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ADA Law: Does Your Building Comply?

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

“Accessible design is good design. It benefits people who don’t have disabilities, as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits (of technology) to everybody.” – Steve Ballmer

Sure, the former CEtO of Microsoft was talking about computer software when he originally said these words; but the same concept applies when we think about architecture. The best building design will accommodate and benefit all people, rather than only a select group of people.

accessibility: it's the law

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 created laws and building codes to make businesses and public spaces easy for people with impaired sight, hearing, or physical movement.

Incorporating a dropped curb, a ramp alongside the stairs, or having an elevator from the bottom to the top floor is an easily recognizable form of accessible design. These features do not impact the purpose or use of the building in any way, but instead make that building more inviting for those who may not be able to walk up a set of stairs.

Other features that you might not notice right away, like the flashing lights that are paired with a fire alarm, are a form of accessible design, too. Bright, flashing lights are a simple addition that does nothing to impact the way a building is used, but are incredibly important for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing in the event of a fire.

Thanks to ADA law, these features are now so commonplace, it can be hard to imagine a building without them. 

ADA law & your business

Because there is no “grandfather provision” with ADA law, almost every type of private business that serves the public is required to comply with the ADA standards for accessible design (with very few exemptions).

However, 1990 was only 30 years ago! There are many buildings that were built before ADA laws went into effect, and a handful of them still need to make changes in order to be fully compliant with the law.

If you own a building that was designed before 1990 and needs an upgrade to be fully compliant with ADA law, we can help! These are typically simple additions, and add great value to a business. Designing with the needs of all people in mind will lead to a better, more positive customer experience. 

Accessible design also allows a business to serve a wider audience; and as a business owner, don’t you want to be able to serve all of your potential clients or customers? I know we at Uncommon Architects do!

The same thing goes for parks, recreation centers, libraries and any other public place. Utilizing accessible design will ensure people of all abilities can safely enter, exit, and use that space.

taking it a step further: universal design

While ADA laws were an important step forward and cover most people in our society, there are still a few exceptions that are not protected by law. If you want to make sure your building is truly able to accomodate all people, ask your architect about “Universal Design” practices.

These practices go beyond the ADA requirements, and consider the needs of people who may not be covered by current legislation.

universal design, defined

The principles of Universal Design were actually created long before the ADA laws went into effect, and helped pave the way for ADA legislation. They are similar, and easily confused concepts; but think about them like this:

  • ADA Laws are in place to make entering, exiting, or using a space easier for those with a legally-recognized disability (impaired sight, hearing, or physical movement).

  • Universal Design reaches beyond the legally recognized disabilities. It is the intentional use of elements that make using a space easier for ALL people.

Although it is not regulated by law, Universal Design does follow a set of 7 principles defined by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

universal design in action

We recently completed an accessibility upgrade at Snowbird Ski Resort’s Iron Blosam Lodge. The pool area was in compliance with ADA Law, but Snowbird wanted to take it a step further by adding a unisex restroom and two ADA lifts to make the area more fully accessible. The restroom was designed to meet all requirements of the ADA and local building codes, while matching the existing style of the lodge.

Wondering if your business complies with ADA Law?

The ADA offers a full checklist to help owners of existing buildings determine whether or not they are in compliance with the law. A few questions you will find on that list are:

  • If the main entrance to your building is elevated, is there a ramp in addition to the stairs? If not, is there a clear sign indicating an alternate, accessible entrance?

  • Can all public levels be accessed by an elevator?

  • If you have a public restroom, is it fully accessible?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, don’t worry. Our team of experienced Architects can help bring your building up to code, so that it can more easily enjoyed by all members of the community!

Review the detailed checklist offered by the ADA to determine what, if any, upgrades should be implemented. Or, schedule a free consultation with our ADA-experienced architects. We will guide you through the ADA upgrade process, every step of the way. Email our Principal Architects, Brittany White Johnson ( or Darin Mano (, or give us a call 801-417-9951 today.

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