Federal Register / Vol. 56. No. 144 / Friday, July 26. g191 / Rules and Regulations
A4. 15 Drnking Fromtains and Water Coolers
A4.31.12 Automati Doors and Power-
Asisted Doors. Sliding automatic doors do
not need guard rails and are more convenient
for wheelchair users and visually impaired
people to use. If slowly opening automatic
doors can be reactivated before their closing
cycle is completed. they will be more conve-
nient in busy doorways.
A4.15 Drinking Fountains and
A4.15.2 Spout Height. Two drinks foun-
tains. mounted side by side or on a single post.
ae usable by people with dLs ties and
people who find it dIicult to bend oer.
1 -30 I 18
Takes mansfe position, swng
foo1et od the wy. seu
Remove armsta, transfer
Mom wtehaihr out of the
way. changes poton (some
people fol chair or plKot It
90* to the toilet .
Posaons on todet relema
Take transfer pos n. removes
armre set brakes
Poations on toilet
Federal Register / Vol. 56, No. 144 / Frida
y July 26 1991 / Rules s
A4.16 Water Closets
A4.16 Water Closets.
A4.16.3 Height. Height preferences for
toilet seats vary considerably among disabled
people. Higher seat heights may be an advan-
tage to some ambulatory disabled people, but
are often a disadvantage for wheelchair users
and others. Toilet seats 18 in (455 mm) high
seem to be a reasonable compromise. Thick
seats and filler rings are available to adapt
standard fixtures to these requirements.
A4.16.4 Grab Bars. Fig. A6(a) and (b) show
the diagonal and side approaches most com-
monly used to transfer from a wheelchair to a
water closet. Some wheelchair users can trans-
fer from the front of the toilet while others use
a 90-degree approach. Most people who use the
two additional approaches can also use either
the diagonal approach or the side approach.
A4.16.5 Flush Controls. Flush valves and
related plumbing can be located behind walls
or to the side of the toilet, or a toilet seat lid
can be provided if plumbing fittings are directly
behind the toilet seat. Such designs reduce the
chance of injury and imbalance caused by
leaning back against the fittings. Flush controls
for tank-type toilets have a standardized
mounting location on the left side of the tank
(facing the tank). Tanks can be obtained by
special order with controls mounted on the
right side. If administrative authorities require
flush controls for flush valves to be located in a
position that conflicts with the location of the
rear grab bar. then that bar may be split or
shifted toward the wide side of the toilet area.
A4.17 Toilet Stalls.
A4.17.3 Size and Arrangement. This
section requires use of the 60 In (1525 mm)
standard stall (Figure 30(al) and permits the
36 in (915 mm) or 48 in (1220 mm) wide alter-
nate stall (Figure 30(b)) only in alterations where
provision of the standard stall is technically
infeasible or where local plumbing codes prohibit
reduction in the number offixtures. A standard
stall provides a clear space on one side of the
water closet to enable persons who use wheel-
chairs to perform a side or diagonal transfer
from the wheelchair to the water closet How-
ever, some persons with disabilities who use
mobility aids such as walkers, canes or crutches
are better able to use the two parallel grab bars
in the 36 in (915 mm) wide alternate stall to
achieve a standing position.
In large toilet rooms, where six or more toilet
stalls are provided, it is therefore required that
a 36 In (915 mm) wide stall with parallel grab
bars be provided in nddrtihf to the standard
stall required In new construction. The 36 in
(915 mm) width is necessary to achieve proper
use of the grab bars: wider stalls would position
the grab bars too far apart to be easily used
and narrower stalls would position the grab
bars too close to the water closet Since the stall
is primarily intended for use by persons using
canes, crutches and walkers, rather than wheel-
chairs. the length of the stall could be coanen-
tionaL The door. however, must swing outward
to ensure a usable space for people who use
crutches or walkers.
A4.17.5 Doors. To make it easier for wheel-
chair users to close toilet stall doors, doors can
be provided with closer, spring hinges. or a
pull bar mounted on the inside surface of the
door near the hinge side.
A4.19 Lavatories and Mirrors.
A4.19.6 Mirrors. If mirrors are to be used by
both ambulatory people and wheelchair users.
then they must be at least 74 in (1880 mm)
high at their topmost edge. A single full length
mirror can accommodate all people, including
A4.21 Shower Stalls.
A4.21.1 General. Shower stalls that are
36 In by 36 in (915 mm by 915 mm) wide
provide additional safety to people who have
difficulty maintaining balance because all grab
bars and walls are within easy reach. Seated
people use the walls of 36 in by 36 in (915 mm
by 915 mm) showers for back support. Shower
stalls that are 60 in (1525 mm) wide and have
no curb may increase usability of a bathroom
by wheelchair users because the shower area
provides additional maneuvering space.
A4.22 Toilet Rooms.
A4.22.3 Clear Floor Space. In many small
facilities. single-user restrooms may be the only
I I I
Federal Register / Vol. 56, No. 144 / Friday, July 28. 1991 / Rules and Regulations
A4.22 Toilet Rooms
facilities proded for all building users. In
addition, the guidelines allow the use of
'unisex' or family' accessible toilet rooms in
altemrtns when technical tifeasibility can be
demonstrated. Eperence has shown that the
provsion of accessible 'unisex or single-user
restrooms is a reasonable way to provide access
for wheelchair users and any attendants.
especially when attendants are of the opposite
sex Since these facilities have proven so useful.
it is qften cnsdered advantageous to install a
'unisex' toilet room in new facilities in addition
to making the multi-stall restrooms accessible.
especially in shopping malls large auditoriums.
and convention centers.
Figure 28 (section 4.16) provides minimum dear
floor space dimensions for toilets in accessible
'unisex' toiet rooms. The dotted lines designate
the minimum dear floor space. depending on
the direction of approach. required for wheel-
chair users to transfer onto the water closet.
