Making Historic Buildings ADA Accessible


Something that I notice about a lot of historic houses or buildings is that they can be difficult to get into or to get around in. As I am an adolescent, I am fairly able to walk around for awhile, get up staircases, etc. but not everyone has that ability. To combat this, historic buildings can make the decision to become ADA compliant so everyone is able to visit and enjoy their time.

 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Above, I mentioned the ADA, which is the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 1990. This act was created so that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against because of their physical inability that they have no control over. The role of this act is to make buildings accessible for people who are unable to climb stairs, walk long distances, etc.

Now historic buildings were created well before 1990, so these buildings do not have to be ADA compliant, but they could be. It is important to remember that older buildings and houses were not built with the idea to be accessible for people with disabilities. Primarily what I am talking about are museums, community buildings, and buildings that available for the public to visit. Museums are for everyone, which is why they were created. No one should be prevented from learning about history because of their inability of access. 

Making Historic Buildings Accessible

For the last couple of years in the 21st century, there has been great progress into making buildings accessible for everyone. In order to do this, changes have to be made to the building, which can be costly. Preservation is at the top of anyone’s mind that is thinking of making buildings ADA compliant. Construction materials, structure, and public areas are just a couple of elements that need to be thinking about in order to keep the integrity of the building in tact. 

Making the damage to the building should be as minimal as possible. You don’t want to get rid of important parts of the building, so there are actually ways to get around this. At The Hoover Historical Center, it makes an effort to be accessible for all people. The house was built around the early 1800’s and features an upstairs and a downstairs. There is no way an elevator could be installed, and the stairs could be too narrow for people to walk up or they just cannot. To combat this problem, they created a solution: they created a video that shows the upstairs of the house so that people will see everything. This is just one way that museums can change and still keep the building in tact. 

Accessibility for historic buildings should generally be based on the following priorities:

  1. Making the main or a prominent public entrance
  2. Providing primary public spaces accessible
  3. Providing access to goods, services, and programs


Terms to Define

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)– Act that was passed in 1990 to combat discrimination against people with disabilities. 
  • Accessibility– The concept of enabling access for people with disabilities, etc and bringing benefits to everyone.


Older and Historical buildings are important because they preserve historical significance, are essential to communities and better for the environment than creating new buildings.


  1. Jester C. Thomas and Park C. Sharon. “Making Historic Properties Accessible.” National Parks Service, Making Historic Properties Accessible
  2. Riley, Leah. “A Misunderstood Area of ADA Compliance: Existing Facilities.” Burnham Nationwide, Inc, 22 June 2016, How to be ADA Compliant


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