Administrative Read Reference

Public Libraries and the Law

American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Act provides anti-discrimination protection in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications for Americans with disabilities. "Disability" is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and includes a record of such impairment or being regarded as having an impairment. It does not include a person currently using illegal drugs or who abuses alcohol.

Libraries and other units of state or local government are required to have a designated coordinator of compliance activities, establish a grievance resolution procedure, and initiate a self-evaluation survey of current services, policies, and procedures. The survey was to be completed by January 26, 1993. All interested individuals were to be given an opportunity to participate. It is a violation to design and construct a new facility for occupancy after January 26, 1993 which is not "readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities…except where to do so would be structurally impracticable." Elevators need not be installed in libraries under three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor.

Alterations must be accessible. When alterations to primary function areas are made, an accessible path of travel to the altered area (and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area) must be provided to the extent that the added accessibility costs are not disproportionate to the overall cost of the alterations.

Physical barriers in existing facilities must be removed if removal is readily achievable (i.e., easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense). The nature and cost of the action, the size of the establishment, number of employees, the overall financial resources of the public entity, the type of operation and structure, and the impact of the action upon library operations will be considered in determining whether the action is "readily achievable." Buildings that are eligible for the National Registry for Historic Places need not take action which threatens or destroys the historic character of the property, but alternative accessibility avenues must be provided.

If not readily achievable, alternative methods of providing the services must be offered if those methods are readily achievable. Auxiliary aids and services must be provided to individuals with vision or hearing impairments or other individuals with disabilities so that they can have an equal opportunity to participate or benefit unless an undue burden would result.

One manner for libraries to shift responsibility for compliance in contracts for new construction or renovation/remodeling of existing facilities is to provide that the architect and contractor are responsible for ADA compliance. The basic standard used for accessibility guidelines under ADA are the guidelines of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, and the primary enforcement arm is the United States Attorney General acting through the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Additional Resources