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Costs of Making Existing Inaccessible Buildings Accessible

The costs of alterations to render existing buildings

accessible vary widely, depending upon the type and age of the building, the extent of architectural and communication barriers present, and other factors. Generally, renovations to make buildings accessible are estimated to vary between one-half to three percent of construction costs of an overall renovation or of a building's underlying value. (ATBCB, "ATBCB Minimum Guidelines and Requirements Cost Information,' Memorandum to

James C. Miller III (March 20, 1981, pp. 5 & 9; U.S. Commission

on Civil Rights, Accommodating the Spectrum of Individual

Abilities, p. 81 (1983); Senator Paul Simon, "Defending the

Handicapped, " National Journal, p. 468 (Mar. 14, 1981)).

ADA limits on access to existing buildings In regard to existing buildings, ADA requires the removal of existing barriers only where they are readily achievable," or, where renovations or alterations are otherwise being undertaken,

to the maximum extent feasible."

If barrier removal would

exceed these modest linits, it is not required under the ADA.' In

many cases, however, access for people with disabilities can be

significantly enhanced within the statutory limits.

Resources and tax deduction

The question of what is readily achievable or feasible is

affected by the nature of a building, overall renovation plans, and resources available. For existing buildings, a significant portion of the cost of providing access is tax deductible. Currently, private businesses can deduct up to $35,000 in access expenditures yearly from federal taxes. Section 190 of the Internal Revenue Code permits businesses to deduct up to $35,000 for costs incurred in removing architectural or transportation barriers to persons with disabilities or elderly people in any facility or public transportation vehicle owned or leased for use in a trade or business.

c. Justification for Requiring Expenditures for Accessibility

It is appropriate for government to guarantee equal opportunity for its citizens, to prohibit discrimination, and to regulate facilities in the public interest. Accessibility for people with disabilities is a legitimate public and governmental interest which is rapidly gaining recognition. Given that a significant portion of our populace has a disability or will experience one at some point, such requirements do not represent a fiscal sacrifice for a select few, but a basic insurance policy provided by our entire society on behalf of our entire society.

At this point in the development of our society, we have

enough understanding of the significant life limitations posed by

architectural and communications barriers on millions of our citizens, that it is folly to continue to build in such barriers. To continue to erect newly-built. but inaccessible public

facilities, for example, when access can be provided so cheaply, is to continue a form of discrimination that can be characterized

as ignorant, at best, or, at worst, as intentional.

Rather than continue the misguided and uninformed policies of the past, we must design a public policy for the '90s and

beyond that takes cognizance of the increasing age of our

society, of the many groups of disabled people whose talents are

needed by our culture and economy, and of the need to decrease

the percentage of our citizenry surviving on benefits and entitlements because of discrimination and an inaccessible

environment. We now have the opportunity to prevent significant future discrimination against a large and rapidly growing group.

Expenses minor

A public policy of accessibility such as the one described

by the ADA can generally be implemented economically.

In new

facilities, the cost is usually under 1/2 of 1% of the building cost. In existing facilities, the "readily achievable" standard (often requiring only such things as small camps and grab bars) will also be inexpensive, and frequently tax-deductible, with the potential return of additional profits.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance

Board has noted that accessibility costs are very small,

especially when compared with the relatively high costs of

incidental routine maintenance:

The 0.8. Goneral Accounting office notes that in
constructing a new building, accessibility features may cost
less than one-tonth of one percent of overall costs. Ву
contrast, the cost to cloan and polish most office floors is
about 13 cents per square foot. Thus recurring cleaning
costs far excoed fixed access costs.
(ATBCB, About Barriers, p. 5)

Even though they may entail some minor costs, access

requirenonts are comparable to many other federally imposed obligations (such as savironmental and health/safety regulations and other civil rights protections) which are levied in the public interest. In the current situation, the public interest cries out loudly for people with disabilities to be afforded the equal opportunity to participate in all facets of American society.


A great deal of concern has surfaced among the small

business community that the requirements of the ADA will impose serious hardships upon small businesses. Lack of familiarity with existing measures that prohibit discrimination against

people with disabilities, serious nisinformation about the actual

requirements of this bill, and a great deal of misunderstanding

about the needs and rights of people with disabilities have

combined to whip up sentiments that the bill does not take into

account the needs of small businesses and that it will be

disastrous for them.

Actually, the bill has been very carefully crafted to take

into account the needs and situation of small businesses at every


I have no hesitancy whatever in stating that this bill

is the most responsive to the particular situations and

characteristics of small businesses of any federal civil rights

law that has ever been considered by the Congress.

Each of the

major requirements of the bill has been tailored in some way to

consider and make allowance for the important and unique needs of

the small business operator.

It is true that small businesses

have not been wholly exempted from the coverage of the publio

accommodations provisions of the bill; small businesses are too important a source of goods and services for the American public to have them totally exempted and told that it is okay to go

ahead and discriminate against people with disabilities.


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