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Chapter 7: The Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)

Italicized text was added to the original Title III Technical Assistance Manual through supplements issued in 1993 and 1994.

Regulatory references: Appendix A to 28 CFR Part 36.

III-7.2000 General requirements/definitions

III-7.2100 Equivalent facilitation

Departures are permitted from particular requirements where alternative designs and technologies will provide substantially equivalent or greater access to and usability of the facility.

Will the Department tell me if my design is "equivalent"? No. The ADA, like all other Federal civil rights laws, requires each covered entity to use its best professional judgment to comply with the statute and the implementing regulations. The Department of Justice does not have a mechanism to certify any specific variation from the standards as being "equivalent." Proposed alternative designs, when supported by available data, are not prohibited; but in any title III investigation or lawsuit, the covered entity would bear the burden of proving that any alternative design provides equal or greater access.

If a facility complies with a State or local building code, will it be considered in compliance with the ADA? Possibly. Compliance with a State or local code that has been certified by the Attorney General (see III-9.0000) to be equivalent will provide rebuttable evidence of compliance with the ADA. Compliance with a code that has not been certified will constitute ADA compliance only if it can be demonstrated that the specific code provision at issue provides accessibility that equals or exceeds the ADA requirement.

ADAAG itself provides various examples of equivalent facilitation, i.e., acceptable deviations from the standards. For instance --

  1. In altered areas, elevator car dimensions can be smaller than the standards would mandate for new construction (§4.1.6(3)(c));
  2. Rather than install a text telephone next to a pay phone, hotels may keep portable text telephones at the desk, if they are available 24 hours per day and certain other conditions are met (§4.31.9);
  3. A folding shelf with space for handing materials back and forth can be used instead of providing an accessible ticketing or other similar counter (§7.2(2)(iii));
  4. Accessible guest quarters in newly constructed hotels may all be "multiple-occupancy" rooms, provided that individuals with disabilities who request accessible single-occupancy rooms are allowed to use the multiple-occupancy rooms at the cost of a single-occupancy room (§9.1.4(2));
  5. If balconies or terraces cannot be made accessible because wind or water damage will result, a ramp or raised decking may be used (§9.2.2(6)).

Are these the only places where equivalent facilitation can be used? No. Departures from any provision in ADAAG are permitted as long as equivalent access is provided. However, portable ramps are not considered equivalent facilitation.

Is it permissible to deviate from the requirements for elements such as lavatories, operating controls and faucets, urinals, bathtubs, and shower stalls in order to follow State or local building code standards for these fixtures? Sometimes. Such deviations are permissible only if they provide access equal to or greater than that required by the ADA.