The dimensions of 48 In (1220 mm) and 60 in
(1525 mmn. respectIuely, correspond to the
space required for the two common transfer
approaches utilized by wheelchair users
(see PFg. A6). It is important to keep in mind that
the placement of the lavatory to the immediate
side of the water closet will preclude the side
approach transfer illustrated in Figure A6(b).
To accommodate the side transfer, the space
adjacent to the water closet must remain dear
of obstruction for 42 it (1065 mm) from the
centerine of the toilet (Fgure 28) and the lava-
tory must not be located within this dear space.
A tuning ctrce or T-turn. the clearjloor space
at the lavatory, and maneuvertg space at the
door must be considered when determining the
possible wall loctins. A privacl latch or other
accessible means of ensuring privacy during use
should be provided at the door.
1. In new construction. accessible single-user
restrooms may be desirable in some situations
because they can accommodate a wide variety
of building users. However they cannot be used
in lieu of making the multi-stall toilet rooms
accessible as required.
2. Where sict compliance to the guidelines for
accessible toilet facilities is technically infeastble
In the alteration of existing faclities. accessible
"unisex" toilets are a reasonable alternative.
3. In designing accessible single-user restrooms.
the provisions of adequate space to allow a side
transfer will provide accommodation to the
largest number of wheelchair users.
A4.22 Toilet Rooms
Preservation Brief 32
32 Preservation Briefs HPS
Technical Preservation Services
Making Historic Properties Accessible
Thomas C. Jester and Sharon C. Park, AIA
Table of Contents
Planning Accessibility Modifications
Review the Historical Significance of the Property
Assess the Property's Existing and Required Level of Accessibility
Identify and Evaluate Accessibility Options within a Preservation Context
The Building Site
Considering a New Entrance
Moving Through Historic Interiors
Federal Accessibility Laws
Historically, most buildings and landscapes were not designed to be readily accessible for
people with disabilities. In recent years, however, emphasis has been placed on preserving
historically significant properties, and on making these properties-and the activities within
them-more accessible to people with disabilities. With the passage of the Americans with
Disabilities Act in 1990, access to properties open to the public is now a civil right.
This Preservation Brief introduces the complex issue of providing accessibility at historic
properties, and underscores the need to balance accessibility and historic preservation. It
provides guidance on making historic properties accessible while preserving their historic
character; the Brief also provides examples to show that independent physical accessibility at
historic properties can be achieved with careful planning,-consultation, and sensitive design.
While the Brief focuses primarily on making buildings and their sites accessible, it also includes
a section on historic landscapes. The Brief will assist historic property owners, design
professionals, and administrators in evaluating their historic properties so that the highest
level of accessibility can be provided while minimizing changes to historic materials and
features. Because many projects encompassing accessibility work are complex, it is advisable
to consult with experts in the fields of historic preservation and accessibility before proceeding
with permanent physical changes to historic properties.
Modifications to historic properties to increase accessibility may be as simple as a small,
inexpensive ramp to overcome one entrance step, or may involve changes to exterior and
interior features. The Brief does not provide a detailed explanation of local or State
accessibility laws as they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A concise explanation of several
federal accessibility laws is included on page 13.
Page 1 of 15
Preservation Brief 32
Planning Accessibility Modifications
Historic properties are distinguished by features, materials, spaces, and spatial relationships
that contribute to their historic character. Often these elements, such as steep terrain,
monumental steps, narrow or heavy doors, decorative ornamental hardware, and narrow
pathways and corridors, pose barriers to persons with disabilities, particularly to wheelchair
users (See Figure 1).
A three-step approach is recommended to identify and implement accessibility modifications
that will protect the integrity and historic character of historic properties:
1) Review the historical significance of the property and identify character-defining
2) Assess the property's existing and required level of accessibility; and
3) Evaluate accessibility options within a preservation context.
1) Review the Historical Significance of the Property
If the property has been designated as historic (properties that are listed in, or eligible for
listing in the National Register of Historic Places, or designated under State or local law), the
property's nomination file should be reviewed to learn about its significance. Local preservation
commissions and State Historic Preservation Offices can usually providecopies of the
nomination file and are also resources for additional information and assistance. Review of the
written documentation should always be supplemented with a physical investigation to identify
which character defining features and spaces must be protected whenever any changes are
anticipated. If the level of documentation for a property's significance is limited, it may be
necessary to have a preservation professional identify specific historic features, materials, and
spaces that should be protected.
Figure 1. It is important to identify the materials, features, and spaces that should be
preserved when planning accessibility modifications. These may include stairs, railings, doors,
and door surrounds. Photo: National Park Service files.
For most historic properties, the construction materials, the form and style of the property, the
principal elevations, the major architectural or landscape features, and the principal public
spaces constitute some of the elements that should be preserved. Every effort should be made
to minimize damage to the materials and features that convey a property's historical
significance when making modifications for accessibility. Very small or highly significant
properties that have never been altered may be extremely difficult to modify.
Secondary spaces and finishes and features that may be less important to the historic
character should also be identified; these may generally be altered without jeopardizing the
historical significance of a property. Nonsignificant spaces, secondary pathways, later
additions, previously altered areas, utilitarian spaces, and service areas can usually be
modified without threatening or destroying a property's historical significance.
2) Assess the Property's Existing and Required Level of Accessibility
A building survey or assessment will provide a thorough evaluation of a property's accessibility.
Most surveys identify accessibility barriers in the following areas: building and site entrances;
surface textures, widths and slopes of walkways; parking; grade changes; size,
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Preservation Brief 32
weight and configuration of doorways; interior corridors and path of travel restrictions;
elevators; and public toilets and amenities (See Figure 2). Simple audits can be completed by
property owners using readily available checklists (See Further Reading). Accessibility
specialists can be hired to assess barriers in more complex properties, especially those with
multiple buildings, steep terrain, or interpretive programs. Persons with disabilities can be
particularly helpful in assessing specific barriers.
