How to Develop an ADA Transition Plan to Keep Public Spaces Accessible

June 20, 2018

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on someone’s disability. According to Title II of the act, municipalities are required to have a plan to make accommodations for everyone.

Barriers can exist in any public space limiting its usability and access – whether it’s lack of a curb ramp at an intersection, cross slope at accessible parking, or deteriorated sidewalks. Some cities have Transition Plans in place, some do not. Either way, these plans are most often required by law and are living documents that require updating as facilities fall out of compliance, or fail to meet new guidelines, or as facilities are redeveloped.

As city populations age and grow, it’s important to update old facilities and assure new facilities meet current standards. Providing access to and from markets, schools, clinics and parks is key to the health and vibrancy of towns and cities.
Mike Horn, project design leader

Some common barriers and misconceptions

Barriers are defined as anything preventing a person with a disability from equal access to a built facility based on existing guidelines. Here, we look at some of the hundreds of possible barrier examples cities can face.

Barriers prevent people with disabilities from equal access. This construction sign blocks sidewalk useage.


Curb ramps — Is there a lack of curb ramps at intersections or lack of truncated domes at older ramps? Truncated domes are the tactile warning device (the bumpy grid) at the bottom of the curb ramp. They warn that a person is entering a dangerous area with moving vehicles.

curb ramps
The bumps at the end of a curb ramp signal disabled people they are about to enter a vehicle area.


Parking — Are the accessible parking spaces closest to the main entrances? There should be at least one eight-foot wide accessible space adjacent to the access aisle for every 25 parking spaces. This ensures all spaces are van accessible, thus not requiring the ‘van accessible’ sign below the accessible parking sign.

Parking and drop-off areas
Parking spaces for disabled people have specific rules for accessibility.


Stairs — Stairs are not considered part of the accessible route in Minnesota, however they must follow state and local building codes.

Stairs are not always included in ADA compliant access routes, but do follow local building codes.

Building access ramps — Also in Minnesota, ramps (eight percent running slope with railings) are not allowed to be used as an outdoor access route to a building. The access route running slope should be no greater than five percent.

ADA compliant ramps should have slopes of no more than five percent.

Outdoor developed areas — Public outdoor developed areas were added to ADA guidelines in 2004. Those areas include parks, sports facilities, amusement parks, play areas, golf, boating and fishing facilities, swimming pools and shooting facilities. The 2004 guidelines were amended in 2013, adding provisions for trails, picnic and camping facilities, viewing areas and beach access routes. Often times, parks have very dated infrastructure and have multiple barriers that limit access.

Public outdoor developed areas
Parks were added to the ADA guidelines in 2004. Many cities often have dated infrastructure with limited access. 


To begin the Transition Plan, cities should take stock of what they already have. This first-step is known as the self-evaluation. During this step, cities identify barriers in their buildings, programs and policies. 

There are different methods for performing a self-evaluation.

The Good — The preferred method is using a smartphone or tablet to gather field data into a Geographic Information System (GIS) database. This provides real-time data securely stored on remote servers. It also gives accurate locations of all barriers. The data can also be actively used in day-to-day operations via work orders and updated as work is completed. Reports can be generated periodically on the progress of barrier removals.

"Most cities I've worked with say that going the GIS route is the best move," says Horn. "That method really helps lay everything out for future projects and puts all of the data in one place. It also helps new city employees understand what's going on when they come on board."

The Bad — If the resources are available, the handwritten information can be entered into a database or spreadsheet making the information less static and more usable. But, this method does lack smart geographic information. This method doesn’t gather dust, but is usually lost in cyberland.

The Ugly — The old-fashioned way of handwriting on forms and checklists. These are static documents that are hard to synthesize into usable data and impossible to update. These paper documents typically gather dust on a shelf.

According to Horn, ADA standards are numerous and complex. Barriers can exist in any public space limiting the usability and access. Someone with thorough knowledge of these standards is important in providing cities assistance to complete their self-evaluation.

Transition Plan

If a city employs less than 50 people, the self-evaluation, (and a few other minor items), is all that is required by law. However, if the city employs more than 50 people, a formal Transition Plan is required in addition to the self-evaluation. 

The Transition Plan is a formal document available to the public outlining the city’s compliance with ADA. A typical Transition Plan Table of Contents includes:

  1. Introduction/Executive Summary: Background on need and purpose, relationship to other laws, general outcome of self-evaluation.
  2. ADA Program Coordination: Listing one or more designated persons responsible to coordinate ADA compliance. This person or persons are responsible to serve staff and the public with knowledge and background to address questions and issues regarding ADA.
  3. ADA Public Notice: Statement on the city’s understanding of their responsibility for employment, communications, policy, and modifications to policies and procedures.
  4. Grievance Procedure: A written and published procedure with contact information on how someone can make a complaint or grievance against discrimination on the basis of a disability. 
  5. Public Involvement: The procedure on how the city reaches out to the disabled public on accessibility challenges and priorities. 
  6. Self-Evaluation: Detail of existing barriers to city communications, programs and services, streets and intersections, buildings and outdoor areas.
  7. Implementation Program: The city’s methods and schedule on barrier removals. This section can include costs for the work.

Wrapping it up

At a minimum, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires cities to know what barriers exist in all facilities, programs and policies. A full Transition Plan is required in larger cities. Some cities may think they’re compliant with a document sitting on the shelf from 20 years ago, but a good Transition Plan changes and evolves with the city. As a city’s boundaries change, so does the plan. Keeping the plan current and timing modifications with other projects help meet Transition Plan goals to remove barriers for everyone. Although guidelines are set by the federal government, there's no one-size-fits all package.

"The nuts and bolts tend to be the same," Horn says. "But things can start to get complicated depending upon which city department is responsible for what, where in the right of way barriers might occur and a host of other things."

About the author

Mike Horn

Mike Horn is a project design leader specializing in ADA compliant design and construction of outdoor spaces, dedicated to helping communities find smart, accessible solutions to new and renovated facilities. Contact Mike

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