Should I Still Be Concerned About ICC A117.1?

Update: A new ICC A117.1 was published soon after this blog post. From our understanding, there were no significant changes made in this document relating to handrails and railings.

The original plan was that a new version of A117.1 would be published every five years. The next one will be scheduled for 2022.

While this standard doesn’t have the power of the Justice Department behind it the way the way that the ADA does, it is still being used as a standard for facilities that are not covered by the ADA.


Published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities provides standards used for the specification and construction of accessible facilities.

But what should you use today for creating an accessible facility? The Americans With Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design (ADASAD) or ANSI A117.1?

ANSI A117.1Let’s take a look at a little history first.

The original ANSI A117.1 was created in 1986 and was overseen by the Council of American
Building Officials (CABO).  As it pre-dated the introduction of the ADA, if you were interested in using an accessibility standard for your project, this was the document to use.

With the merging of the various code bodies in 1999, the standard is now overseen by the International Code Council (ICC).

The ANSI standard was to be updated on a five-year cycle, however, the most recent version is the 2009 edition. The lack of an update is likely a result of the approval of the ADASAD in 2010.

When the ADA was approved as a civil rights law in 1990, it also included its own set of guidelines — The Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). The ADAAG  was basically a copy of the 1986 ANSI standard.

The problem was that by the time that the ADA was approved as a law, CABO had updated ANSI A117.1 in 1990. ADAAG  was therefore out of sync with the new ANSI standard.

ADASADHowever, the federal government moves slowly and those changes were not approved by the Access Board until 2005 and were not approved by congress until 2010 with the publication of the ADASAD.

With the updated ADASAD, the importance of ANSI A117.1 was diminished. As a civil rights law, failure to comply with the ADASAD subjected building owners to discrimination suits. As a standard, ANSI A117.1 has no enforcement requirement.

However, while ANSI A117.1 has not been updated since 2009, hearings are underway to review suggestions for changes and updates.

On the other hand, the ADAAG  took twenty years to correct. If one were interested in updating ADA, in my opinion, the first step would be to make a proposal to change ANSI A117.1 and then work through the process of updating ADA.

For now, ANSI A117.1 has been dwarfed by the ADASAD. It will be interesting to see what the new ANSI A117.1 will look like once the dust settles.



  • Is there a document that compares and contrasts the 2010 ADA and the 2017 A117.1?
    We work with the A117 a lot but not so much the ADA. Is there a somewhere to go to know what is different, when we need to look at both to compare the differences?
    Thank you,

    • We do show some comparisons in our building code guide which you can download here

      ANSI A117.1 hasn’t been updated since 2009. The ADA guidelines have pretty much taken over this space for all commercial construction. ANSI is planning on reconvening to review their standard but I don’t know when that is expected to be completed. If you are dealing with commercial construction, you should download the Americans With Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design (ADASAD). You can download it at no cost here:

      Since the ADA does not apply to residential construction, ANSI A117.1 is pretty much only being used when an accessibility standard is being applied to a residential property.

    • This post was published prior to the release of ICC A117.1-2017. The document was supposed to be updated every five years but there was no update in 2014. The plan is to now go back to that original plan with the next revision planned for 2022.

      Our focus tends to be handrail related. There were no significant changes in the 2017 A117.1 as relates to railings. A117.1 pre-dated ADA and formed as the basis of the original ADAAG. As a standard, A117.1 doesn’t have the power of the Justice Department behind it. As a standard, it is still used though in relation to facilities that are not covered by the ADA

  • So you’re saying that building code shouldn’t be followed? A117.1 is incorporated by reference into IBC. IBC, including A117.1, has been adopted by every state in the United States. While I understand your comment about ADA and discrimination suits, I don’t understand why you think the ADAAG would trump A117.1 in design? Would you not be more concerned about a building code violation? At the last ICC IBC meeting I was told that the ADA and A117.1 are now aligned on purpose so building code drives the design and supports the ADAAG objectives. In your experience, the power of the Justice department is swifter and more powerful than a local building inspector?

    • David,
      Each building typically has specifications associated with the job and drawings. These specifications and the drawings need to be checked for any reference to code compliance. There is no one size fits all. Some reference IBC, some IRC, some NFPA, some ADA and some even state the more restrictive if any of these codes, not specifically telling you which one. If there is a code question, you will need to contact the Authority Having Jurisdiction for the project ( Building Inspection Department) for clarification.

      Thank you.

    • Hi David, you are correct. I misspoke in my previous comment.

      With the updated version of ICC A117.1, the reaction of the building inspector is certainly the most immediate concern.

      A117.1 is the initial source for inspectors. It had taken 20 years for ADA to be updated so having this information reviewed by ICC every five years will make it more relevant. The harmonization of ADASAD and A117.1 took many years to achieve. Hopefully, they will continue that way to avoid future confusion.

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