Figure 2. Surveys of historic properties can identify accessibility barriers. Persons with
disabilities and accessibility consultants should participate whenever possible. Photo: Thomas
All applicable accessibility requirements-local codes, State codes and federal laws-- should be
reviewed carefully before undertaking any accessibility modification. Since many States and
localities have their own accessibility regulations and codes (each with their own requirements
for dimensions and technical requirements), owners should use the most stringent accessibility
requirements when implementing modifications. The Americans with Disability Act Accessibility
Guidelines (ADAAG) is the document that should be consulted when complying with the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
3) Identify and Evaluate Accessibility Options within a Preservation Context
Once a property's significant materials and features have been identified, and existing and
required levels of accessibility have been established, solutions can be developed (See Figure
3). Solutions should provide the greatest amount of accessibility without threatening or
destroying those materials and features that make a property significant. Modifications may
usually be phased over time as funds are available, and interim solutions can be considered
until more permanent solutions are implemented. A team comprised of persons with
disabilities, accessibility and historic preservation professionals, and building inspectors should
be consulted as accessibility solutions are developed.
Modifications to improve accessibility should generally be based on the following priorities:
1) Making the main or a prominent public entrance and primary public spaces accessible,
including a path to the entrance;
2) Providing access to goods, services, and programs;
3) Providing accessible restroom facilities; and,
4) Creating access to amenities and secondary spaces.
All proposed changes should be evaluated for conformance with the Secretary of the Interior's
"Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties," which were created for property owners to
guide preservation work. These Standards stress the importance of retaining and protecting
the materials and features that convey a property's historical
significance. Thus, when new features are incorporated for accessibility, historic materials and
features should be retained whenever possible. Accessibility modifications should be in scale
with the historic property, visually compatible, and, whenever possible, reversible. Reversible
means that if the new feature were removed at a later date, the essential form and integrity of
the property would be unimpaired. The design of new features should also be differentiated
from the design of the historic property so that the evolution of the property is evident. See
Making Historic Buildings Accessible on page 9.
In general, when historic properties are altered, they should be made as accessible as possible.
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Preservation Brief 32
However, if an owner or a project team believes that certain modifications would threaten or
destroy the significance of the property, the State Historic Preservation Officer should be
consulted to determine whether or not any special accessibility provisions may be used. Special
accessibility provisions for historic properties will vary depending on the applicable accessibility
Figure 3. Before implementing accessibility modifications, owners should consider the potential
effect on their historic property. At the Derby House in Salem, Massachusetts, several solutions
to make the entrance accessible were considered, including regrading (a); a lift (b); and a
ramp . The solution, an entrance on a secondary elevation, preserves the building's
architectural significance and is convenient to designated parking. Drawings: National Park
In some cases, programmatic access may be the only option for extremely small or unaltered
historic properties, such as a two-story house museum with no internal elevator. Programmatic
access for historic properties refers to alternative methods of providing services, information,
and experiences when physical access cannot be provided. It may mean offering an audio-
visual program showing an inaccessible upper floor of a historic house museum, providing
interpretive panels from a vista at an inaccessible terraced garden, or creating a tactile model
of a historic monument for people with visual impairments.
The goal in selecting appropriate solutions for specific historic properties is to provide a high
level of accessibility without compromising significant features or the overall character of the
property. The following sections describe accessibility solutions and offer guidance on specific
historic property components, namely the building site, entrances, interiors, landscapes,
amenities, and new additions. Several solutions are discussed in each section, referencing
dimensions and technical requirements from the ADA's accessibility guidelines, ADAAG. State
and local requirements, however, may differ from the ADA requirements. Before making any
modification owners should be aware of all applicable accessibility requirements.
The Building Site
An accessible route from a parking lot, sidewalk, and public street to the entrance of a historic
building or facility is essential. An accessible route, to the maximum extent possible, should be
the circulation route used by the general public. Critical elements of accessible routes are their
widths, slopes, cross slopes, and surface texture. Each of these route elements must be
appropriately designed so that the route can be used by everyone, including people with
disabilities. The distance between the arrival and destination points should also be as short as
possible. Sites containing designed landscapes should be carefully evaluated before making
accessibility modifications. Historic landscapes are described in greater detail on pages 10 and
Providing Convenient Parking. If parking is provided, it should be as convenient as possible
for people with disabilities. Specially designated parking can often be created to improve
accessibility (See Figure 4). Modifications to parking configurations and pathways should not
alter significant landscape features.
Creating an Accessible Route. The route or path through a site to a historic building's
entrance should be wide enough, generally at least 3 feet (91 cm), to accommodate visitors
with disabilities and must be appropriately graded with a stable, firm, and slip-resistant
surface. Existing paths should be modified to meet these requirements whenever possible as
long as doing so would not threaten or destroy significant materials and features.
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Preservation Brief 32
Figure 4. Parking designated for people with disabilities is provided near an accessible entrance
to the Springfield Library in Springfield, Massachusetts. Photo: William Smith.
Existing surfaces can often be stabilized by providing a new base and resetting the paving
materials, or by modifying the path surface. In some situations it may be appropriate to create
a new path through an inaccessible area. At large properties, it may be possible to regrade a
slope to less than 1:20 (5%), or to introduce one or more carefully planned ramps. Clear
directional signs should mark the path from arrival to destination.
Whenever possible, access to historic buildings should be through a primary public entrance. In
historic buildings, if this cannot be achieved without permanent damage to character-defining
features, at least one entrance used by the public should be made accessible. If the accessible
entrance is not the primary public entrance, directional signs should direct visitors to the
accessible entrance (See Figure 5). A rear or service entrance should be avoided as the only
mean of entering a building.
Figure 5. A universal access symbol clearly marks the Arts and Industries Building in
Washington, D.C., and a push plate (right) engages the automatic door-opener. Photo: Thomas
Creating an accessible entrance usually involves overcoming a change in elevation. Steps,
landings, doors, and thresholds, all part of the entrance, often pose barriers for persons with
disabilities. To preserve the integrity of these features, a number of solutions are available to
increase accessibility. Typical solutions include regrading, incorporating ramps, installing
wheelchair lifts, creating new entrances, and modifying doors, hardware, and thresholds.
