Guest Column - May/June 2002
Find a printable version here

Figuring out ADA

How to apply ADA accessibility guidelines to your restroom facilities

By Alan Gettelman, Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc.

Ten years later confusion persists.

Sample figure featured in the
"Barrier-Free Washroom Planning Guide."

Yes, it's been more than 10 years since since the Americans With Disabilities Act was adopted into law. Make no mistake, it's no longer a matter of courtesy to provide barrier-free accessibility to persons of all physical capabilities, including the disabled—it is a civil right. Inaccessible facilities are defined as a form of discrimination. And, while the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorney General don't have a squad of "ADA Police" checking out buildings, many, many lawsuits have been brought against properties not in conformance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).

Furthermore, architects, building designers and property managers remain confused. And why not? The stack of Titles pertaining to washrooms is several feet thick.

To help the design and construction communities sort through all this, a complimentary resource—the "Barrier-Free Washroom Planning Guide"—was developed and is periodically updated under the direction of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

Over the years, with hundreds of thousands of copies in circulation, the Guide (complete with bibliography) has been updated as needed, with the current edition covering ICC/ANSI A117.1-1998 Standards, replacing CABO/ANSI A117.1-1992. Most recently, and of particular interest to recreational property managers, "Building Elements For Children's Use" has been added (see sidebar).

Sample figure featured in the
"Barrier-Free Washroom Planning Guide."
Universal design is a thoughtful consideration

When accommodating the accessibility requirements for the disabled (the term "handicapped" hasn't been PC for some time), there is no need to isolate the amenities, and in turn, give the disabled a feeling of "special treatment"—a feeling many resent. This also can result in people of average physical capabilities not using the "special" fixtures and accessories.

Furthermore, you should try to avoid a "clinical look" in the products you select. Universal design is a concept whereby people of all physical capabilities can and do feel welcome to use all washroom amenities, that is, lavatories, plumbing fixtures, dispensers, receptacles and compartments. This approach also provides maximum use of the facilities. To this end, there are many attractive products from which to choose, all fully functional for all washroom patrons.

Twists and turns

When selecting washroom fixtures and accessories, be certain to confirm that faucets, toilets, dispensers and vendors of all types meet ADAAG specifications for controls and operating mechanisms. Push buttons, valves, knobs and levers must be "operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist, and with a force that does not exceed 5 lbf (22.2N)."

Basic mounting heights, turning space and clearances

Space and accessibility for people in wheelchairs is a fundamental design consideration in terms of clear floor space, mounting-height requirements, left-right access and turning space. Specifically, figures in the Guide offer illustrations for Recommended Mounting Heights for Washroom Accessories, Wheelchair Turning Space for 180° Turns as well as provide detailed descriptions of Lavatory Clearance and Wheelchair Transfers to Toilet.

Three layouts of interest for larger recreational facilities

While the Guide provides plan views of smaller restrooms, individual toilet rooms and bathing and dressing facilities, some figures may be of more relevance for high-traffic recreational establishments. For example, there are figures that illustrate a Large Women's Washroom with Single-Door Entry, a Large Women's Washroom with Open Vestibule and a Large Men's Washroom with Double Open Vestibule. Vestibules are not only preferred for barrier-free access, but also for efficient traffic management.

Avoid surprises, check with all authorities

As one would imagine, with all the complexities of compliance, not all the standards are universally understood by and uniformly interpreted by all government agencies. Therefore, it is recommended plans be submitted to all building code and compliance authorities, state, regional and local.

Children's Reach Ranges

Refer to these charts to find the best locations within the given overall age ranges that are most appropriate for the specific children's age group for which you are designing. While these guidelines have been published by the Access Board (U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board), they have not yet been adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Therefore, while not yet "enforceable," they offer valuable guidance for current and future construction planning.

Alan Gettelman is director of marketing for Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc. For a free copy of the "Barrier-Free Washroom Planning Guide," call 800-553-1600 or visit