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ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Program Accessibility?

State and local governments must ensure that services, programs and activities, when viewed in their entirety, are accessible to people with disabilities. This is part of public entities’ program accessibility obligations. Alterations to older buildings may be needed to ensure program accessibility. Generally this is a greater obligation than “readily achievable barrier removal” the standard that applies to public accommodations. State and local governments are not required to take any action that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens.

State and local governments’ ADA obligations for program accessibility are in the Department of Justice’s ADA title II regulations 28 CFR Part 35.150.

What is Readily Achievable Barrier Removal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public accommodations (businesses and non-profit organizations) to provide goods and services to people with disabilities on an equal basis with the rest of the public.

Businesses and non-profit organizations that serve the public are to remove architectural barriers when it is “readily achievable” to do so; in other words, when barrier removal is “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”

The decision of what is readily achievable is made considering the size, type, and overall finances of the public accommodation and the nature and cost of the access improvements needed. Barrier removal that is difficult now may be readily achievable in the future as finances change.

This checklist is intended to assist public accommodations as the first step in a planning process for readily achievable barrier removal.

Public accommodations’ ADA obligations for barrier removal can be found in the Department of Justice’s ADA Title III regulations 28 CFR Part 36.304.

Priorities for Accessible Facilities

The checklist follows the four priorities in the Department of Justice ADA title III regulations. These priorities are equally applicable to state and local government facilities.

  • Priority 1 - Accessible approach and entrance
  • Priority 2 - Access to goods and services
  • Priority 3 - Access to public toilet rooms
  • Priority 4 - Access to other items such as water fountains and public telephones

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

This checklist is based on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards). The specifications are in this checklist to help determine what may be readily achievable barrier removal for existing facilities. This checklist does not include all sections of the 2010 Standards. For example there are no questions about patient rooms in hospitals or guest rooms in hotels. Consult the 2010 Standards for situations not covered in the checklist. Full compliance with the 2010 Standards is required only for new construction and alterations. The web address for the 2010 Standards is in the Resources section.

Safe Harbor – Construction Prior to March 15, 2012

Elements in facilities built or altered before March 15, 2012 that comply with the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (1991 Standards) are not required to be modified to specifications in the 2010 Standards. For example, the 1991 Standards allow 54 inches maximum for a side reach range to a control such as the operating part of a paper towel dispenser. The 2010 Standards lower that side reach range to 48 inches maximum. If a paper towel dispenser was installed prior to March 15, 2012 with the highest operating part at 54 inches, the paper towel dispenser does not need to be lowered to 48 inches. Since the dispenser complies with the 1991 Standards, that Standard provides a “safe harbor.”

Elements in the 2010 ADA Standards Not in the 1991

The 2010 Standards contain elements that are not in the 1991 Standards. These elements include recreation facilities such as swimming pools, team and player seating, accessible routes in court sports facilities, saunas and steam rooms, fishing piers, play areas, exercise machines, golf facilities, miniature golf facilities, amusement rides, shooting facilities with firing positions, and recreational boating facilities. Because these elements are not in the 1991 Standards, they are not subject to the safe harbor exemption. Public accommodations must remove architectural barriers to these items when it is readily achievable to do so. For example, a hotel must determine whether it is readily achievable to make its swimming pool accessible by installing a lift, a sloped entry or both as specified in the 2010 Standards. State and local governments must consider accessibility improvements to these recreation areas to ensure “program accessibility.” For example a town must look at its play areas and determine which should be made accessible.

What this Checklist is Not

The ADA title II and III regulations require more than program accessibility and barrier removal. The regulations include requirements for nondiscriminatory policies and practices and for the provision of auxiliary aids and services, such as sign language interpreters for people who are deaf and material in Braille for people who are blind. This checklist does not cover those requirements.

Since this checklist does not include all of the 2010 Standards it is not intended to determine compliance for new construction or alterations.

What are Public Accommodations?

Under the ADA public accommodations are private entities that own, lease, lease to or operate a place of public accommodation. This means that both a landlord who leases space in a building to a tenant and the tenant who operates a place of public accommodation have responsibilities to remove barriers.

A place of public accommodation is a facility whose operations affect commerce and fall within at least one of the following 12 categories:

  1. Places of lodging (e.g., inns, hotels, motels, except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms)
  2. Establishments serving food or drink (e.g. , restaurants and bars)
  3. Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g. , motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums)
  4. Places of public gathering (e.g. , auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls)
  5. Sales or rental establishments (e.g. , bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers)
  6. Service establishments (e.g. , laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals)
  7. Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation)
  8. Places of public display or collection (e.g. , museums, libraries, galleries)
  9. Places of recreation (e.g. , parks, zoos, amusement parks)Places of education
  10. Places of education (e.g. , nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools)
  11. Social service center establishments (e.g. , day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies)
  12. Places of exercise or recreation (e.g. , gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses)


U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information

800-514-0301 voice
800-514-0383 TTY

ADA National Network

800-949-4232 voice/TTY connects to your regional ADA Center

U.S. Access Board

800- 872-2253 voice
800-993-2822 TTY

ADA Title III Regulations 28 CFR Part 36

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Tax Deductions and Credits for Barrier Removal


Many of the illustrations are from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Access Board or are based on illustrations produced by the U.S. Access Board and the U.S. Department of Justice.