Regrading an Entrance. In some cases, when the entrance steps and landscape features are
not highly significant, it may be possible to regrade to provide a smooth entrance into a
building. If the existing steps are historic masonry, they should be buried, whenever possible,
and not removed (See Figure 6).
Incorporating Ramps. Permanent ramps are perhaps the most common means to make an
entrance accessible. As a new feature, ramps should be carefully designed and appropriately
located to preserve a property's historic character (See Figure 7). Ramps should be located at
public entrances used by everyone whenever possible, preferably where there is minimal
change in grade. Ramps should also be located to minimize the loss of historic features at the
connection points-porch railings, steps, and windows-and should preserve the overall historic
setting and character of the property. Larger buildings may have below grade areas that can
accommodate a ramp down to an entrance (See Figure 8). Below grade entrances can be
considered if the ramp leads to a publicly used interior, such as an auditorium, or if the
building is serviced by a public elevator. Ramps can often be incorporated behind historic
features, such as cheek-walls or railings, to minimize the visual effect (See Figure 9).
Figure 6. Entrances can be regraded to make a building accessible as long as no significant
landscape features will be destroyed and as long as the building's historic character is
preserved. The Houghton Chapel (a) in Wellesley, Massachusetts, was made accessible by
regrading over the historic steps (b). Photos: Carol R. Johnson & Associates.
Figure 7. This ramp is convenient for visitors with disabilities and preserves the building's
historic character. The design is also compatible in scale with the building. Photo: William
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Page 5 of 15
Preservation Brief 32
Figure 8. A new below-grade ramp provides access to Lake MacDonald Lodge in Glacier
National Park. Photo: Thomas Jester
The steepest allowable slope for a ramp is usually 1:12 (8%), but gentler slopes should be
used whenever possible to accommodate people with limited strength. Greater changes in
elevation require larger and longer ramps to meet accessibility scoping provisions and may
require an intermediate landing. Most codes allow a slightly steeper ramp for historic buildings
to overcome one step.
Ramps can be faced with a variety of materials, including wood, brick, and stone. Often the
type and quality of the materials determines how compatible a ramp design will be with a
historic property (See Figure 10). Unpainted pressure-treated wood should not be used to
construct ramps because it usually appears temporary and is not visually compatible with most
Figure 9. This ramp was created by in filling the window-well and slightly modifying the historic
railing. The ramp preserves this building's historic character. Photo: Thomas Jester.
Figure 10. This brick ramp provides access to St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis,
Maryland. Its design is compatible with the historic building. Photo: Charity V. Davidson.
Railings should be simple in design, distinguishable from other historic features, and should
extend one foot beyond the sloped area (See Figure 11).
Ramp landings must be large enough for wheelchair users, usually at least 5 feet by 5 feet
(152.5 cm by 152.5 cm), and the top landing must be at the level of the door threshold. It
may be possible to reset steps by creating a ramp to accommodate minor level changes and to
meet the threshold without significantly altering a property's historic character. If a building's
existing landing is not wide or deep enough to accommodate a ramp, it may be necessary to
modify the entry to create a wider landing. Long ramps, such as switchbacks, require
intermediate landings, and all ramps should be detailed with an appropriate edge and railing
for wheelchair users and visually impaired individuals.
Figure 11. Simple, contemporary railings that extend beyond the ramp slope make this ramp
compatible with the industrial character of this building. Photo: Thomas Jester.
Temporary or portable ramps are usually constructed of light-weight materials and, thus, are
rarely safe or visually compatible with historic properties. Moreover, portable ramps are often
stored until needed and, therefore, do not meet accessibility requirements for independent
Temporary and portable ramps, however, may be an acceptable interim solution to improve
accessibility until a permanent solution can be implemented (See Figure 12).
Figure 12. The Smithsonian Institution installed a temporary ramp on its visitor's center to
allow adequate time to design an appropriate permanent ramp. Photo: Thomas Jester.
Installing Wheelchair Ufts. Platform lifts and inclined stair lifts, both of which accommodate
only one person, can be used to overcome changes of elevation ranging from three to 10 feet
(.9 m-3 m) in height. However, many States have restrictions on the use of wheelchair lifts, so
all applicable codes should be reviewed carefully before installing one. Inclined stair lifts, which
carry a wheelchair on a platform up a flight of stairs, may be employed selectively. They tend
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Preservation Brief 32
to be visually intrusive, although they are relatively reversible. Platform lifts can be used when
there is inadequate space for a ramp. However, such lifts should be installed in unobtrusive
locations and under cover to minimize maintenance if at all possible (See Figure 13). A similar,
but more expensive platform lift has a retracting railing that lowers into the ground,
minimizing the visual effect to historic properties (See Figure 14). Mechanical lifts have
drawbacks at historic properties with high public visitation because their capacity is limited,
they sometimes cannot be operated independently, and they require frequent maintenance.
Considering a New Entrance. When it is not possible to modify an existing entrance, it may
be possible to develop a new entrance by creating an entirely new opening in an appropriate
location, or by using a secondary window for an opening. This solution should only be
considered after exhausting all possibilities for modifying existing entrances (See Figure 15).
Retrofitting Doors. Historic doors generally should not be replaced, nor should door frames
on the primary elevation be widened, as this may alter an important feature of a historic
design. However, if a building's historic doors have been removed, there may be greater
latitude in designing a compatible new entrance. Most accessibility standards require at least a
32" (82 cm) clear opening with manageable door opening pressures. The most desirable
preservation solution to improve accessibility is retaining historic doors and upgrading the door
pressure with one of several devices. Automatic door openers (operated by push buttons,
mats, or electronic eyes) and power-assisted door openers can eliminate or reduce door
pressures that are accessibility barriers, and make single or double-leaf doors fully operational
(See Figure 16).
