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U.S. Access Board Celebrates 50 Years of the Architectural Barriers Act

September 11, 2018
Source: U.S. Access Board

The U.S. Access Board celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968 with a panel of guest speakers and the unveiling of an exhibit on the law and its impacts at a public meeting and reception on September 7. Board Chair Lance Robertson and Executive Director David Capozzi opened the event which was also streamed live online.

In welcoming both the audience in the room and those online, Capozzi heralded the ABA as an "often-overlooked law that began the steady march toward the accessibility that we currently enjoy." He noted that the celebration was just one of several events marking the occasion. The day before, the Board conducted a webinar on the standards used to enforce the ABA. He also called attention to an exhibit of 20 posters on the ABA lining the meeting room that the Board organized and will later make available online as well. Live audio description of the exhibit is available through a mobile app and smart glasses by Aira.

Board Chair Lance Robertson, who represents the Department of Health and Human Services on the Board, credited the ABA with literally "open[ing] the doors of government to Americans with disabilities like never before" and setting "clear and consistent nationwide accessibility guidelines for the federal government." As the first national law in the U.S. to address accessibility, he noted, the ABA set the foundation for a series of later laws that would extend accessibility far beyond the federal sector, including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.

Judith Heumann of the Ford Foundation, a key figure in the disability rights movement and a former Board chair, gave the keynote speech. Following an introduction by Board Vice Chair Karen Tamley, Heumann offered a unique perspective on the ABA from her early and influential role in the disability rights movement and her years of experience in advocacy and disability policy.

"Prior to the ABA, individuals and families, like me and my family, took matters into their own hands when it came to asserting their rights," Heumann noted in recounting efforts her parents made so that she could attend mainstream public schools, followed by her fighting for the right to become a teacher.

She experienced directly the benefits of the ABA later on in her career while working at the Department of Education and the State Department. She also recalled her time demonstrating in Washington, D.C. as a member of "Disabled in Action" for enactment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which created the Access Board to enforce compliance with the ABA and to set accessibility guidelines for facilities covered by it.

Heumann stated that, as a former Chair of the Board, she has taken great pride in seeing the agency grow from its original ABA enforcement role, which it continues to carry out to this day, to the mantle it has assumed as a leader, both nationally and internationally, in accessible and inclusive design. "The ABA and the Access Board and the work that has been going on now for five decades is [what] we should all celebrate."

Under the ABA, four agencies are responsible for implementing accessibility standards based on minimum guidelines issued by the Board. Representatives from each of those agencies shared their own observations of the ABA and its impacts. They included Allison Brigati, who serves as Deputy Administrator of the General Services Administration, Randy Cooper who is the Director of Disability Programs at the Department of Defense and its liaison to the Board, Tom Samra who represents the U.S. Postal Service on the Board as Vice President for Facilities, and Lynn Grosso who is Director of Enforcement in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Following their remarks, a reception was held that included the cutting of a celebratory cake. See more photos on the Board’s website.

The Board’s exhibit on the ABA is available to the public and will be made available online soon. To make arrangements for a visit, contact Rose Marie Bunales at, (202) 272-0006 (v), or (202) 272-0057 (TTY).

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