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Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the US Access Board has been responsible for developing ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the US Department of Justice has been charged with the enforcement responsibility of the portions of the ADA having the most direct impact on commercial real estate.

As federal accessibility provisions developed, many states and local jurisdictions undertook revisions to their own accessibility provisions. As competing provisions arose, a difficult and confusing patchwork of standards arose, with some jurisdictions incorporating newer model codes while other jurisdictions lagged behind.  Further complicating clear compliance with applicable standards was frequent ambiguity and inconsistency between federal, state and local standards and the lack of a consensus among code administrators about which standard applies.

The situation certainly exists in the City of Chicago where the ADA Accessibility Standards, the Chicago Building Code (CBC) and the Illinois Accessibility Code (IAC) all have different accessibility requirements for newly constructed and altered buildings. The conflicts create confusion for building operators, the design community and people with disabilities. The problem is particularly significant in existing buildings, most of which were constructed before there was any influence or intervention of federal authority in accessibility requirements.

Currently, existing buildings in Chicago have construction permit plans reviewed by the Mayor’s Office of Persons with Disabilities (MOPD), which conducts plan reviews subject to the City’s accessibility requirements. Where the CBC and the ADA conflict, renovations can be permitted by complying with the CBC, but if they do not comply with the ADA, they be subject to federal enforcement actions later.

The CBC is based on a standard that is based on American National Standards Institute 2003 Accessibility Standards. MOPD has pointed out that this standard is a commercial code subject to copyright laws and therefore is expensive to distribute leaving many businesses and individuals with no access to the standards.

A current effort underway in Chicago is attempting bring about the adoption and implementation of the 2010 ADA Standards which were initially adopted by  the Access Board in 2004 and after a lengthy delay, were eventually adopted and put into effect by the Department of Justice in 2010.  The 2010 ADA Standards are also based on the same version of ANSI as the current accessibility provisions in the CBC. MOPD is proposing to use the language of the 2010 ADA Standards except where more stringent requirements in the CBC or IAC are appropriate.

BOMA/Chicago has been a part of the MOPD deliberations and is working to ensure that the move to adopt the new regulations, codes and standards will result increase consistency between federal, state, local and model accessibility requirements which will offer more reasonable, more flexible, and clearer technical requirements, and lead to more consistent interpretation, application and enforcement.