Figure 13. Platform lifts like the one used on this building require minimal space and can be
removed without damaging historic materials. Shielded with lattice work, this lift is also
protected by the roof eaves. Approach path should be stable, firm, and slip resistant. Photo:
Adapting Door Hardware. If a door opening is within an inch or two of meeting the 32" (81
cm) clear opening requirement, it may be possible to replace the standard hinges with off-set
hinges to increase the size of the door opening as much as 1 1/2" (3.8 cm). Historic hardware
can be retained in place, or adapted with the addition of an automatic opener, of which there
are several types. Door hardware can also be retrofitted to reduce door pressures. For
example, friction hinges can be retrofitted with ball-bearing inserts, and door closer can be
rethreaded to reduce the door pressure.
Altering Door Thresholds. A door threshold that exceeds the allowable height, generally 1/2"
(1.3 cm), can be altered or removed with one that meets applicable accessibility requirements.
If the threshold is deemed to be significant, a bevel can be added on each side to reduce its
height (See Figure 17). Another solution is to replace the threshold with one that meets
applicable accessibility requirements and is visually compatible with the historic entrance.
Readily Acheivable Accesibility Options
Many accessibility solutions can be implemented easily and inexpensively without destroying
the significance of historic properties. While it may not be possible to undertake all of the
modifications listed below, each change will improve accessibility.
Sites and Entrances
Creating a designated parking space.
Making curb cuts.
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Preservation Brief 32
Rearranging tables, displays, and furniture.
Adding raised markings on elevator control buttons.
Installing flashing alarm lights.
Installing offset hinges to widen doorways.
Installing or adding accessible door hardware.
Adding an accessible water fountain, or providing a paper cup dispenser at an
inaccessible water fountain.
Installing grab bars in toilet stalls.
Rearranging toilet partitions to increase maneuvering space.
Insulating lavatory pipes under sinks to prevent burns.
Installing a higher toilet seat.
Installing a full-length bathroom mirror.
Repositioning the paper towel dispenser.
Figure 14. At the Lieutenant Governor's Mansion in Frankfort, Kentucky, a retracting lift (b)
was installed to minimize the visual effect on this historic building when not in use (a). Photos:
Aging Technology Incorporated.
Figure 15. A new entrance to the elevator lobby replaces a window at Faneuil Hall in Boston,
Massachusetts. The new entrance is appropriately differentiated from the historic design.
Photo: Paul Holtz.
Figure 16. During the rehabilitation of the Rookery in Chicago, the original entrance was
modified to create an accessible entrance. Two revolving doors were replaced with a new one
flanked by new doors, one of which is operated with a push-plate door opener. Photo: Thomas
Moving Through Historic Interiors
Persons with disabilities should have independent access to all public areas and facilities inside
historic buildings. The extent to which a historic interior can be modified depends on the
significance of its materials, plan, spaces, features, and finishes. Primary spaces are often
more difficult to modify without changing their character. Secondary spaces may generally be
changed without compromising a building's historic character. Signs should clearly mark the
route to accessible restrooms, telephones, and other accessible areas.
Installing Ramps and Wheelchair Lifts. If space permits, ramps and wheelchair lifts can
also be used to Increase accessibility inside buildings (See Figures 18 & 19). However, some
States and localities restrict interior uses of wheelchair lifts for life-safety reasons. Care should
be taken to install these new features where they can be readily accessed. Ramps and
wheelchair lifts are described in detail on pages 4-6.
Upgrading Elevators. Elevators are an efficient means of providing accessibility between
floors. Some buildings have existing historic elevators that are not adequately accessible for
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Preservation Brief 32
persons with disabilities because of their size, location, or detailing, but they may also
contribute to the historical significance of a building. Significant historic elevators can usually
be upgraded to improve accessibility. Control panels can be modified with a "wand" on a cord
to make the control panel accessible, and timing devices can usually be adjusted.
Retrofitting Door Knobs. Historic door knobs and other hardware may be difficult to grip and
turn. In recent years, lever-handles have been developed to replace door knobs. Other lever-
handle devices can be added to existing hardware. If it is not possible or appropriate to retrofit
existing door knobs, doors can be left open during operating hours (unless doing so would
violate life safety codes), and power-assisted door openers can be installed. It may only be
necessary to retrofit specific doorknobs to create an accessible path of travel and accessible
Figure 17. Thresholds that exceed allowable heights can be modified several ways to increase
accessibility. Source: Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard (UFAS) Retrofit Manual.
Modifying Interior Stairs. Stairs are the primary barriers for many people with disabilities.
However, there are some ways to modify stairs to assist people who are able to navigate them.
It may be appropriate to add hand railings if none exist. Railings should be 1 1/4" (3.8 cm) in
diameter and return to the wall so straps and bags do not catch. Color-contrasting, slip-
resistant strips will help people with visual impairments. Finally, beveled or closed risers are
recommended unless the stairs are highly significant, because open risers catch feet (See
Some amenities in historic buildings, such as restrooms, seating, telephones, drinking
fountains, counters, may contribute to a building's historic character. They will often require
modification to improve their use by persons with disabilities. In many cases, supplementing
existing amenities, rather than changing or removing them, will increase access and minimize
changes to historic features and materials.
