As chair of the U.S. Access Board, I had the privilege of participating in an event today celebrating the anniversary of the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968 and the fifty years of progress it helped spark.
Before the ABA was passed, accessibility standards were often inconsistent — and just as often ignored. The American National Standards Institute developed the first accessibility standards in 1961 with the help of Easter Seals and the research of the University of Illinois. Many states used these early standards to develop accessibility requirements in their building codes. However, other states adopted access requirements that ranged from lax to nearly nonexistent. This resulted in great discrepancies in accessible design requirements from state to state, and in some cases, from city to city.
This had real life impacts. It meant that a wheelchair user could easily go to the post office in one town but not in a nearby state or community. The same problem existed with respect to sidewalks, entrances, bathroom stalls, paths of travel, signage, and everything else that makes a building accessible.