Guest Column - October 2007
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Legal Compliance: A Boost for Business

By Alan Gettelman

ublic restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms have specific ADA Accessibility Guideline requirements that serve the needs of people who are disabled as a result of injury, illness or age. Taking good care of them is good for your reputation as a customer-friendly recreational enterprise, fostering loyalty and positive word-of-mouth. It also places you in compliance with Civil Rights Law, which is enforceable by the Department of Justice.

Barrier-Free Washroom Planning Guide

From the beginning, the requirements within the ADA pertaining to public washroom accessibility were lengthy and confusing. This triggered the development of the Barrier-Free Washroom Planning Guide as a resource document. Written by architectural and specification experts at the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University and Universal Design Solutions in Raleigh, N.C., the document is a plain-English "translation" of the ADA guidelines. It provides easy-to-follow layout examples. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of periodically revised versions have been circulated to building owners, property managers and architects on a complimentary basis.

Fundamental Considerations

Mounting heights and turning space are the foundation of barrier-free washroom space planning. The mounting height requirements for dispensers, vendors, warm air dryers, mirrors and grab bars are illustrated in Figure 1. Figure 2 indicates the turning space for people in wheelchairs, a basic design consideration in terms of movement throughout buildings and within restrooms.

Recreational properties are the ultimate in family-oriented business. Therefore, taking good care of children is another thoughtful consideration. Remember that for children, the mounting height will vary, and follow the guidelines accordingly. (Children's reach ranges are shown in blue.)

Operability and the Five Pounds of Force Guideline

Dispensers, vendors of all types, and faucets and toilets must meet the ADAAG specifications for operating mechanisms. Here, we refer to buttons, valves, knobs and levers. They must be "operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist, and with a force that does not exceed 5 lbfs (22.2N)."

Universal design welcomes all

Separate facilities for the disabled can be avoided by utilizing ADA-compliant washroom accessories and plumbing fixtures installed at the appropriate mounting heights, equally accessible to persons of normal physical capability. This avoids any ill feelings from disabled persons who resent "special treatment," and provides maximum utilization of your facilities.

Layouts of Significance

The Barrier-Free Planning Guide provides many sample layouts to give you an idea of how the design solutions are communicated. For example, the guide offers illustrations showing lavatory clearances, the proper mounting location for toilet dispensers, the different dimensions of wheelchair-accessible and ambulatory-accessible toilet compartments, adult reach range, good design of small barrier-free public washrooms, and a small public washroom that provides standard wheelchair-accessible compartment and, shown here, an alternate compartment that is 36 inches wide.

Revised guidelines were published by the Access Board's U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board in July 2004. However, these new guidelines cannot be enforced until they are adopted by the Department of Justice. Nevertheless, it serves the planner well to be apprised in advance, as this will often prevail costly retrofitting following new construction or renovation. Also, always submit plans to city and state accessibility code compliance authorities.

By complying with ADA requirements, you will not only be following the letter of the law, you also will be able to boost your business.


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