Upgrading Restrooms. Restrooms may have historic fixtures such as sinks, urinals, or marble
partitions that can be retained in the process of making modifications. For example, larger
restrooms can sometimes be reconfigured by relocating or combining partitions to create an
accessible toilet stall. Other changes to consider are adding grab bars around toilets, covering
hot water pipes under sinks with insulation to prevent burns, and providing a sink, mirror, and
paper dispenser at a height suitable for wheelchair users. A unisex restroom may be created if
it is technically infeasible to create two fully accessible restrooms, or if doing so would threaten
or destroy the significance of the building. It is important to-remember that restroom fixtures,
such as sinks, urinals, and partitions, may be historic, and therefore, should be preserved
Modifying Other Amenities. Other amenities inside historic buildings may require
modification. Seating in a theater, for example, can be made accessible by removing some
seats in several areas (See Figure 21). New seating that is accessible can also be added at the
end of existing rows, either with or without a level floor surface. Readily removable seats may
be Installed in wheelchair spaces when the spaces are not required to accommodate wheelchair
users. Historic water fountains can be retained and new, two-tiered fountains installed if space
permits. If public telephones are provided, it may be necessary to install at least a Text
Telephone (TT), also known as a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) (See Figure
22). Historic service counters commonly found in banks, theaters, and hotels generally should
not be altered. It is preferable to add an accessible counter on the end of a historic counter if
feasible. Modified or new counters should not exceed 36" (91.5 cm) in height.
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Figure 18. Symmetrical ramps at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., provide access to
the hotel's lower level. The design for the ramps respects the historic character of this
landmark building. Photo: Thomas Jester.
Making a Historic Building Accessible
The Orange County Courthouse (a), located in Santa Ana, California, was rehabilitated in the
late 1980s as a county museum. As part of the rehabilitation, the architect sensitively
Integrated numerous modifications to increase accessibility. To preserve the building's primary
elevation, a new public entrance was created on the rear elevation where parking spaces are
located. A ramp (b) leads to the accessible entrance that can be opened with a push-plate
automatic door-opener . Modifications to interior features also increased accessibility. To
create an accessible path of travel, offset hinges (d) were installed on doors that were
narrower than 32 inches (81.3 cm). Other doors were rethreaded to reduce the door pressure.
Beveling the 1" high thresholds (e) reduced their height to approximately V4 inch (.64 cm). The
project architect also converted a storeroom into an accessible restroom (f). The original
stairway, which has open grillwork, was made more accessible by applying slip-resistant
pressure tape to the marble steps (g). And the original elevator was upgraded with raised
markings, alarm lights, and voice floor indicators. Photos: Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA.
Making Historic Landscapes Accessible
To successfully incorporate access into historic landscapes, the planning process is similar to
that of other historic properties. Careful research and inventory should be undertaken to
determine which materials and features convey the landscape's historical significance. As part
of this evaluation, those features that are character-defining (topographical variation,
vegetation, circulation, structures, furnishings, objects) should be identified. Historic finishes,
details, and materials that also contribute to a landscape's significance should also be
documented and evaluated prior to determining an approach to landscape accessibility. For
example, aspects of the pedestrian circulation system that need to be understood include walk
width, aggregate size, pavement pattern, texture, relief, and joint details. The context of the
walk should be understood including its edges and surrounding area. Modifications to surface
textures or widths of pathways can often be made with minimal effect on significant landscape
features (a) and (b).
Additionally, areas of secondary importance such as altered paths should be identified-
especially those where the accessibility modifications will not destroy a landscape's
significance. By identifying those features that are contributing or non-contributing, a
sympathetic circulation experience can then be developed.
After assessing a landscape's integrity, accessibility solutions can be considered. Full access
throughout a historic landscape may not always be possible. Generally, it is easier to provide
accessibility to larger, more open sites where there is a greater variety of public experiences.
However, when a landscape is uniformly steep, it may only be possible to make discrete
portions of a historic landscape accessible, and viewers may only be able to experience the
landscape from selected vantage points along a prescribed pedestrian or
vehicular access route. When defining such a route, the interpretive value of the user
experience should be considered; in other words, does the route provide physical or visual
access to those areas that are critical to understand the meaning of the landscape?
The following accessibility solutions address three common landscape situations: 1) structures
with low integrity landscapes; 2) structures and landscapes of equal significance; and, 3)
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Preservation Brief 32
landscapes of primary significance with inaccessible terrain.
1. The Hunnewell Visitors Center at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain,
Massachusetts, was constructed in 1892. Its immediate setting has changed considerably
over time . Since the existing landscape immediately surrounding this structure has
little remaining integrity, the new accessibility solution has the latitude to integrate a
broad program including site orientation, circulation, interpretation, and maintenance.
The new design, which has few ornamental plants, references the original planting design
principles, with a strong emphasis on form, color, and texture. In contrast with the
earlier designs, the new plantings were set away from the facade of this historic building,
allowing the visitor to enjoy its architectural detail. A new walk winds up the gentle
earthen berm and is vegetated with plantings that enhance the interpretive experience
from the point of orientation (d). The new curvilinear walks also provide a connection to
the larger arboretum landscape for everyone.
2. The Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site overlooks the San Ramon Valley, twenty-
seven miles east of San Francisco, California. The thirteen-acre site includes a walled
courtyard garden on the southeast side of the Tao House, which served as the O'Neill
residence from 1937-44 (e). Within this courtyard are character defining walks that are
too narrow by today's accessibility standards, yet are a character-defining element of the
historic design. To preserve the garden's integrity, the scale and the characteristics of
the original circulation were maintained by creating a wheelchair route which, in part,
utilizes reinforced turf. This route allows visitors with disabilities to experience the main
courtyard as well.
3. Morningside Park in New York City, New York, designed by Frederick Olmstead, Sr.,
and Calvert VAX in 1879, is sited on generally steep, rocky terrain (f). Respecting these
dramatic grade changes, which are only accessible by extensive flights of stone stairs,
physical access cannot be provided without destroying the park's integrity. In order to
provide some accessibility, scenic overlooks were created that provide broad visual
access to the park.
(a.) To improve accessibility in Boston's Emerald Necklace Parks, standard asphalt paving
was replaced in selected areas with an imbedded aggregate surface that is more in
keeping with the landscape's historic appearance. Photo: Charles Bimbaum.
(b.) The Friendly Garden at Ranchos Los Alamitos, a historic estate with designed
gardens in southern California, was made accessible with limited widening of its existing
approach path. Photo: Ranchos Los Alamitos Foundation.
