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Accessibility

Smithsonian Standards and Guidelines on Accessibility
Smithsonian Directive 215, Accessibility for People with Disabilities Policy (SD 215):
This Smithsonian directive follows the guidance provided by the legislative provisions of the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and their amendments, using the most current architectural standards stated in the General Services Administration (GSA) Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards (ABAAS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design.

Smithsonian accessibility policy, as specified in SD 215, applies to all new construction, exhibits, barrier removal, alterations, and repair and restoration of facilities and grounds, (as defined in the ABAAS and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, whichever is more stringent), whether the Smithsonian owns or leases the property. The policy also applies to all programs held at or by the Smithsonian, whether they are developed, co-sponsored, or hosted by the Institution.

In addition to the federal accessibility standards listed above, guidance on implementing SD 215 is available through the following documents which are part of the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Design:

  • Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design (SGAED)
  • SI Checklist for Accessible Information Desks

The Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Design established that areas for rescue assistance are required, even in fully sprinklered buildings.

Federal Government Legislation, Regulations, Standards and Guidelines:
Accessibility - Where conflicts arise between the DOJ ADA Standards for Accessible Design and GSA ABA Accessibility Standards documents, the most stringent shall apply (that which provides the greatest accessibility for public and staff), unless otherwise directed by the SI.

  • Department of Justice (DOJ) ADA Standards for Accessible Design
  • General Services Administration (GSA) Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)
  • Accessibility Standards for Federal Facilities


These standards apply to facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with Federal funds under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) except postal facilities, housing, and military facilities. The General Services Administration (GSA) adopted these standards according to updated guidelines issued by the Board.  The standards became effective May 8, 2006 (February 6, 2007 for leased facilities) and replace the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS).


The Department of Justice published revised regulations for Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 “ADA” in the Federal Register on September 15, 2010.  These regulations adopted revised, enforceable accessibility standards called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design “2010 Standards” or “Standards”. The 2010 Standards set minimum requirements – both scoping and technical -- for newly designed and constructed or altered State and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Adoption of the 2010 Standards also establishes a revised reference point for Title II entities that choose to make structural changes to existing facilities to meet their program accessibility requirements; and it establishes a similar reference for Title III entities undertaking readily achievable barrier removal.


In the revised regulations, the Department of Justice included detailed guidance with a section-by-section analysis of the revisions. The following includes guidance from the revised regulations related to 28 CFR 35.151; 28 CFR part 36, subpart D; and the 2004 ADAAG. It addresses changes to the Standards, the reasoning behind those changes, and responses to public comments received on these topics.

For information about the ADA, including the revised 2010 ADA regulations, please visit the Department’s website www.ADA.gov; or, for answers to specific questions, call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).


Exhibitions are complex presentations that convey concepts, showcase objects, and excite the senses. However, as museums recognize the diversity within their audiences, they realize that exhibitions must do more: exhibitions must teach to different learning styles, respond to issues of cultural and gender equity, and offer multiple levels of information. The resulting changes in exhibitions have made these presentations more understandable, enjoyable, and connected to visitors’ lives.

Accessible design must be a part of this new philosophy of exhibition development because people with disabilities are a part of museums’ diverse audience. Discovering exciting, attractive ways to make exhibitions accessible will most directly serve people with disabilities and older adults. But to name an audience who will not benefit by these designs is impossible. Accessibility begins as a mandate to serve people who have been discriminated against for centuries; it prevails as a tool that serves diverse audiences for a lifetime.

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