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Every morning Jerry gets out of bed, goes into the bathroom, takes a shower, and then eats his breakfast. Afterwards he heads into the living room to watch a little TV before leaving his apartment to go to work. Sounds like a typical morning, right? Actually, it’s not. You see, Jerry became disabled 1 year ago, and he is now paraplegic. He must transport himself in a wheelchair around his apartment and everywhere he goes.

Many of us may take for granted that we can walk throughout our living space and public places in ease and independence. However, for people with disabilities like Jerry, they specifically depend on their living spaces and outdoor environments to be physically accessible.

What does physically accessible mean? It means living areas and public areas are designed and constructed in a way that allows those with disabilities like Jerry to have access to them.

There are laws that help ensure that people with disabilities can have access to their homes, communities and the world-at-large by making certain that the built environment, and services provided therein, are designed and constructed in ways that will accommodate them.

One law, called The Fair Housing Act, is a set of civil rights laws, passed in 1968, and amended in 1988, that prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, familial status and disability. This law helps to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied housing because of inaccessible features of a building.

Fair housing laws require that 7 basic design and construction requirements are met for multi-family housing built for first occupancy after 1991. Multi-family housing are buildings that have 4 or more dwelling units.

The 7 Design and Construction Requirements are:

1. Accessible Entrance on an Accessible Route
2. Accessible Public and Common Use Areas
3. Usable Doors
4. Accessible Route Into and Through the Dwelling Unit
5. Accessible Light Switches, Electrical Outlets, Thermostats, and Environmental Controls.
6. Reinforced Walls and Bathrooms
7. Usable Kitchens and Bathrooms

If the building has an elevator, then all units must be in compliance. If the building does not have an elevator, then all ground floor units must be in compliance. Non-compliance with any of these requirements is viewed as a discriminatory act and a violation of the law.

While the Fair Housing Act regulates design and construction for accessibility in living spaces, the Americans with Disabilities Act regulates design and construction for the outside built environment and services.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are laws which were enacted in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the built environment including public buildings and facilities, public modes of transportation and access to services available to the general population such as (but not limited to) education and telecommunications.

More specifically, the ADA law “provides comprehensive civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities in the areas of employment, public accommodations, State and local government services, and telecommunications.” (www.ada.gov)

What exactly is a disability? According to the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

How does a business or public (municipal, state, and federal) building, facility, or service, build, construct, or alter their designs to accommodate the needs of those who are disabled? Revised regulations Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act were published in September 15, 2010 with this information. These regulations enforce accessibility standards and are called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These regulations were revised by the Department of Justice.

There is an ADA Information Line available if you have any questions about the standards of design for facilities or services. Call 800-514-0301 (voice); or 800-514-0383 (TTY).
For information on how to design and construct within guidelines of the Fair Housing Act, call the Fair Housing Rights Center at 215-625-0700 or
866-576-1968.