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When is a historic structure considered accessible?

Photograph of the exterior of the Point Iroquois Lighthouse
The Civilian Conservation Corps stonework on the Point Iroquois Lighthouse prevents adding a ramp to provide an accessible entrance.

Forest: Hiawatha
District: Sault Saint Marie
Region: 9

Most buildings have a purpose, or "program." Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that all federally conducted and federally assisted programs and activities be accessible. Usually, this means making the buildings housing the programs accessible using current standards. This requirement includes historic structures that are listed or are eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information on accessibility modifications to historic buildings, see the How Do I make Historic Facilities Accessible? section of the toolbox.

If an historic structure can't be made accessible without substantial impairment to significant historic features, then the function or program that building serves must be made accessible using an alternative method that is equal in quality and is provided in as integrated a setting as possible, in accordance with Section 504. In these cases, the program in an historic structure can be considered accessible, even though the building is not accessible.

For Example:

Consider an historic Forest Service lighthouse that is open to the public. The fundamental program offered at the lighthouse is the interpretation of the area's history and culture, as well as a great view from the top of the light tower. However, the foundation is Civilian Conservation Corps stonework and there are stairs to all the entrances, to the second floor, and to the top of the tower. The State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) determined that the entrance stairs could not be altered nor could a ramp be installed without fundamentally altering significant historic features.

Poster advertising the Tower View program at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse
An alternative program experience is provided at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse. The program is accessible even though the lighthouse itself is not accessible.

Forest: Hiawatha
District: Sault Saint Marie
Region: 9

The forest developed an alternative program that is in compliance with Section 504. The forest decided to install interpretative panels along an accessible walkway around the outside of the lighthouse. The panels convey the same information provided inside, including the view from the top of the lighthouse. The work required to provide the alternative program experience was identified in the accessibility transition plan for that facility. Construction was completed. The program is considered accessible, although the building is not.


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