Elevators & The Americans With Disabilities Act: Advice For Building Owners

An elevator is a convenient way for building users to save time and energy, but for people living with a disability it's often an essential part of being able to get around. 1.6 million people in America rely on a wheelchair to get around, and the Americans with Disabilities Act exists to make sure that public facilities are suitable for this part of the population. If you own or plan to renovate a building that has an elevator, learn more about your duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and what you need to do to comply with the law.

Overview of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, and is one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that exists in the United States. The act exists to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as anyone else, and covers employment law, public accommodation standards, access to public services and more.

In 2010, the Department of Justice revised ADA regulations to include enforceable accessibility standards for buildings, known as the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (or ADAAG). Two years later, these standards became mandatory for all new constructions and alterations. These standards include detailed guidelines for elevators.

The ADA is not a building code. It is a civil rights act, and the penalties for breaking this act differ from one state to another, but if your building doesn't meet ADA guidelines, you could face a costly lawsuit.

Extent of ADA compliance

If you're constructing new public accommodations, you must normally comply with ADA guidelines. For existing buildings, the rules are more ambiguous. The legislation recognizes that it sometimes isn't economically viable to bring an old building up to full ADA standards.

As such, the ADA does not expect building owners to make changes if you cannot make the changes without too much difficulty or expense. Local planning authorities will decide if this is the case, taking various factors into account. For example, the authorities may decide that a large corporation can afford to make changes that a single small business owner is not financially able to undertake.

Your local planning department can tell you if your building is exempt from alterations. 


You don't need to install an elevator if the building you are renovating is less than three stories, or less than 3000 feet per story. This exemption does not apply to certain types of building. For example, shopping centers, health care providers' offices and airports must still install an elevator.

Elevator compliance

The ADA lists a series of requirements that elevators must meet to support the needs of people in wheelchairs. Before installing any elevator, it's important to make sure that you fully understand these requirements.

ADA standards include many aspects of elevator operation, including:

  • Automatic operation
  • Hall lanterns
  • Floor plans of elevator cars
  • Illumination levels
  • Floor surfaces
  • Size and placement of call buttons 

Building facilities managers must implement a regular schedule of testing and maintenance to make sure that the elevator continues to meet these regulations. For example, the elevator car must come to a floor landing within a tolerance of half an inch, under normal loading conditions. If you are taking over an existing building, ask an elevator service provider to survey the existing facilities, and come up with a summary of recommended changes.

Compliant elevator telephones

In case of emergency, it's vital that disabled occupants can easily call for help. As such, the ADA also imposes requirements for emergency telephones in elevators. These devices must work on a hands-free basis, and must alert the user that they have dispatched a call and that help is on the way. Owners must also make sure that the emergency phone features Braille signage. Older elevators commonly fail the requirements of the ADA because the emergency telephone is set too high in the cab. Check out sites like http://www.capitalelevatorservice.com for more information.

If you're building new premises, or you're converting an existing building, you may need to install or upgrade the elevator. Before you carry out any work, make sure you understand and adopt ADA requirements, or you could face a stiff financial penalty. 

About Me

Home Renovation Expectations: Knowing What's To Come

When I bought my first house, I did it with the expectation of needing to do some remodeling. I wasn't, however, prepared for how complex the renovation process was. From upgrading the retaining walls to adding cosmetic features like the stone patio, I was inundated with decisions to make and materials to select. I wished that I had known how much was involved from the beginning so that I could be better prepared. That's when I decided to use what I'd learned to help others better prepare for their own remodeling projects. I hope the information here helps you to see what you can expect as you get ready to expand your property or renovate the existing space.



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