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Proposed changes to 521 CMR - 2016/2017

The intent of the proposed regulation is to “to provide persons with disabilities full, free and safe use of all buildings and facilities so that all such persons may have the educational, employment, living and recreational opportunities necessary to be as self-sufficient as possible and to assume full responsibilities as citizens.”

AAB staff worked with the Board and its Subcommittee on Regulations, and staff from multiple sister agencies in order to review the text and propose amendments to meet the general objectives prescribed in M.G.L. c. 22 § 13A.  The proposed regulation is the culmination of eight (8) years of collaboration and debate in the an effort to provide the citizens and businesses of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with a high-quality state building code that is fully compliant with the AAB’s charge.  This process has also taken into account submittals from the general public over the last eight (8) years, along with any consistent and commonly requested variances.  Furthermore, this re-write of the code strives to achieve substantial equivalency with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, which will create a safe harbor with respect to lawsuits brought under the ADA by creating one code book that ensures compliance with both state and federal requirements. More specific aspects of the proposed regulations in order to align with existing codes and guidelines are as follows:

  • All new drawings for all existing and some new sections of the code book
  • Rearrangement of sections of the code book to create more uniformity within the codebook and with other building codes used throughout the Commonwealth
  • Jurisdiction clarification; addition of jurisdiction for temporary overnight shelters; expansion of exceptions (Section 3)
  • Addition of more language regarding variance process (Section 4), which is already in place on existing variance forms
  • Clarification for some existing definitions and addition of some new definitions; mainly for new sections of the codebook; e.g. amusement attractions, play component, golf car passage, etc. (Section 5)
  • Addition of specific knee and toe clearances within the new “Building Block” section; this section creates a cluster of all base requirements for general clearances and reach ranges (Section 6 & 7)
  • Change to existing reach ranges (Section 6)
  • Addition of more specific regulations regarding surface flatness and the use of pavers, paving stones and bricks (Section 7)
  • Clarification about scope of work at existing sidewalks (Section 9)
  • Addition of requirement for automatic door or power-assisted door, per request of MS Society (Section 10)
  • Addition of slope tolerances for ramps with a short rise (Section 12)
  • Additional language regarding edge protection requirements for ramps (Section 12)
  • Creation of “detectable warnings” section in accordance with existing requirements (Section 13)
  • Additional language for alternate elevator and wheelchair lift cab configurations (Section 14)
  • Reduction in number for requirement of van accessible parking spaces (Section 15)
  • Clarification of required accessible parking at medical facilities (Section 15)
  • Change to requirements to handrail extensions at the bottom of a stair flight (Section 16)
  • Language added for drinking fountains for standing persons (Section 17)
  • Addition of “family toilet room/unisex toilet room” requirement (Section 18)
  • Additional requirements for toilet compartment partitions (Section 18)
  • Clarifying and additional language for grab bars (Section 18)
  • Elimination of “stall-type” urinals, per request of Plumbing Board (Section 18)
  • Clarification and additional language for shower stalls, and shower and tub seats (Section 19)
  • Additional language regarding Braille and visual character requirements for signage (Section 21)
  • Additional language for public telephones (Section 22)
  • Additional language for ATMs and fare vending machines (Section 23)
  • New section for requirements for two-way communication systems (Section 25)
  • Addition of language and requirements for places of assembly (Section 26)
  • Deletion of “Houses of Worship”, “Commercial Buildings”, and “Recreation Facilities” due to incorporation of sections into “Places of Assembly” and the other applicable sections for commercial spaces, whether restaurants, retail establishments, or the additional section of the code encompassing all types of recreation facilities.
  • Additional language and requirements for public and common use kitchens (Section 28)
  • Language added regarding outdoor and bar seating at restaurants (Section 29)
  • Additional language and clarification for transportation facilities (Section 30)
  • Language regarding solid partitions in detention facilities added (Section 31)
  • Language and clarification added for retail establishments (Section 32)
  • Additional language and clarification added, including but not limited to bed heights (direct response to request),vanities, balconies, and requirements for roll-in showers (Section 33)
  • New section for “benches” (Section 39)
  • Exceptions added for “Controls/Operable Parts” (Section 41)
  • Change of Group 1, Group 2A, and Group 2B dwelling units to be respectively changed to “Type B”, “Type A” and “Accessible Dwellings”
  • Change of sink depth requirements for multiple dwellings, based on significant variance requests (Section 43 and Section 45)
  • Entire new section for recreation facilities, expanding upon the previous Section 19 (Section 48-61)

View the proposed amendments to 521 CMR 

Board interpretations


On February 17, 2016, the Board voted to clarify the requirement for the illuminated International Symbol of Accessibility.  The Board unanimously voted that all emergency egress signs that are required to be illuminated (per the International Building Code – 2009, Chapter 10, Section 1011 et seq. with Massachusetts amendments, per 780 CMR), and are part of an accessible means of emergency egress (as defined in 521 CMR, Section 5), shall be required to include the illuminated International Symbol of Accessibility. 

Definition of "townhouse"

On January 27, 2014, the Board voted to clarify the definition of “townhouse” to be consistent with all State Building Codes, thereby incorporating the definition of “townhouse” from 780 CMR.  Therefore, "townhouses" shall be defined as "a single-family dwelling unit constructed in a group of three or more attached units in which each unit extends from foundation to roof and with a yard or public way on not less than two sides."

Ramps over amusement ride cables

View Interpretation Ramps 

View Interpretation Ramps 

View Interpretation Ramps 

Portable toilet news

View Portable Toilets 

View Portable Toilets

View Portable Toilets 

SECTION 10.3, parking at multiple dwelling unit occupants

The Architectural Access Board is aware of the difficulty in complying with the literal language of Section 10.3 when it is not known who the occupants of dwelling units will be prior to construction. Therefore, it is the Board's opinion that when designing and laying out parking lots reserved for tenants of multiple dwellings, when fifteen or more spaces are provided the number of accessible parking spaces provided shall be determined by Section 23.2.1 (Formula for Required Minimum Number of Accessible Spaces) of 521 CMR at the time of initial construction. When less than fifteen spaces are provided, a minimum of one accessible parking space must be capable of being provided. The AAB will be amending its regulations in the future, however, in the interim, compliance with Section 23.2.1 will satisfy Section 10.3 of 521 CMR in regards to the number of accessible parking spaces to be allotted for dwelling unit occupants.

This interpretation was unanimously accepted by the Board Members on April 8, 2006.


Architectural Access Board kiosk

The Architectural Access Board now has an information kiosk within the office, which is available to review any cases that have been scanned. The system can be searched by the following fields: type of docket (complaint or variance), docket number, year, and the building name, address, and/or city/town. For a fee of $5.00, a disk can be made available to you to copy any information to.  Use of the kiosk will have to be scheduled, so please make sure to call or e-mail the AAB Staff  to schedule a time to come to the office to utilize the kiosk.  

Notice Regarding 521 CMR 39.4: Location of Control, viz Location of Light Switches within the 18 inch Latch Pull-Side of the Door

Additional Resources for Notice Regarding 521 CMR 39.4: Location of Control, viz Location of Light Switches within the 18 inch Latch Pull-Side of the Door

Electronic forms

You may file complaints with the AAB electronically.

Microsoft WORD versions of AAB complaint forms are available for download in the Complaint Process section on this page, and can be completed on your PC and returned by E-mail to the AAB.

Completed forms are to be returned to Thomas P. Hopkins, AAB Director.

Plan review

Due to staffing limitations the AAB is no longer able to conduct plan reviews of buildings or parts of a building or facility.


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