32 years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, revolutionizing codes and standards in the U.S. to improve access to employment, public buildings, transportation, telecommunications, and public services for individuals with disabilities. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) celebrates the profound impact of the ADA and the many standards that support accessibility for millions of people with disabilities in the U.S.
One critical element of the ADA is ensuring that sites, facilities, and buildings are accessible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13.7 percent of U.S. adults have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs, making ADA requirements for ramps, elevators, and other accessibility features essential. Nearly 6 percent of adults in the U.S. have deafness or serious difficulty hearing, and 4.6 percent have blindness or serious difficulty seeing, necessitating other accommodations such as visual emergency notifications and guardrails for safe and independent use of public spaces.
Many standards guide the built environment to support accessibility – for example, the International Code Council's ICC/ANSI A117.7, Accessible and Useable Buildings and Facilities. This document ensures that sites, facilities, buildings, and elements are accessible to and usable by people with an inability to walk, difficulty walking, reliance on walking aids, blindness and visual impairment, deafness and hearing impairment, incoordination, reaching and manipulation disabilities, lack of stamina, difficulty interpreting and reacting to sensory information, and extremes of physical size. The intent of this standard is to allow a person with a physical disability to independently get to, enter, and use a site, facility, building, or element.
The ADA also guides telecommunications requirements, requiring accommodations such as closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements. This ADA requirement is supported by standards such as CEA 708-E, Digital Television (DTV) Closed Captioning, which defines DTV Closed Captioning and provides specifications and guidelines for caption service providers, distributors of television signals, decoder and encoder manufacturers, DTV receiver manufacturers, and DTV signal processing equipment. This standard was developed by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).
State and local government services must be accessible to people with disabilities, according to the ADA, and standards support this goal as well. Emergency preparedness, a vital component of the services that are provided by the government, can be guided by ASTM E2951-13(2020)e1, Standard Guide for Community Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities. Developed by ASTM International, this standard initiates preparedness efforts that address issues that the disability community has faced in past emergencies and systematically couples them with methodologies to help communities enhance their chances for survival.
Employers must also meet requirements for accessibility according to the ADA, and standards guide necessary accommodations. ISO 17069, Accessible Design- Consideration and Assistive Products for Accessible Meeting, specifies considerations to be taken, as well as support and assistive products that can be used when organizing a physical meeting in which older persons and persons with disabilities can actively participate. This standard was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 173, Assistive products, Subcommittee 7, Assistive products for persons with impaired sensory functions. The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) is the ANSI- accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) administrator to this TC.