Michigan Accessible Homes
A Division of Cornerstone Design Inc, Architects
FAQs: The ADA and other Disability Rights laws

Although this website is focused on accessible homes, MAH architect David Esau has extensive experience and expertise in ADA compliance and similar issues.  This page is intended to be a very quick overview.  We encourage you to check the Links page for sources for more detailed information about these topics, or consult an attorney if you believe you have been discriminated against.

What is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)?

The ADA is a federal law that was passed in 1990, and generally prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in most aspects of daily life.  The law has several sections, of which the most important are:

  • Title I, which prohibits discrimination in employment.
  • Title II, which prohibits discrimination in the provision of state and local government services.
  • Title III, which prohibits discrimination in commercial activities.

Title II and Title III include provisions relating to design and construction.  Essentially, everything constructed by private businesses or governments after the ADA took effect (in the early 1990s) was required to meet accessible design criteria contained in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).

Buildings in existence prior to the ADA taking effect are also covered.  Governments must make services accessible, which can be done by renovating buildings, moving the service to an accessible location, or some other means.  Private businesses have an obligation to remove architectural barriers where it is "readily achievable," and must also provide access to goods and services by alternate means (such as curbside service or home delivery) if their facilities cannot be made accessible.

Is there protection against discrimination in housing?

Multi-family housing (apartments) are generally covered by amendments to the federal Fair Housing Act that were passed in 1988.  These prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities (as the FHA had previously done based on race and other criteria), and include basic requirements for new housing units that will allow them to be at least minimally accessible or adaptable for occupants with disabilities.  There is no requirement in the FHA to upgrade the accessibility of existing multi-family housing, or to incorporate accessibility into single family homes.

Is there similar state protection?

Many states have passed laws similar to the coverage in the ADA and Fair Housing Act.  Michigan was a leader with the passage of the Handicappers Civil Rights Act in 1976 (now called the Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act).  Although the general coverage is similar, this can require more extensive alteration of existing buildings, in particular existing apartments, than some of the federal laws, in order to accommodate a person with a disability.  New construction in Michigan must comply with accessible design requirements contained in the Michigan Building Code; depending on the level of renovations some requirements might apply to renovations as well.

Does anything cover single family housing?

Single family housing is generally not required to meet design guidelines in the various laws, beyond the basic safety and construction requirements of the Michigan Residential Building Code that have little to do with accessibility.  There have been efforts around the country to require that single family homes be at least "visitable" by persons with disabilities, by providing a no-step entry, wider doors, and more space in the main floor bathroom.  So far, we are not aware of any area in Michigan that incorporates those requirements.

Why should a business want to comply with these requirements?

Most of the laws are enforced by private lawsuit, although the federal government does sometimes get involved in enforcement activities.  By taking steps to provide access to your business or government facility, you can reduce the risk of lawsuits, and make yourself available to a larger market of persons with disabilities and their friends and family members.  Contact us if you are interested in an accessibility evaluation or want assistance with removing architectural barriers.