The ADA at 30: Accessability’s Impact on Architecture

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). During that time, architects and designers have helped improve the lives of people with disabilities around the country. But according to some industry leaders, there’s still a lot more work to do.

Last week, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman wrote a piece that gathered examples of ways modern architecture has not yet fully embraced accessibility as a core part of design, but instead often sees it as an afterthought. Here are some highlights to reflect on as you continue to work on expanding your education.

Managing Priorities

As you personally start working on a design for a building or public space, where does your mind go first? The overall look? The way a person interacts with the space? Probably anywhere except how it will comply with codes like the ADA. Joel Sanders, a New York-based architect and Yale professor, says that Western architecture has largely catered toward a default user: people without disabilities. “Everyone else,” Sanders says, “including those with mobility or cognitive issues, tends to become an afterthought, a constraint to creativity, an added cost.”

One recent example of this trend is the 22,000-square-foot Hunters Point branch library in Queens, N.Y. Mr. Kimmelman himself wrote a positive review when it opened, stating its “soaring interior of vertiginous tiers and zigzagging stairs” made it “one of the most uplifting public buildings New York had produced in years.”

However, much like the designers of the library before it was built, Mr. Kimmelman failed to consider the building’s lack of accessibility when writing his review. The many stairs and tiers in the library made some parts unaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair. “How uplifting could a public library be if some people felt unwelcome?” said Mr. Kimmelman.

Since one in four American adults are living with a disability, Mr. Kimmelman argues that designing for accessibility should no longer be an afterthought, but a creative and economic opportunity during the original design stage.

Examples of Accessible and Beautiful Design

The Ed Robert Campus is a 80,000 sq. ft.transit–oriented campus located at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley, California. It includes design elements such as a helical ramp leading to the second floor, specially designed signage and way–finding devices to guide people who are blind or have low vision, and hands–free sensors and timers control lighting, acoustical, and security systems.

Ed Roberts Campus Picture

Weiss/Manfredi, a New York architecture firm, designed the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Robert W. Wilson Overlook with an “innovative switchback path that allows better access to the Garden for visitors of all abilities.”

Robert Wilson Overlook

As you continue to hone your skills and evolve with your craft, consider working toward making designs that intentionally include everyone instead of working with a “default” in mind.


Want to stay up-to-date on the latest ADA standards?
Check out our online continuing education courses by choosing your state below.

AIA’s Tips for Career Resilience

Despite the economic uncertainty facing the world right now, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) wants to help all architecture professionals keep their careers going strong. They recently hosted a webinar where they spoke to four panelists who lived and worked through the last Great Recession. Below are the highlights from their advice on how to have career resilience during difficult times.

Utilize Your Network

Staying connected with previous professors, classmates, or co-workers is a great way to find new opportunities. Here are three simple tips for using your network:

  • Be upfront when looking for a new job, and give back by helping others in their search once you find a position.
  • Reach out to professors, even if you weren’t close. Remember: your school wants you to succeed.
  • Reach out to career services, alumni networks, and local AIA chapters to ask for help, request a mentor, or re-engage when you need encouragement.

Get Involved

  • Use design competitions and events to supplement your portfolio with new building typologies to broaden your experience.
  • Volunteer with AIA, Open Architecture Collaborative, USGBC, Urban Land Institute, and others to extend your network within the profession and to stay engaged if you’re working in a different field.
  • Keep pursuing your license to maximize your skills and marketability.*

*Architects Training Institute consistently adds new online continuing education courses starting at $29

Think Outside the Biz

  • Expand your search to different sectors, different size firms, and new locations. Or consider architecture-adjacent positions such as real estate or facility management.
  • Panelists who accepted positions like these during their job search said they gained useful experience that gave them an advantage in future interviews.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or experienced professional, always remember you have resources and a support system that will help you through economic hardship.


California Architects 2019 CE Requirements

California Architects must complete 5 hours of continuing education in Disability Access by the last day of their birth month in odd-numbered years. AIA Members are also required to complete 18 Learning Units including 12 Health, Safety and Welfare (HSW) hours of continuing education annually.

Architects Training Institute provides an approved 5-Hour disability access course and an AIA approved 18-hour package. The AIA package includes the California required 5-hour ADA course making it very easy to meet the requirements of both. All courses are available in HD Video or Full Narration with Printable Text, and your completion records are stored free of charge!

Architects Training Institute makes it convenient with online anytime courses available whenever and wherever you are!  All you need is a computer or mobile device with an internet connection. It’s that EASY!

Want to learn more?

California Architects have a wide selection of online professional development at their fingertips. Interesting subject matter such as Successful use of Pre-Engineered Metal Buildings, Acoustical Design in Modern Architecture, Getting Decked and Choosing How That happens and Successful Renovations and Additions are among the many courses offered to enhance your knowledge.


Delaware’s Architectural Legacies

On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first State to ratify the U.S. Constitution. It's currently nicknamed "The First State".  The Delaware River and Bay were named after the governor of Virginia, Thomas West, Lord De La Warr by the explorer Samual Argall.  Delaware is also famous for a few of its oldest architectural landmarks. You'll find just a few of them in the images and descriptions below.  Although these buildings weren't designed by Architects as we know them today, they represent American architecture's early beginnings. Perhaps the buildings and structures you design today will become tomorrows architectural legacies.


Architects in Delaware are required to complete 12 hours of continuing education each calendar year by December 31'st.
They are required to renew their license by July 31 of odd years.  AIA members must complete 18 learning unit hours including 12 HSW hours annually.