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How Do I Make Historic Facilities Accessible?

Historic structures are not exempt from accessibility requirements. All buildings serving the public and/or used by FS employees (except certain special-use buildings or parts of buildings) must be accessible. This means that changes must be made to most historic structures to provide accessibility. Usually, accessibility can be achieved without harming the building's historic integrity.

Photo showing front entrance to the historic Baker Ranger Station.

The ramp on the front porch of the historic Baker Ranger Station (National Park Service) in Baker, NV integrates access while minimizing impact to the building's historic fabric.

Photo showing side view of the Baker Ranger Station with ramp entrance.

An end view of the Baker Ranger Station ramp shows how it was integrated into the porch structure. Existing porch railings were retained.

There are sometimes conflicts between providing accessibility and maintaining the integrity of a historically significant property. Where full compliance with accessibility requirements would create a "substantial impairment" to the historic features of the property, the ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines provides guidelines for accessibility. Where access to all areas of the structure is not possible, the most integrated alternative access should be developed. Alternatives may include different entrance requirements and limited physical access supplemented by additional programmatic access. The most integrated alternative is the best alternative. All people should experience the building in the same way whenever possible.

Photo showing front entrance to the Stuart Guard Station.

A ramp on the front would diminish the Stuart Guard Station's historic integrity.

Forest: Manti-LaSal
District: Price
Region: 4

Photo of the rear entrance to the Stuart Guard Station.

A ramp from the parking lot leads to a secondary entrance to the Stuart Guard Station.

Forest: Manti-LaSal
District: Price
Region: 4

When physical access is not possible, such as at an historic lighthouse, access to a similar experience through programmatic features must be provided, in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Using the lighthouse example, interpretive panels on a boardwalk around the base of the lighthouse could display the view from the top of the lighthouse, the interior of the lighthouse, information about the history of the structure, and so forth.

Photo showing side view of the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.

The CCC stonework on the Point Iroquois Lighthouse prevents adding a ramp to provide an accessible entrance.

Forest: Hiawatha
District: Sault Saint Marie
Region: 9

Photo showing poster advertisement for the Tower View program at Point Iroquois Lighthouse.

An alternative program experience is provided at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Forest: Hiawatha
District: Sault Saint Marie
Region: 9

The General Services Administration (GSA) recommends the following three-step approach when applying ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines.

  1. Recognize that, to the maximum extent possible, historic buildings should be as accessible as other buildings.

  2. When a loss of architectural character or integrity would result from full compliance, apply alternative standards and seek to provide at least:

    • One accessible entrance


    • One accessible restroom


    • One accessible route

  3. When an unacceptable loss of historic fabric or architectural character would result from the treatments in item 2 above, then "alternative experiences" may be developed. Alternative experiences could include audiovisual presentation of inaccessible areas, staff assigned to accessible areas, or other innovative means of program delivery.

A transition plan must be completed for each building serving the public and/or used by FS employees (except certain special-use buildings or parts of buildings) that is not already accessible. Each inaccessible historic structure must be evaluated following the Secretary of the Interior's Making Historic Properties Accessible and Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) and the unit's accessibility specialist should be included in the team evaluating the building and identifying appropriate changes that will provide for both accessibility and maintaining the building's historic character.


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