(c.) Hunnewell Visitor's Center before rehabilitation, revealing the altered landscapes.
Photo: Jennifer Jones, Carol R. Johnson and associates.
(d.) Hunnewell Visitors Center's entrance following rehabilitation, integrating an
accessible path (left), platform, and new steps. Photo: Charles Bimbaum.
(e.) This view shows the new reinforced turf path at the Eugene O'Neill National Historic
Site that preserved the narrow Historic Path. Photo: Patricia M. O'Donnell.
(f.) Steep terrain at Morningside Park in New York City cannot be made accessible
without threading or destroying this landscape's integrity. Photo: Quennell Rothschild
Figure 19. Inclined lifts can sometimes overcome interior changes of elevation where space is
limited. This lift in Boston's Faneuil Hall created access to the floor and stage level of the State
Room. Photo: Paul Holtz.
Considering a New Addition as an Accessibility Solution
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Preservation Brief 32
Many new additions are constructed specifically to incorporate modern amenities such as
elevators, restrooms, fire stairs, and new mechanical equipment. These new additions often
create opportunities to incorporate access for people with disabilities. It may be possible, for
example, to create an accessible entrance, path to public levels via a ramp, lift, or elevator
(See Figure 23). However, a new addition has the potential to change a historic property's
appearance and destroy significant building and landscape features. Thus, all new additions
should be compatible with the size, scale, and proportions of historic features and materials
that characterize a property (See Figure 24).
New additions should be carefully located to minimize connection points with the historic
building, such that if the addition were to be removed in the future, the essential form and
integrity of the building would remain intact. On the other hand, new additions should also be
conveniently located near parking that is connected to an accessible route for people with
disabilities. As new additions are incorporated, care should be taken to protect significant
landscape features and archeological resources. Finally, the design for any new addition should
be differentiated from the historic design so that the property's evolution over time is clear.
New additions frequently make it possible to increase accessibility, while simultaneously
reducing the level of change to historic features, materials, and spaces.
Figure 20. In certain situations it may be appropriate to modify stair nosings for persons with
mobility Impairments. Whenever possible, stairs should be modified by adding new materials
rather than removing historic materials. Source: UFAS Retrofit Manual.
Figure 21. Seating in historic theaters and auditoriums can be changed to accommodate
wheelchair users. Accessible seating areas should be connected to an accessible route from
the, building entrance. Source: UFAS Retrofit Manual.
Figure 22. Amenities such as telephones should be at height that wheelchair users can reach.
Changes to many amenities can be adapted with minimal effect on historic materials, features,
and spaces. Source: UFAS Retrofit Manual.
FEDERAL ACCESSIBILITY LAWS
Today, few building owners are exempt from providing accessibility for people with disabilities.
Before making any accessibility modification, it is imperative to determine which laws and
codes are applicable. In addition to local and State accessibility codes, the following federal
accessibility laws are currently in effect:
Architectural Barriers Act (1968)
The Architectural Barriers Act stipulates that all buildings designed, constructed, and altered by
the Federal Government, or with federal assistance, must be accessible. Changes made to
federal buildings must meet the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). Special
provisions are included in UFAS for historic buildings that would be threatened or destroyed by
meeting full accessibility requirements.
Rehabilitation Act (1973)
The Rehabilitation Act requires recipients of federal financial assistance to make their programs
and activities accessible to everyone. Recipients are allowed to make their properties
accessible by altering their building, by moving programs and activities to accessible spaces, or
by making other accommodations.
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Preservation Brief 32
Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)
Historic properties are not exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
requirements. To the greatest extent possible, historic buildings must be as accessible as non-
historic buildings. However, it may not be possible for some historic properties to meet the
general accessibility requirements.
Under Title II of the ADA, State and local governments must remove accessibility barriers
either by shifting services and programs to accessible buildings, or by making alterations to
existing buildings. For instance, a licensing office may be moved from a second floor to an
accessible first floor space, or if this is not feasible, a mail service might be provided. However,
State and local government facilities that have historic preservation as their main purpose-
State-owned historic museums, historic State capitols that offer tours-must give priority to
Under Title III of the ADA, owners of "public accommodations" (theaters, restaurants, retail
shops, private museums) must make "readily achievable" changes; that is, changes that can
be easily accomplished without much expense. This might mean installing a ramp, creating
accessible parking, adding grab bars in bathrooms, or modifying door hardware. The
requirement to remove barriers when it is "readily achievable" is an ongoing responsibility.
When alterations, including restoration and rehabilitation work, are made, specific accessibility
requirements are triggered.
Recognizing the national interest in preserving historic properties, Congress established
alternative requirements for properties that cannot be made accessible without "threatening or
destroying" their significance. A consultation process is outlined in the ADA's Accessibility
Guidelines for owners of historic properties who believe that making specific accessibility
modifications would "threaten or destroy" the significance of their property. In these situations,
after consulting with persons with disabilities and disability organizations, building owners
should contact the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) to determine if the special
accessibility provisions for historic properties may be used. Further, if it is determined in
consultation with the SHPO that compliance with the minimum requirements would also
'threaten or destroy" the significance of the property, alternative methods of access, such as
home delivery and audio-visual programs, may be used.
Figure 23. New additions to historic buildings can be designed to increase accessibility. A new
addition links two adjacent buildings used for the Albany, New York, Visitor's Center, and
incorporates an accessible entrance, restrooms, and signage. Photo: Clare Adams.
Figure 24. Creating an accessible entrance with a new elevator tower requires a compatible
design. This elevator addition blends in with the historic building's materials and provides
access to all public levels. Photo: Sharon Park.
