Access for All

July 8, 2002
Complying with ADA Accessibility Guidelines in commercial restrooms
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has become a significant piece of legislation since its enactment in 1990. A primary purpose of the law is to give the estimated one in five Americans with disabilities the same access to buildings, transportation, and telecommunications that people without disabilities enjoy.As a building or facilities manager, you may be called upon to assist in the ADA compliance process by interpreting the ADA and recommending ways to adhere to the law in your restrooms. It is advisable to first review the ADA and its regulations, as well as to check your state and local codes for any additional requirements. Different regulations apply to each category. While there are no requirements for commercial facilities constructed before passage of the ADA, any new construction must meet ADA regulations.Here are some easy guidelines to help you comply with ADA regulations in the restroom:Buildings under construction must meet ADA technical requirements. Even minor alterations must conform.In a renovation or new construction, washroom dispensers must be operable with one hand and should not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to operate the controls cannot exceed five pounds. Dispensers must be in “reach range” and provide clear floor space requirements.Under the ADA, a clear floor space 30- by 48-inches must be available to operate all controls and operating mechanisms from a stationary wheelchair in a restroom. It may be arranged to allow for either a forward or side approach.Dispensers should also be positioned for either a forward or side approach. For instance, if the floor space extends more than 24 inches into an alcove, the minimum alcove width should be 36 inches. If a side-approached clear floor space extends more than 15 inches into an alcove, the minimum alcove length should be 60 inches.Reach range (or vertical distance from the floor) also differs depending upon the approach. In a side approach, the maximum high side reach should be 54 inches and the minimum low side reach 9 inches. If only a forward approach is permitted, then the maximum high forward reach should be 48 inches and the minimum low forward reach 15 inches.A general rule for placing any “accessible element” is: Don’t place anything above 48 inches or below 15 inches. This should be within the reach range of most people with disabilities.Commercial facilities must have one accessible restroom stall. If there are more than six bathroom stalls in the restroom, then two must be provided (one of which can be an alternate stall configuration).Bathroom tissue dispensers should be installed on the nearest sidewall, at a minimum of 19 inches above the floor and a maximum of 36 inches from the rear wall (preferably not above a grab bar).Grab bars are required in bathroom stalls and should be mounted 33 to 36 inches above the floor. A 42-inch grab bar mounted beside a toilet and a 24-inch (or 36-inch in some states) bar located behind the toilet are the minimum requirements.Lastly, keep in mind that the ADA is not just another layer of government interference to be dealt with at a pass. When undertaking renovations, new construction, or alterations in your facility, consult your state and local codes, your architect, contractor, an ADA consultant, and/or paper products supplier.Amy Walker Barrs is office building segment manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional (, Roswell, GA.

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