Skip to content
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) & TE

Issued with the TE Guidance December 17, 1999

See also: Updated Guidance

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is legislation which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Other Federal laws which affect the design, construction, alteration, and operation of facilities include the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These laws apply to all Federally funded facilities. The ADA applies to facilities, both public (title II) and private (title III), which are not Federally funded. Newly constructed and altered facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) regulations which implement title II of the ADA (28 CFR part 35) describe the obligations of State and local governments for existing facilities and program operations. For newly constructed or altered facilities, the DOJ regulations require title II entities (State and local government entities) to comply with either: the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), the standard referenced in the ABA; or the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), developed by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board). Future rulemaking is expected to eliminate differences between UFAS and ADAAG. Private sector entities, including lessees, concessionaires, and contractors to State and local governments, are governed by the DOJ title III implementing regulations (28 CFR part 36), which adopt ADAAG as the standard for accessible design.

In July 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an Accessibility Policy Statement pledging a fully accessible multimodal transportation system. Accessibility in Federally-assisted programs is governed by the USDOT regulations (49 CFR part 27) implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794). The FHWA has specific ADA policies for statewide planning in 23 CFR 450.220(a)(4), for metropolitan planning in 23 CFR 450.316(b)(3), and for the NEPA process in 23 CFR 771.105(f). These regulations require application of the ADA requirements to Federal-aid projects, including Transportation Enhancement Activities.

ADAAG was intended to apply to all types of buildings and facilities. Special application sections apply to certain types of buildings and facilities, such as restaurants, medical facilities, transient lodging, and transportation facilities. However, some ADAAG requirements are not realistic in the outdoor environment because of conditions such as existing terrain or weather. Recent actions by the Access Board include proposed accessibility guidelines for play areas, and for certain recreation facilities. The Access Board expects to issue proposed guidelines for picnic and camping facilities, beach access routes, and trails (including trails which may be funded under the TE program) in early 2000. A committee was established in November 1999 to develop guidelines for public rights-of-way, including streets and sidewalks.

States must maintain program access under the TE program. Program access prohibits discrimination in programs, services, or activities. Program access does not necessarily require excessive retrofitting of existing facilities, if the program can be offered through alternative methods. For example, a public meeting to discuss a TE project may be moved from an inaccessible location to an accessible location to maintain program access.

Sponsors of TE projects should consider the potential uses of each project, consider what is reasonable and feasible, and provide for users in an appropriate manner. Some TE projects may not require installation of accessible facilities, such as a project which consists solely of acquisition of a scenic easement. Others require full compliance with ADAAG, such as a newly constructed interpretive center for a scenic highway. Parking, restrooms, water fountains, telephones, and similar facilities built as part of a TE project must be accessible. Alterations of historic facilities are covered under 28 CFR 36.405, which provides some alternatives within ADAAG. Some projects require planning and coordination to determine the extent of program accessibility. For example, it might not be possible to construct every trail segment according to ADAAG, but trail project sponsors must not install barriers or other features which would make it more difficult for people with disabilities to use the trail.

Technical reports on accessible designs for pedestrian and bicycle facilities are available through FHWA division offices. FHWA and the Access Board are developing best practices to apply the ADA to sidewalks, trails, and similar facilities which may use Federal transportation funds.

Updated Accessibility Guidance

These documents were issued after the TE Guidance above.

Updated: 06/27/2017
Updated: 6/27/2017
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000