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Readily Achievable Barrier Removal

Janis Kent, FAIA, Architect, CASp © August, 2012. Updated February 2021

There is a common misconception – because a building is old, one is ‘grandfathered in’ so nothing needs to be done to make it accessible. This is not true. Building and business owners are indeed obligated to make places of public accommodation more accessible. In fact there is a federal tax incentive that has been in place allowing small businesses to take a tax credit for up to half the amount they spend on Accessibility improvements within certain limitations which can be used annually.

The question becomes – what is Readily Achievable? And the answer varies depending upon the facility in question but is mostly dependent upon financial considerations. And what is not Readily Achievable one year may very well be the next.

The Department of Justice has provided a general definition;

“easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. In determining whether an action is readily achievable factors to be considered include –

  1. The nature and cost of the action needed under this part;
  2. The overall financial resources of the site or sites involved in the action; the number of persons employed at the site; the effect on expenses and resources; legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation, including crime prevention measures; or the impact otherwise of the action upon the operation of the site;
  3. The geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the site or sites in question to any parent corporation or entity;
  4. If applicable, the overall financial resources of any parent corporation or entity; the overall size of the parent corporation or entity with respect to the number of its employees; the number, type, and location of its facilities; and
  5. If applicable, the type of operation or operations of any parent corporation or entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the parent corporation or entity.”

The Department of Justice provides a list of examples of barriers they consider Readily Achievable to remove although they state this is not a definitive list and there might be other items as well.

Examples. Examples of steps to remove barriers include, but are not limited to, the following actions

  1. Installing ramps;
  2. Making curb cuts in sidewalks and entrances;
  3. Repositioning shelves;
  4. Rearranging tables, chairs, vending machines, display racks, and other furniture;
  5. Repositioning telephones;
  6. Adding raised markings on elevator control buttons;
  7. Installing flashing alarm lights;
  8. Widening doors;
  9. Installing offset hinges to widen doorways;
  10. Eliminating a turnstile or providing an alternative accessible path;
  11. Installing accessible door hardware;
  12. Installing grab bars in toilet stalls;
  13. Rearranging toilet partitions to increase maneuvering space;
  14. Insulating lavatory pipes under sinks to prevent burns;
  15. Installing a raised toilet seat;
  16. Installing a full-length bathroom mirror;
  17. Repositioning the paper towel dispenser in a bathroom;
  18. Creating designated accessible parking spaces;
  19. Installing an accessible paper cup dispenser at an existing inaccessible water fountain;
  20. Removing high pile, low density carpeting; or
  21. Installing vehicle hand controls.

The Department of Justice also provide a descriptive hierarchy of which barriers should be removed first.

Priorities. A public accommodation is urged to take measures to comply with the barrier removal requirements of this section in accordance with the following order of priorities.

  1. First, a public accommodation should take measures to provide access to a place of public accommodation from public sidewalks, parking, or public transportation. These measures include, for example, installing an entrance ramp, widening entrances, and providing accessible parking spaces.
  2. Second, a public accommodation should take measures to provide access to those areas of a place of public accommodation where goods and services are made available to the public. These measures include, for example, adjusting the layout of display racks, rearranging tables, providing Brailled and raised character signage, widening doors, providing visual alarms, and installing ramps.
  3. Third, a public accommodation should take measures to provide access to restroom facilities. These measures include, for example, removal of obstructing furniture or vending machines, widening of doors, installation of ramps, providing accessible signage, widening of toilet stalls, and installation of grab bars.
  4. Fourth, a public accommodation should take any other measures necessary to provide access to the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.

What you can not do, is ignore this requirement — it is an on-going obligation for older buildings. In addition, one needs to maintain post-ADA buildings so no new barriers are created. And Barrier Removal also has impact on newer facilities, post-March 15, 2012, for specific items that were not addressed in the original ADA but are now addressed in the 2010 ADAS.

Learn more about Tax Incentives for Businesses [PDF] >


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, FAIA, Architect, CASp 2012