The ADA specifically recognizes the importance of eliminating structural and architectural barriers by requiring all new or altered facilities subject to the ADA to be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Covered entities must comply with the Department's ADA regulations, including the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
Facilities that must comply with the ADA Standards may also be required to comply with accessibility requirements established under state or local laws. There are thousands of jurisdictions in the United States that adopt or enforce building codes, some of which also include accessibility requirements. Although many state codes are based on national models, there can be significant variations among the state and local code requirements. Design and construction under state and local codes complies with the ADA only when the codes provide accessibility that equals or exceeds the ADA requirements. When these laws are inconsistent, the burden falls on building owners and design professionals to ensure compliance with both federal and state laws.
The enforcement of state codes is the responsibility of state or local officials – usually through plan reviews and building inspections. The ADA relies on the traditional method of civil rights enforcement through litigation in federal courts. Local officials do not have the authority to enforce the ADA on behalf of the federal government.
In an effort both to facilitate compliance with all applicable laws and to mitigate the tension between federal and state enforcement processes, the ADA authorizes the Department of Justice, upon request of state or local officials, to certify that state or local accessibility laws meet or exceed the requirements of the ADA. Certification bridges the gap between the federal and state enforcement processes. The certification process neither delegates ADA enforcement authority to the states nor eliminates an individual's right to seek relief through the federal courts. However, effective enforcement of a certified code can mitigate the need for federal enforcement by ensuring that new or altered buildings are accessible. This process gives building owners and design professionals some assurance in advance of construction that the ADA requirements will be satisfied. And, if a lawsuit is filed, compliance with a certified code may be offered as rebuttable evidence of compliance with the ADA.