4 Questions to Answer That Will Improve Your Public Access Systems in 2018

train station with warning tilesOver the past several decades, accessibility for those individuals with disabilities has evolved. Prior to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, there were several changes to laws and civil rights that have resulted in improvements to public access and public access systems.

Public access systems are generally defined as government agencies, and private businesses of any size, which serve the general public in some manner. For example, wheelchair access ramps with detectable warning surface tiles found in a public transit rail station are one type of public access system.

How have public access systems been improved in the past?

The first notable change came about in 1972 in the landmark case Mills v. The Board of Education. The U.S. District Court reviewed the case in which a child was barred access to a public education. The Court ruled that no matter the severity or type of disability, every child is entitled to a public education.

This landmark case paved the way for the passage of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973. This Act provided new protections and civil rights for those with disabilities. Within the Act, Section 504 became a major standard for change because it barred public facilities receiving federal funding to discriminate against those with disabilities.

Then, in 1975, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed. This Act supplemented the Rehabilitation Act and further supported the U.S. District Court’s findings from the Mills v. The Board of Education case. The Act made it against the law to bar or prevent children with disabilities from receiving a public education. It required schools to make the appropriate accommodations for those children with disabilities, such as installing accessible ramps and directional bar tile tactile surfaces.

mother and child at parkIn 1988, as computers and related technologies were evolving, the Technology-Related Assistance Act for Individuals with Disabilities became law. This Act provided federal funds to states for assistive technology public access systems projects.

In 1990, the ADA was signed into law. At the same time, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was renamed IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and updated with new amendments.

In 1998, President Clinton signed modifications and new amendments to the Rehabilitation Act into law. The new amendments included Section 508, which required developing accessible electronic and information systems for those with disabilities.

In 2006, the retailer Target was sued by the NFB (National Federation of the Blind) because its website was not accessible, as required under Title III of the ADA. Title III of the ADA provides that the term “places of public accommodation” also includes the internet and public websites.

In 2008, the ADA was amended with new laws, which further widened the scope and definition of those individuals considered disabled under the Act.

In 2010, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) became law. This new Act required all broadcasts shown on TV that contain captions to also be captioned when made accessible for online for viewing.

teacher with studentIn 2010, Netflix was the first to announce it was in the process of updating its online streaming service to include closed captioning for those individuals with disabilities and to be compliant with the ADA. This announcement came after a ruling where they and other streaming services were sued. The ruling was the first of its kind that now extended the ADA to include online-only businesses.

In 2016, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was updated to reflect changes in technologies. It now contains Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), with version 2.0 taking effect in January of 2018.

As you can see, the ADA applies to more than just businesses that provide products and services to the general public. Today, it includes accessibility requirements for the internet, online-only businesses, brick-and-mortar business with an online presence and more.

The future of how public access systems will be further improved for accessibility according to the ADA will largely depend upon advances in technologies over the next several decades. For example, with autonomous vehicles in the works, you can be sure automakers will need to include accessibility features for those with disabilities.

How does the ADA make life easier for individuals with disabilities?

Both the ADA and Rehabilitation Act make life easier for those individuals with disabilities because it allows them access to public spaces, businesses, and technologies. For public spaces and businesses, both Acts provide a guideline for ensuring their properties provide the right accommodations.

wheelchair ramp signFor instance, some of the requirements a retail store must adhere to include:

  • Setting aside a set number of parking spaces for handicapped drivers.
  • Ensuring each handicap parking space is clearly marked.
  • Verifying the size of each handicap parking space meets current requirements.
  • Installing detectable warning surface tiles in sidewalks for visually impaired individuals.
  • Providing access to at least one handicap-accessible bathroom or stall in public restrooms, which are big enough for wheelchairs and also have support bars.
  • Ensuring entryways, aisles, and other doorways are big enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
  • Verifying specific types of signage, such as emergency exit signs, also have braille on them.

Please keep in mind, this is just a short list of such requirements required by the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Depending on the type of business, industry, and other factors, your business could have numerous other requirements. It is your responsibility to review both Acts and take steps to be notified when there are changes and updates to public access system accommodations and access laws.

What are some of the things that are lacking in certain public access systems?

It largely depends on the type of public access system you are discussing. Let’s first take a look at public spaces and what can be lacking or need improving. Many public spaces tend to fall short in their designs for various reasons.

Some of the more common issues people have with public spaces include:

  • two men walkingPoorly Designed Entrances – If the space is visually inaccessible or it is difficult to know there is an entrance, it will not be used.
  • Insufficient or Lack of Seating – Public spaces should include some form of seating so people can truly enjoy them.
  • Sidewalks That Go Nowhere – Paths through parks or other public areas that curve and come to a dead end can be rather annoying, as people have to back-track to get to where they want to go.
  • Public Spaces That Give Priority to Vehicle Traffic – With busy streets, a crosswalk can be a long distance away. These types of streets need to have more crosswalks and make pedestrians the priority.
  • Inconveniently Placed Transit Stops – Placing transit stops in “hidden” areas or in places where accessing them can be difficult means they are not going to be used.
  • Insufficient Gathering Areas – This topic includes public playgrounds, parks, and other such things that people desire in outdoor spaces.

When it comes to public access systems and technology, there are other things that are lacking, such as:

  • The lack of digital wayfinding systems. These displays provide assistance, even to those without disabilities, in getting directions and providing other useful information. Some can even place phone calls.
  • Inconsistencies in online websites and how to utilize accessibility features. There is no clear-cut standard on how someone with a disability should enable accessibility features when accessing different websites. One site may utilize data obtained from the operating system to enable accessibility features, while another may require users to turn them on themselves each time they visit the website.
  • black directional tactile surfaceInsufficient online security for those with disabilities. For instance, those with visual impairments may have to verbally speak passwords, which increases the risks of them being stolen by others around them when in public areas.

What can be done to improve public access systems?

Businesses can listen to their customers and clients with disabilities to find out what can make their experiences better. Government agencies can conduct surveys of the general population to find out how they can make improvements to public spaces for those with disabilities.

When designing new spaces and buildings, take a moment to think about what accessibility features you might want to include above and beyond those required by law. For example, one of the newest advances in tactile paving is our photoluminescent system, called Glow-Dome™.

This system illuminates in the event of power failure or in lowered light conditions to make it easy to follow a path to exits. The system can be used by itself or with way-finding directional bar tile tactile surfaces.

In addition to these approaches, it is vital to keep up with current ADA and Rehabilitation Act guidelines, requirements, and laws. For more information about detectable warning systems and solutions, or assistance in choosing the right products for your public space, commercial building, or government building, please feel free to contact ADA Solutions at (800) 372-0519 today!


  1. https://cielo24.com/2017/03/a-brief-history-of-accessibility-law-us/
  2. https://www.ada.gov/ada_title_III.htm