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Proportional Spending — Exactly what is it?

Janis Kent, FAIA, Architect, CASp © September, 2014. Updated February 2021

Proportional spending translates basically into how much additional money will be required to be spent over and above construction costs for a project to provide access for path of travel items. It only comes into play when performing alterations to primary function areas, or altering the usability of a space, or additions to existing buildings and facilities. Some of these items may not even fall within the altered area but support the area itself. So if you are only doing new construction this does not pertain, although new construction and an altered area itself are both required to totally comply.

The dollar amount is calculated based on 20% of the adjusted construction costs and typically does not include permit and consultant fees. This additional money is used to upgrade the accessibility of path of travel items that support the area being altered even if it is outside the actual area of alteration. If the calculated dollar amount is not enough to cover all path of travel items it is considered disproportionate, in which case, the Department of Justice has a stipulated hierarchy of which items to address first in order to provide the greatest access;

  • An accessible entrance;
  • An accessible route to the altered area;
  • At least one accessible restroom for each sex or a single unisex restroom;
  • Accessible telephones;
  • Accessible drinking fountains; and
  • When possible, additional accessible elements such as parking, storage, and alarms.

For example, a small alteration of $25,000, requires an additional $5,000 to be spent for the 20% proportional spending. The first item to consider is creation of an accessible entrance. If the accessible entry and the accessible route to the altered area costs $5,000 then nothing further is required to be done on the remainder. If both of these elements are already compliant, then the restrooms are required to be altered to be accessible. In another example, if the remodel is $100,000 requiring an additional $20,000 for proportional spending, and an elevator is required to get to the area being altered, the cost of the elevator might be considered disproportionate to the actual alteration. You would still need to spend the $20,000 on items supporting the altered area with the exception of the elevator.

If a series of smaller alterations are done to a primary function area over a period of 3 years the proportional spending for the path of travel under the current project is based on the total preceding 3 year adjusted construction costs. This would also now apply to a public entity under Title II starting March 15, 2011 for alterations for purposes other than program accessibility – in other words, proportional spending does not apply to alterations done solely for program accessibility in public buildings.

California has an added requirement for larger budget alterations. If the adjusted construction costs exceed the valuation threshold then all path of travel items, except for providing elevators in non-elevatored buildings, will need to be brought into compliance unless this is determined to be an unreasonable hardship. This valuation threshold changes annually and for 2021 the amount is $172,418. Even if it is determined to be an unreasonable hardship, a minimum of 20% would still need to be spent on path of travel upgrades. Existing non-elevatored buildings, that would require an elevator for today’s standards, still have the requirement of 20% proportional spending on the non-accessible altered floor and path of travel leading to that floor, but an elevator is limited to 20% proportional spending. So unless the project has a very large construction budget, generally an elevator is not required to be installed in this example.

Certain types of alterations done to remove barriers to the path of travel do not have a requirement for proportional spending – providing an accessible primary entry, toilet/bathing rooms serving the area, drinking fountains serving the area, public phones serving the area, and signs. Of course for pre-ADA buildings altered after January 26, 1992 or built by January 26, 1993 and altered after, the building owner or tenant should consider and implement readily achievable barrier removal as well, which does not have proportional spending associated with it.


Nothing in this article constitutes legal or design advice for a particular project or circumstance. Be aware that your local City or County may have additional requirements that are different or more restrictive than the State or Federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer which may vary for a particular project or due to other circumstances. It is meant as a general summary – current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions and specific advice by a qualified professional should be secured for a particular project or circumstance.

© Janis Kent, Architect, CASp 2014