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Accessible PracticesMuseums' Legal Obligations
And these changes, they will happen, just as the Independent Living Movement happened, just as the Rehabilitation Act's 504 regulations for access happened;
just as the Americans with Disabilities Act –
the most comprehensive civil rights law ever written – happened.

—Cheryl Marie Wade, The Ragged Edge, 1992.

ASTC has compiled information on accessibility laws with the needs of museums in mind. Below you will find summaries and links to original sources. These resources are meant as background information only and should not be seen as legal interpretations.

Technical questions should be directed to the U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Line at 800/514-0301 or TTY 800/514-0383.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against people with disabilities in their hiring and contracting practices (Sections 501 and 503), facilities (Section 502), and programs (Section 504). Section 504 is most relevant to museums as it mandates access for people with disabilities to federally assisted programs and services. This includes programs that receive funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Endowment for the Arts, or the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NSF, along with each of the other federal grant making agencies, has its own Section 504 regulations covering its grant recipients.

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Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities including leisure activities. It extends accessibility provisions to both the public and private sectors. The ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications by requiring businesses of all sizes that serve the public to remove existing barriers that are readily achievable, to ensure accessibility in new and remodeled facilities, and to facilitate effective communication by providing auxiliary aids.

The ADA is divided into five sections called "Titles." Summaries of each Title are given below.

  • ADA Title I: Employment
    Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.

  • ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities
    Title II requires state and local governments to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their facilities and programs including museums operated by state or local governments. State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible buildings and furnish auxiliary aids when necessary to ensure effective communication with people with disabilities.

  • ADA Title III: Public Accommodations
    Title III has requirements similar to those of Title II, except that it applies to privately operated businesses, including nonprofits such as privately operated museums. It requires private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities to make reasonable modifications in order to ensure that their facilities, goods, and services are accessible to people with disabilities.

  • ADA Title IV: Telecommunications
    Title IV mandates the establishment of a nationwide telecommunications relay service. It also requires employers, state and local governments, and places of public accommodation (such as museums) to provide accessible telecommunications products and services to aid effective communication by people with disabilities.
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Telecommunications Act of 1996
Nothing in the ADA requires the manufacture of telecommunications products that are accessible. The Telecommunications Act fills this gap by requiring access to telecommunications equipment and services including telephones, faxes, computer modems, and software. For museums, it covers any transmission that travels outside of the museum such as web sites transmitted on the Internet.

State and Local Accessibility Laws
The ADA states that if state laws afford greater protections to people with disabilities, then those laws take precedence. Contact your state or local ADA office to learn more about your obligations.

 Links and Publications Related to Museums' Legal Obligations

greenexhibits.orgState Code Contact List
The U.S. Access Board produces this list of contact information for state ADA offices. Contact your state and local ADA office to learn about your legal obligations because the ADA stipulates that the stricter regulations, whether they be national, state, or local, are the ones you are required to follow.

greenexhibits.orgUnited States Department of Justice
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) distributes the ADA statute, Titles II and III regulations, and technical assistance material addressing specific areas, such as service animals in public accommodations and parking lot requirements. For a free copy of these materials or a list of publications, call the ADA Information Line at 800/514-0301 or TTY 800/514-0383. A complete list of publications and the text of several documents are available on the website.
The ADA Information Line answers technical questions about the law. Call 800/514-0301 or TTY 800/514-0383.

Among the many useful DOJ documents are

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greenexhibits.orgUnited States Access Board
The U.S. Access Board is responsible for developing the minimum guidelines and requirements for standards issued under the ADA and other laws addressing accessibility in facilities and communication. Contact the board by phone 800/872-2253 TTY 800/993-2822; fax 202/272-5447; or e-mail A complete list of publications and the text of some publications are available at

Among the many useful Access Board documents are:

greenexhibits.orgDisability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs)
DBTACs provide public awareness, technical assistance, training, materials, and referrals on the ADA. Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education, the 10 Centers are located throughout the country. To reach the Center in your region call toll-free at V/TTY 800/949-4232. Copies of ADA publications are available at no or reasonable cost.

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Among the many useful DBTAC documents are

  • ADA Question and Answer Brochure
  • A Guide to Disability Rights Laws Brochure
  • Alternatives for Barrier Removal
  • Resources for More Information
  • Common ADA Errors and Omissions in New Construction and Alterations
  • Checklist for Existing Facilities: The ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Who Has Obligations Under Title III
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Providing Effective Communication
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Communicating with People with Disabilities
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Tax Incentives for Improving Accessibility

greenexhibits.orgTrace Research and Development Center
Trace Research and Development Center has comprehensive articles and guidelines on disabilities and universal design including information on accessible web sites, kiosks, and facilities. Contact Trace at 608/262-6966 or TTY 608/263-5408.

Among the many useful Trace documents are:

This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

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