The ADA-Compliant Restroom

Make sure you’re up to date on code requirements so you don’t face liability issues later

  • To assess the restrooms in your building, grab a tape measure and make sure the measurements match what’s required from the ADAAG and ICC/ANSI A117.1.

    To assess the restrooms in your building, grab a tape measure and make sure the measurements match what’s required from the ADAAG and ICC/ANSI A117.1.


    To assess the restrooms in your building, grab a tape measure and make sure the measurements match what’s required from the ADAAG and ICC/ANSI A117.1. IMAGES COURTESY OF BRADLEY CORP.

    To assess the restrooms in your building, grab a tape measure and make sure the measurements match what’s required from the ADAAG and ICC/ANSI A117.1.
  • This single-user restroom has been designed according to the ADAAG.

    This single-user restroom has been designed according to the ADAAG.


    This single-user restroom has been designed according to the ADAAG.

    This single-user restroom has been designed according to the ADAAG.

Restrooms can lead to serious confusion when it comes to accessibility and universal design. “The most basic and least expensive way to determine if a restroom is accessible is to review the American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the American National Standards Institute’s standard (ICC/ANSI A117.1),” says Jon Villwock, lavatory systems and washfountains product manager at Bradley Corp.

To assess your building’s restrooms, “Grab a tape measure and conduct a walkthrough to evaluate any changes that might need to be made,” says Villwock.

The figure above shows a single-user restroom that’s been designed according to the ADAAG. The basic guidelines for a single-user restroom, according to Villwock, are:

  • 30-inch by 48-inch access to the sink (the door can’t swing into this rectangle). The measurement starts from the point where a person has 9-inch vertical clearance for their feet and 27-inch vertical clearance for their knees.
  • The center line of the toilet must be between 16 and 18 inches from the wall.
  • A clear circle of at least 60 inches to allow a wheelchair to turn (the door can swing into this circle).

What Makes a Good ADA-Compliant Product?

The key is choosing well-made, durable products that are easy to use and require minimal physical effort. Jon Villwock, Bradley Corp.’s product manager for lavatory systems and washfountains, recommends some features to look for when choosing ADA-compliant restroom products:


Sinks Areas

Consider solid-surface lavatory systems with fully integrated sinks at various heights. Only one bowl in a multi-bowl sink needs to offer minimum knee and toe clearances, so these multi-height lavatory systems combine an ADA-compliant sink with higher sinks. An added benefit of these fixtures is that the solid-surface finish is durable and can be repaired. The continuous bowl is also easier to clean than a row of individual sinks and eliminates crevices for microbes to hide.  


Lever, paddle, and infrared faucet controls make turning the water on and off easy. Lever-handle faucets are useful when only one hand can be used. Infrared-controlled and capacitive-sensor controlled faucets are the most universal, offering touch-free, easy activation. Durability is key, as is ease of cleaning.


Faucets, Dispensers, Grab Bars, and Mirrors

Faucets and soap dispensers must meet ADA reach range and mounting-height requirements. A 48-inch-high limitation is required for all accessories (except those mounted over obstructions), including lavatory fixtures, which are more than 20 inches deep. At 20 to 25 inches deep, a reach range of 44 inches applies. At more than 25 inches deep, accessories must be relocated.


The ADAAG states that mirrors need to be mounted with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface no higher than 40 inches above the floor, with the top edge at a minimum of 74 inches from the floor. A full-length mirror in the restroom fulfills the ADA requirement for mirrors if it’s not possible to mount the mirror at 40 inches above the floor.


Keep in mind that a trash can on the floor, for example, is a barrier when it comes to someone in a wheelchair reaching for a dispenser mounted above it. A better solution is a recessed trash receptacle or combination paper towel dispenser/trash receptacle. A wall-mounted hand dryer is a good choice because it eliminates waste. Look for a dryer that meets the ADA protrusion requirement (it can protrude no more than 4 inches from the wall).


