Accessibility Standards and Guidelines  

by the WBDG Accessible Committee

The major resource for guidance on accessible design is the U.S. Access Board (Access Board). The Access Board is an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. Key responsibilities of the Board include developing and maintaining accessibility requirements for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecommunications equipment, and electronic and information technology; providing technical assistance and training on these guidelines; and enforcing accessibility standards for federally funded facilities. For additional resources, see the Access Board's Listing of Other Resources. Animations of many accessibility solutions can be found on the Animations page.

This page provides an overview of the ABA and ADA Standards, and other Guidelines to consider for access. This information should be considered in context with the overall design objectives of the project and the information in the Accessible branch of the WBDG.

Graphic of book covers ADA Application and Scoping Chapters 1 and 2 captioned as Part 1, ABA Application and Scoping Chapters 1 and 2 captioned as Part 2 that flow into Common Technical Chapters 1 to 10 captioned as Part 3


Standards issued under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) apply to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with certain federal funds. Passed in 1968, the ABA is one of the first laws to address access to the built environment. The law applies to federal buildings, including post offices, social security offices, federal courthouses and prisons, and national parks. It also covers non-federal facilities, such as public housing units and mass transit systems, built or altered with federal grants or loans. Coverage is limited to those funding programs that give the federal agency awarding grants or loans the authority to establish facility standards.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the ABA standard-setting agencies. DOD, GSA, and USPS adopted Parts 2 and 3 of the Access Board's guidelines, making them enforceable ABA Standards. HUD has not yet adopted the guidelines; consequently, non-military housing subject to the ABA must still comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards first issued in 1984. All currently applicable ABA standards are available online.

collage of agencies info and logos involved in ADA standards

The following three standard-setting agencies(*) have published their new ABA standards, consistent with the updated ABA guidelines:

  • The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) published the "USPS Standards for Facility Accessibility" in the Federal Register in May 2005, effective for all owned and leased facilities on October 1, 2005.

  • The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) published the "ABA Accessibility Standard" in the Federal Register in November 2005, effective for all new design, construction and alterations of GSA owned buildings on May 9, 2006, all lease-construction on June 30, 2006 and all other leases on February 7, 2007.

  • The Department of Defense (DOD) adopted the "ABA Accessibility Standard for Department of Defense Facilities" by memorandum dated October 31, 2008, effective for all new design, construction and alterations on October 31, 2008.

(*) The Department of Housing and Urban Development has not yet adopted its new ABA accessibility standard, and is still using the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS).


ABA banner celebrating 50 years

The Access Board celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the ABA in September 2018.

The ADA Standards govern the construction and alteration of places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, state and local government facilities, and transportation facilities. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) establish the ADA Standards. Both agencies have adopted Parts 1 and 3 of the Access Board's guidelines. In their regulations DOJ and DOT included some additional requirements unique to facilities within their jurisdiction. DOJ's 2010 ADA Standards replaced the original 1991 ADA Standards and became effective on March 15, 2012. DOT's revised ADA Standards became effective in November, 2006. Both ADA Standards are available online.

The following standard-setting agencies have published their new ADA standards, consistent with the updated ADA guidelines:

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published the "ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities" in the Federal Register in October 2006, effective for all new design, construction and alterations on November 29, 2006.

  • The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published the "2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design" in the Federal Register in September 2010, effective for all new design, construction and alterations except transportation facilities on March 15, 2012.

For more information, contact the U.S. Access Board for a guide to ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines and the online versions of the current ADA and ABA accessibility standards in effect for the standard-setting Federal agencies.


The U.S. Access Board issues accessibility guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). The Board's guidelines are the mandatory baseline for accessibility standards issued by other Federal agencies authorized to establish accessibility standards under the ADA or the ABA. Until the Board's guidelines are adopted by one or more of these standard-setting agencies, they are not enforceable.

In 2004, the Access Board updated its ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines and published them in a single document containing three parts. Part 1 contains application and scoping for ADA covered facilities; Part 2 contains application and scoping for ABA covered facilities; and, Part 3 contains technical requirements common to both the ADA and ABA.



The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed in 1968 as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale and rental of housing as well as other housing-related transactions. The Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to include protections for people with disabilities, requiring certain housing projects to meet a basic level of accessibility. In response, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adopted accessible design and construction guidelines to implement the accessibility requirements of the FHA. The guidelines apply to "covered" multifamily dwellings with four or more units designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) is a federal accessibility law which seeks to prevent discrimination, based on disability, under any program or activity receiving financial assistance from any federal agency, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Section 504 requires newly constructed multifamily dwellings with five or more units, and alterations of housing facilities in HUD-assisted programs to meet the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). The UFAS Standards are available online.

HUD issued a Notice, effective May 23, 2014, that permits HUD recipients to use the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards) as an alternative to UFAS to comply with the accessibility requirements of Section 504. However, HUD has deemed certain provisions of the 2010 Standards to provide less accessibility than is currently required by UFAS. There is a list of exceptions that exist for HUD recipients that elect to use the 2010 Standards to ensure the project meets at least the same degree of accessibility as is currently required under Section 504 and UFAS. HUD's Notice remains in effect until the agency formally adopts an updated accessibility standard for compliance with Section 504. For more information, contact HUD for guidance on the FHA or Section 504 standard currently in effect.


With more online working environments and experiences becoming the norm, it is important to address Section 508 requirements. President Clinton signed into law the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, which covers access to federally funded programs and services. The law strengthens section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the federal government. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an “undue burden.” Section 508 speaks to various means for disseminating information, including computers, software, and electronic office equipment. It applies to, but is not solely focused on, federal pages on the Internet or the Web. It does not apply to web pages of private industry. For more information, see