Terms of Accessibility: The Glossary of ADA

  September 2, 2014

Many professional groups have their own lexicon of acronyms — those technical or specialized terms that often cause non-specialists to nod and feign recognition and understanding when the terms come up in conversation. But if asked to give the full name of the acronym or to provide a rough definition, many listeners would be lost. Here's a mini dictionary of accessibility terms to help maintenance and engineering managers navigate the territory:

ADAAG — Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. It spells out the technical and scoping requirements of ADA. ADAAG is not a building code. Because ADA is a civil rights law, there are many aspects of the technical requirements that differ from standard building codes.

Alteration — Any change made to a facility that affects the function of the element or space. As alterations are designed and constructed, they must meet the new construction requirements of ADAAG.

Barrier-free — Often used to describe an area that has no barriers to individuals with physical or sensory disabilities.

Complaint-driven — ADA is enforced by private citizens who either file a complaint with the appropriate federal agency responsible for enforcement or file a lawsuit in federal court.

Disability — A mental or physical impairment that limits major life activities. People with disabilities include someone using a walker, someone who has a visual disability and someone with a hidden illness such as diabetes, emphysema or heart disease.

DOJ — U.S. Department of Justice, the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of ADA's Title II (State and Local Governments/Public Services) and Title III (Public Accommodations/Privately Owned).

Good-faith effort — Taking steps to identify and remove barriers in a facility. It's not too late to start, unless of course a facility already has had a complaint filed against it.

Grandfathering — ADA has no provisions for grandfathering. All buildings, whether new or in existence prior to ADA, must perform readily achievable barrier removal.

Readily achievable — The definition of readily achievable is intentionally vague, as it is viewed on a case-by-case basis, with consideration to structural ability and financial resources. What might not have been affordable in 1992 may well be doable in 2004.


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