The ADA Update and You

May 24, 2012
Don’t neglect new ADA accessibility updates during your washroom renovation.

If your construction or large renovation project kicked off on or after March 15, you’re required to comply with new requirements for accessible facilities.

Along with ANSI/ICC A117.1, the Americans with Disabilities Act forms the basis for state accessibility codes. Given the recent updates to both, it’s worth comparing your washrooms against the requirements to make sure they comply.

If not, include them in your renovation – the answer may be as simple as mounting a dispenser lower on the wall.

Understand the Changes
As with the original 1991 ADA regulations, washrooms must provide enough space for wheelchairs to maneuver. Equipment like dispensers and receptacles must also be accessible by people with limited reach. However, the new update can be more forgiving to existing facilities.

ADA Update Highlights

  • At least 50% of single-user toilet rooms that are clustered at one location and serving the same users must be accessible.

  • Washing areas cannot overlap the clear floor space required for toilet compartments, though the floor space for each can overlap.

  • Lavatories can be recessed into an alcove to save wall space.

  • The rear grab bar can be reduced to 24 inches if the adjacent fixture is recessed.

  • The rear grab bar can be split or moved to the open non-wall side of the water closet to accommodate flush valves.

  • Horizontal grab bars require at least 12 inches above and 1.5 inches below.

  • Grab bars must be mounted 33-36 inches above the finished floor.

  • Flush controls must be located on the open non-wall side of the toilet compartment.

  • Baby changing stations inside toilet compartments are acceptable as long as enough clear floor space is provided for both.


“The 2010 ADA Standards modified the original to accommodate more practical field conditions,” says Alan Gettelman, vice president of external affairs for Bobrick Washroom Equipment, which offers a design guide reflecting the new regulations at “For example, previously the toilet had to be 18 inches from the side wall in a 60- by 59-inch wheelchair accessible toilet compartment. In the new code, it’s 16 to 18 inches.”

Facilities serving children should take note of the update’s kid-friendly sizing. The original guidelines didn’t consider children’s physical dimensions, but the new version includes specifications for children’s toilets and guidelines for baby changing stations.

To learn more about specific changes, see sidebar or visit

Protect Yourself from Future Complaints
Even if your washroom is minimally compliant, that may not protect your building from complaints or litigation down the road. Exceeding the minimum now can shield you from additional modifications under a more stringent update in the future.

Check these commonly overlooked areas to make sure you’re protected for the long term:

  1. Routes and circulation paths: The path might look big enough, but don’t forget that it must be free of protruding objects like lavatories and hand dryers. “If there’s insufficient space allowed for the accessible route, there’s little that can be done to correct it, though relocation of fixtures or accessories might be possible,” note Tom Eberhardy, manufacturing engineer, and Dale W. Gallmann, manager, of fixture manufacturer Bradley Corp’s Corporate Codes and Standards Compliance division.

  2. Changing trends: Manual wheelchairs have long been considered a template to judge accessibility, Gettelman says. However, motorized wheelchairs and scooters are gaining popularity, so it’s wise to make sure your washroom offers more space than currently required.

    Also consider how restroom door trends have changed. Open entrances are gaining popularity, notably in airports, Gettelman says. These not only benefit people with mobility impairments, they also improve hygiene by presenting fewer surfaces to touch.

  3. Reach ranges: Soap and towel dispensers mounted over lavatories can present a problem to those with limited reach. Consider a hand dryer to accommodate those who have difficulty pulling paper towels.

Automatic flush valves and touchless faucets and dispensers cut down on waste in addition to eliminating the need to operate handles. Like hands-free entrances, patrons are likely to appreciate this hygienic approach, disabled or not.

“The auto-on/auto-off function really helps control dispensing, which saves money and reduces waste,” Gettelman explains. “People also don’t like to go into public washrooms and touch surfaces other people have touched. Sustainability and hygiene benefit everyone.”

Janelle Penny ([email protected]) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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