The ADA emphasizes grab bars to maintain balance and prevent falls. Look for sturdy, easy-to-grip models. Also, toilet tissue dispensers can’t control delivery or limit paper flow. Look for dispensers that hold enough toilet tissue and deliver it in an easy-to-grab fashion.

For multi-user restrooms, the guidelines follow the same principles, but include additional elements. George Spear, product manager at Moen, offers this information about sinks, stalls, and doors:

Sinks & Faucets
Sinks shouldn’t be mounted higher than 34 inches from the floor, and they should have a knee clearance of 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 19 inches deep. You also need a clear floor space and insulated pipes under the sink.

Faucets should be lever-operated, push, touch, or electronically controlled. They should be usable with one hand without the need to tightly grasp, pinch, or twist the wrist. Users shouldn’t have to exert more than 5 pounds of force to use the faucet.

A good resource on ADA-compliant restrooms is a series of webinars that will focus on restroom accessibility., offered by the Access Board. The sessions are scheduled for early 2010.

Urinals should be stall-type or wall-hung at a maximum of 17 inches from the floor.

Water closets must be 17 to 19 inches from the floor (measured from the floor to the top of the toilet seat). Like faucets, flush valves shouldn’t require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.

Grab bars should be at least 36 inches long and have a gripping surface of at least 1.25 inches, mounted at least 1.5 inches from the wall. They should be able to withstand at least 250 pounds of pressure.

Doors should open with minimal force and have handles that are easy to grab with one hand. Doorways should be at least 32 inches wide with the door open at 90 degrees.

Many other opportunities exist for making your restrooms, and the areas around them, more accessible, Spear points out. “Hallways and walkways should provide at least 80 inches of clear head room.” He also points out that drinking fountains and water coolers should provide a spout height of no more than 36 inches, with a spout at the front of the unit and a parallel water flow.

Additional considerations include increasing lighting; incorporating objects that are wider, longer, and flatter to grasp with a smooth range of motion; and providing adequate support systems and barriers.

“Making these improvements will require a significant amount of planning and preparation, but the reward of having a space that’s compliant and can be enjoyed by all is worth the effort,” Spear says.

Leah B. Garris (leah.garris@buildings.com) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.


comments powered by Disqus
comments powered by Disqus


How Faucets Contribute to Meeting Accessibility Design Challenges in the Restroom

Public restrooms are one of the most critical building amenities because they must be responsive to a wide range of human needs and provide service to people with an equally wide range of abilities. The needs of a person using a wheelchair – and the space a wheelchair requires – are used as a primary source of design information for making public restrooms universally accessible. Amount of space and paths of travel for wheelchairs and the fixed nature of the plumbing equipment impose definite requirements and limits on design.

Environments built with accessible design benefit a wide range of users beyond those with special needs, including:

  • People with stability and balance issues
  • Children and people of different heights
  • People of different weights
  • People with temporary health problems such as broken bones, or those who are recovering from surgery
  • Older people
  • Individuals who need assistance with their restroom activities
  • Parents attending to their children using strollers and baby changing activities
  • Users of mobility equipment such as manual or powered wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, canes, and walkers

In addition to the types of physical impairments listed above, restrooms must also accommodate people with sensory impairments such as low vision, blindness, and deafness.

Clearly, an almost infinite variety of “conditions” define accessibility. Besides space considerations, many components go into designing an accessible restroom including sinks, faucets, hand dryers, toilet fixtures, flush valves, and corresponding accessories. To simplify the discussion, the primary scope in this paper will focus on one aspect of the restroom: the sink area, specifically the faucets and their requirements.

A wheelchair accessible sink and counter are perhaps two of the trickiest – or least understood – elements specified in a washroom. There are a number of dimensions that must be considered and correctly specified in order to be sure that a person and their wheelchair can fit comfortably underneath, while keeping the countertop and faucet at an acceptable height. Lavatory accessories such as paper towel dispensers, soap dispensers, hand dryers, mirrors, and waste receptacles must be within easy reach.