Historic properties are irreplaceable and require special care to ensure their preservation for
future generations. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, access to historic
properties open to the public is a now civil right, and owners of historic properties must
buildings and determine how they can be made more accessible. It is a challenge to evaluate
properties thoroughly, to identify the applicable accessibility requirements, to explore
alternatives and to implement solutions that provide independent access and are consistent
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Preservation Brief 32
with accepted historic preservation standards. Solutions for accessibility should not destroy a
significant materials, features and spaces, but should increase accessibility as much as
possible. Most historic buildings are not exempt from providing accessiility, and with careful
StanfnTig historic properties can be made more accessible, so that all citizens can enjoy our
Nation's diverse heritage.
Photo: Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Ballantyne, Duncan S. and Harold Russell Associates, Inc. Accommodation of Disabled Visitors
at Historic Sites in the National Park System. Washington, D.C.: Park Historic Architecture
Division, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1983.
Goldman, Nancy. Ed. Readily Achievable Checklist: A Survey for Accessibility. Boston: Adaptive
Environments Center, 1993.
Hayward, Judith L. and Thomas C. Jester, compilers. Accessibility and Historic Preservation
Resource Guide. Windsor, Vermont: Historic Windsor, Inc., 1992, revised 1993.
Jester, Thomas C. Preserving the Past and Making it Accessible for People with Disabilities.
Washington, D.C.: Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service, U.S. Department of
the Interior, 1992.
Parrott, Charles. Access to Historic Buildings for the Disabled. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of the Interior, 1980.
Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Washington,
D.C.: Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,
Smith, William D. and Tara Goodwin Frier. Access to History: A Guide to Providing Access to
Historic Buildings for People with Disabilities. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Commission,
Standards for Accessible Design: ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Department of Justice, 1991.
Thomas C. Jester is an Architectural Historian with the Preservation Assistance Division of the
National Park Service. Sharon C. Park, AIA, is the Senior Historical Architect with the
Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service.
The authors wish to thank Charles A. Birnbaum, ASLA, Historical Landscape Architect with the
Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service, for contributing the section on historic
landscapes. The authors gratefully acknowledge the invaluable comments made by the
following individuals who reviewed the draft manuscript: William Smith, Massachusetts
Historical Commission; Kay Weeks, H. Ward Jandl, Michael Auer, and Charles A. Birnbaum,
Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service; Clare Adams, New York Department of
Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Lauren Bowlin, Maryland Historical Trust; Tom
Page 14 of 15
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Preservation Brief 32
Mayes, National Trust for Historic Preservation; Elizabeth Igleheart, Maine Historic Preservation
Commission; Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA; Paul Beatty, U.S. Architectural and
Transportation Barriers Compliance Board; Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, National Park Service;
Western Regional Office, National Park Service. Washington, D.C. September, 1993
This publication has been prepared pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966,
as amended, which directs the Secretary of the Interior to develop and make available
information concerning historic properties. Technical Preservation Services (TPS), Heritage
Preservation Services Division, National Park Service prepares standards, guidelines, and other
educational materials on responsible historic preservation treatments to a broad public.
Order Brief | Technical Preservation Services I Preservation Briefs I Search I
Last Modified: Fri, Sep 11 1998 02:58:22 pm EDT
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Secretary of the Interior's Standards 2, 9 and 10
2. Retention of Distinguishing Architectural
9. Compatible Contemporary Design for New
Alterations and Additions.
10. Reversibility of New Alterations and Additions.
The Florida Accessibility Code for Building
Construction contains detailed requirements
implementing both the federal Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 and the more stringent Florida
Americans with Disabilities Accessibility
Implementation Act of 1993.
Historic sites and buildings, replicas, reproductions
and reconstructions are not exempt from these
regulations. However, historic properties and new
buildings can generally be made accessible while
preserving their architectural character through
careful planning and sensitive design.
* Review the historical significance of a property
and identify character-defining features.
* Assess the property's existing and required level of
* Evaluate accessibility
options within a
* Comply with barrier-free access requirements in
such a manner that character-defining spaces,
features and finishes are preserved.
* Work with local disability groups, access specialists
and historic preservation specialists to determine
the most appropriate solution to access problems.
* Provide barrier-free access that promotes
independence for the disabled person to the
highest degree practical, while preserving
significant historic features.
* Provide barrier-free access through removable or
portable, rather than permanent, ramps.
* Design new or additional means of access that
are compatible with the historic property and its
* If providing barrier-free access threatens the
integrity of an historic property, consult with the
State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) about
using alternative minimum requirements. These
alternative minimum requirements have been
established for qualified historic properties that
cannot be made physically accessible without
threatening or destroying their significance.
Qualified historic properties include those listed or
eligible to be listed in the National Register of
Historic Places, those in locally designated historic
preservation zoning districts HP-1 through HP-5, or
those abutting HP-1, HP-2 or HP-3. Owners of
qualified historic properties must first consult with
the SHPO before using the alternative minimum
requirements. If the SHPO determines that
compliance with the full accessibility
requirements would threaten or destroy the
significance of the building, then the alternative
minimum requirements may be used.
The Florida Board of Building Codes and
Standards of the Department of Community
Affairs may grant individual modifications to, or
exceptions from, the literal requirements of the
Florida Accessibility Code for Building
Construction. These waivers or exceptions must
be based on a determination of unnecessary or
extreme hardship. The waivers shall not violate
federal accessibility laws or regulations, and must
be reviewed by the Handicapped Accessibility
Advisory Council. Criteria for reviewing
applications for waivers are established by Rule
9B-7 Florida Administrative Code.
* Undertake code-required alterations before
identifying those spaces, features or finishes which
are character-defining and must therefore be
* Alter, damage or destroy character-defining
spaces, features and finishes while making
modifications to a building or site to comply with
barrier free access.
* Make changes to buildings without first seeking
expert advice from access specialists and historic
preservationists to determine solutions.
* Install permanent access ramps that damage or
diminish character-defining spaces.
* Provide access modifications that do not provide
a reasonable balance between independent,
safe access and preserv-eation of historic features.
* Design new or additional means of access
without considering the impact on the historic
property and its setting.
* Provide barrier free access which destroys
significant features of an historic property without
first consulting the State Historic Preservation