets not located in stalls increased.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design can be downloaded from the DOJ website at

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