American Disability Act (ADA) Guidelines and Other Accessibility Codes and Standards

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. June 24, 2016

American Disability Act (ADA) Guidelines and Other Accessibility Codes and Standards

Builders, remodelers, developers, property managers, homeowners and renters may want to review the standards developed by the US government and other organizations to ensure that homes and other buildings are accessible and usable by all.

The “2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design” was released by the US Department of Justice in September 2010. These are minimum requirements for newly designed and constructed or altered State and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

As such, their applicability to private residential housing is a guideline – however, they are based upon years of extensive research and development and are followed by all grab bar manufacturers.

  1. The space between the wall and the grab bar must be exactly 1½”
  2. The diameter of the bar must be 1¼” to 1½”
  3. The bar must be securely attached to withstand a vertical or horizontal force of 250 pounds
  4. Grab bars should not rotate in their fittings
  5. Grab bars installed in a horizontal position should be 33 inches minimum and 36 inches maximum above the finished floor measured to the top of the gripping surface

In addition to the ADA Standards by the US Department of Justice, other groups have developed and published accessibility and usability standards, guidelines and codes.

  • The Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities (ICC Al 17.1-2009) was approved in 2010 by the American National Standard Institute and printed in 2011 by the International Code Council. The document is a nationally recognized standard of technical requirements for making buildings accessible. Published since 1961, it is referenced by many federal documents and state accessibility laws. Chapter 6 Plumbing Elements and Facilities provides standards and illustrations related to grab bars.
  • The Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, requires certain rights to persons with disabilities. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees the Disability Rights in Housing including rights related to “reasonable accommodations” with requirements that include
  • Housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Example: A housing provider would make a reasonable accommodation for a tenant with mobility impairment by fulfilling the tenant's request for a reserved parking space in front of the entrance to their unit, even though all parking is unreserved.

  • Housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications. A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Examples of a reasonable modification: allowing a person with a disability to: install a ramp into a building, lower the entry threshold of a unit, or install grab bars in a bathroom.

Reasonable modifications are usually made at the resident's expense. However, there are resources available for helping fund building modifications. Additionally, if you live in Federally assisted housing the housing provider may be required to pay for the modification if it does not amount to an undue financial and administrative burden.

  • New covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible. In covered multifamily housing consisting of 4 or more units with an elevator built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, all units must comply with seven design and construction requirements.

Fair Housing Accessibility First provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding grab bars as related to the Fair Housing Act.

Accessibility guidelines can be quite helpful as you design and remodel your own home. It seems logical that you would want at least the same level of safety and accessibility in your home as in buildings and residences in public housing.

Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.


Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.