Feature Article - October 2008
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All-Access Recreation

Going Beyond ADA to Meet All Needs

By Stacy St Clair

Behind the Scenes: Locker Rooms & Restrooms

Some of the most common questions building departments receive pertain to bathroom design and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most inquiries tend to be on the highly technical side, but others delve into issues such as whether the requirements vary depending on bathroom size or whether they even have to offer public bathrooms at all.

We've talked to the experts and they had lots to say on the topic. Here are their tips for making sure your locker room or restroom meets ADA requirements—and, in some cases, goes beyond the federal government's expectations:

  • The requirements for accessible bathrooms vary depending upon the type of building involved, as well as whether it is an existing facility, new construction or alteration of an existing facility. The act establishes federal requirements for 12 categories of public accommodations, including stores and shops, restaurants and bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, private museums and schools and others. Nearly all types of private businesses that serve the public are included in theses categories, regardless of size.
  • Under the ADA, existing facilities that serve the public must remove physical barriers where that is readily achievable, meaning it's easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. The "readily achievable" requirement is based on the size and resources of the business or organization. Barrier removal is an ongoing obligation.
  • The ADA requires that newly constructed facilities and alterations to facilities, spaces or elements (including renovations) must meet or exceed the minimum requirements of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADAAG). The ADAAG requires every public and common use bathroom to be accessible. Generally only one stall must be accessible. When there are six or more stalls, there must be one accessible stall and one stall that is 3 feet wide. The ADAAG also provides detailed physical requirements regarding such items as toilet stalls, grab bars, doors, lavatories and mirrors, among other things. The ADAAG can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 28 C.F.R. Part 36, Appendix A. You may view the Access Board Web site for details at www.access-board.gov.
  • Doors to changing rooms and restroom stalls should swing out to provide maximum maneuverability.
  • Make sure paths through the locker room and restrooms are at least 36 inches wide.
  • In general, accessibility proponents recommend that buildings with 5,000 square feet of gross public area or with occupancies of 100 or more persons shall provide public restrooms.
  • Consider family bathrooms and locker rooms. Though long hailed by parents as an answer to their locker room woes, they're also a godsend to families with members needing restroom and changing room assistance.
  • A fold-down seat in an adequately sized shower stall (at least 3 feet by 3 feet) makes it useable by almost everyone.
  • If your facility has full-length mirrors, situate them so they can be used by both seated and standing individuals.
  • Check that lockers are positioned within the reach of someone seated in a wheelchair and have easy-to-open latches. Be sure countertops are high enough and have clear space underneath so a customer in a wheelchair can use the mirror and sink.