The U.S. Access Board, which began as the Architecture and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, and is known by both names, is an independent federal agency that works to assure enforced accessibility for people with disabilities. It is also a key resource of information on accessible design, responsible for developing design criteria, guidelines, and standards, and providing technical assistance and training to those involved in the creation of accessible designs.
In 1965 Congress began taking a thorough look at the problem of barriers to accessibility for the disabled, and in September of that year created the National Commission on Architecture Barriers to Rehabilitation of the Handicapped to generate a report on the extent to which barriers were preventing access, what work was already being done to improve the situation, and what further measures could prevent and eliminate those barriers. That report, issued in June 1968, became the foundation for various forms of accessibility legislation created over the following decades. In August 1968, Congress implemented the Commission’s recommendations by enacting the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), which required access to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with federal funds, and which was passed with the additional aim that the federal government response would encourage similar laws at the state and local levels, as well as in the private sector.
However, after a few years, Congress realized that compliance was not occurring as it had hoped, and that there were still no initiatives to create federal design standards for accessibility. So it became clear there would need to be a central agency to handle enforcement of the ABA, and ensure development of design standards. That’s when Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 created the Access Board, which was initially named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. It was mandated to ensure federal agency compliance with the ABA, propose solutions to the environmental barriers problems addressed in it, and handle nearly all federal programs that affected the design, development, and construction of buildings and facilities. Cabinet level officials from eight federal agencies were to make up the Board. This included people from the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare; Housing and Urban Development; Interior; Labor; and Transportation; the General Services Administration; the Veterans Administration; and the U.S. Postal Service.
The first Access Board meetings were held in 1974, and Congress further strengthened the Board’s compliance authority with amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, which gave it power to withhold federal funds for lack of compliance. Also at that time, the Department of Defense became part of the Access Board, and the Board was directed to hire an Executive Director and other staff, and appoint a Consumer Advisory Panel, with the majority of members to be people with disabilities. In 1976, the Board helped the National Park Service design renovations to make government monuments accessible for the Bicentennial celebration. It also published “Access Travel: Airports,” and worked with Amtrak to design accessible railroad cars. In 1978 Rehabilitation Act amendments authorized the Board to establish minimum accessibility guidelines under the ABA, and to ensure compliance with the requirements. In addition, the Access Board’s technical assistance role was expanded to include helping, in federally funded buildings and facilities, with the removal of communication barriers, such as the lack of ready access to, or use of, various means of communication, like touch screens or public address announcements, by handicapped people. It was also directed to provide technical assistance when practical to private entities. At the same time, and for the first time, public members, to be appointed by the President, were mandated to be added to the Board. There were to be 11, with at least five of those having disabilities. In addition, the Department of Justice became the 10th agency to become part of the Board. Ultimately, the Board would be made up of 12 federal agencies, with the addition of the Department of Commerce, and with the split of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services.
In 1984, “Minimum Guidelines and Requirements for Accessible Design” were issued, and in 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which expanded the Access Board’s mandate to include developing the accessibility guidelines for facilities and transit vehicles covered by the law; providing technical assistance and training on these guidelines; and conducting research to support and maintain the guidelines.
On the day the ADA became law, the Access Board had a toll-free technical assistance phone line installed. A year after the signing of the ADA, the Access Board published its Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities, regarding what has to be accessible and how to achieve it. A few months later, the Board also published guidelines specific for transportation facilities and vehicles. Since then, the Board has published several additional guideline publications, and established various advisory and regulatory negotiation committees, including Recreation Access; Outdoor Developed Areas; Passenger Vessels; and Public Rights-of-Way. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, a comprehensive law overhauling regulation of the telecommunications industry, addressed access to telecommunications for the disabled in the information age, and directed the Access Board to develop guidelines on what makes telecommunications products accessible. The Board published those guidelines, as performance requirements, in 1998, covering access issues for people with disabilities affecting hearing, vision, movement, manipulation, speech, and interpretation of information.
In 1998 President Bill Clinton signed into law Rehabilitation Act Amendments strengthening Section 508, which deals with access to federally funded programs and services, requiring access to electronic and information technology provided by the federal government, with the Access Board made responsible for developing accessibility standards and incorporation and procurement guidelines. The Board then created an Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee to address the topic, and published those standards in December 2000.
In August 2011, the Access Board voted to develop regulations for the improvement of classroom acoustics, the goal being to create a more acoustically safe environment for school children and teachers. In September it released proposed guidelines for accessible public rights-of-way that provide design criteria for newly constructed or altered public streets and sidewalks.
The U.S. Access Board is responsible for assuring enforced accessibility for the disabled. According to the Board, its specific activities include:
From the Web Site of United States Access Board
The FY 2013 U.S. Budget Justification offers the following breakdown of the agency’s budget:
Personnel Compensation $4,000,000
Personnel Benefits $1,000,000
Rental Payments to GSA $1,000,000
Other Federal Goods and Services $1,000,000
Total New Obligations $7,000,000
According to USASpending.gov, the U.S. Access Board spent more than $5.6 million on 689 contractor transactions during this decade. Services the agency has paid for range from ADP Facility Operation and Maintenance ($1,072,584) and hotel/motel lodging ($443,438) to Program Management/Support ($275,689), ADP Systems Development ($243,281), and miscellaneous professional services ($241,286).
The five contractors who have been the top recipients of U.S. Access Board spending since 2002 are:
1. L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. $1,126,694
2. Global Networkers $443,421
3. The Researcher Foundation of State University of New York $371,006
4. Feith Systems & Software $243,281
5. Brown & Company CPAs $198,895
The U.S. Access Board (USAB), an independent Federal agency that works to assure enforced accessibility for people with disabilities and is also a key resource of information on accessible design, is chaired this year by a pioneer disability rights activist, Nancy Starnes.
Douglas J. Anderson began his term as.Chair of the United States Access Board in March 2009. The Board is an independent Federal agency that works to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities. It operates with about thirty staff and a governing board, which includes representatives from federal departments and public members appointed by the president. Originally created under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Board was charged with ensuring federal agency compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the 1998 Amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act each significantly expanded the Board’s mandate. It is also a key resource of information on accessible design, responsible for developing design criteria, guidelines, and standards, and providing technical assistance and training to those involved in the creation of accessible designs.