Design for all Persons: The Architectural Barriers Act and Public Transit
The recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in ADAPT v. Burnly [No. 88-1139,88-1177,88-1178 (3rd Cir. Feb. 13, 1989)] has refocused attention on public transportation for persons with disabilities. Over the last several years, public transit providers have become increasingly aware of services they must provide to persons with disabilities under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112) and section 16 of the Urban Mass Transportation (UMT) Act of 1964 [49 U.S.C. 1601, et seq.]. Many, however, remain confused about the requirements and applicability of an older statue on accessibility: the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968 (P.L. 90-480).
The ABA requires that certain buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered or leased with federal funds be accessible to, and usable by, persons with physical disabilities. Rarely is this act given more than a passing reference when discussing transportation for persons with disabilities, and some transit agencies have incorrectly assuemd that compliance with the Department of Transportation (DOT) 504 regulation automatically satisfies the requirements of the ABA. This confusion has been further heightened by the various changes in the DOT 504 rule since 1976 when regulations were first promulgated by DOT. The ABA, on the other hand, has been consistent in its approach since it was first implemented in 1969.
In addition, the confusion often arises because of misunderstanding of the difference between access to programs and access to facilities receiving federal funds. Transportation program access is covered by the DOT 504 regulation but most transportation facilities designed, altered, constructed, or leased with federal funds are covered by the ABA.
To understand the difference between program access and facility access, consider an educational institution which receives federal funds. Its programs, that is the courses, degrees, educational opportunities it offers, must be available to persons with disabilities in a nondiscriminatory manner. If the institution has both accessible and inaccessible buildings, it may be able to make its program accessible by scheduling a section of any class a student with a disability might wish to take in one of its accessible buildings. On the other hand, if it uses federal funds to build a new building or facility or remodel an old one, the new or remodeled portion probably must comply with the requirements of the ABA, independent of whether the institution has satisfied the program-accessibility requirements of the funding agency's 504 regulation. In addition, an entity which decided to make its program accessible by alterations to its physical facilities may trigger the ABA for those alterations. Through this gradual, incremental process Congress intended that fixed facilities which the federal government helped build would be eventually readily accessible to, and usable by, persons with disabilities.
The specific design or construction standards for the ABA are promulgated by four federal standard-setting agencies: Department of Defense, Department of Housing and Urban Development, General Services Administration (GSA), and U.S. Postal Service. The GSA standard applies to facilities funded by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), a division of DOT. In August 1984, the four agencies adopted a single standard for facilities covered by the ABA: the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS).
To ensure compliance with the standards promulgated under the ABA, Congress created the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB), under Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act, as an independent regulatory agency. The ATBCB also has the authority to set the minimum requirements for the standards promulgated by the standard-setting agencies. …