User-friendly Furniture

Oct. 5, 2001
Functional furniture implements ADA regulations

With an estimated 32 million disabled people in the workforce, it is recommended that wherever possible, facility managers specify furnishings that meet the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations for commercial facilities. However, ADA regulations do not address movable furniture. Despite this, several furniture manufacturers have developed products that comply with ADA guidelines. Use the following tips to assist in the specification of movable, ADA-compliant furnishings.

When specifying wall- or panel-hung storage cabinets, facilities managers should avoid industry-standard overhead units with heavy and awkward doors that can slam shut in an uncontrolled manner. According to ADA regulations, the user should exert no more than 5 pounds of pressure and should be able to operate the door with a closed fist. Since workers may be in a wheelchair, the unit should also permit operation from a seated position. The handle of the door (as well as the cabinet contents) should never be higher than 54 inches to accommodate side reach, nor more than 48 inches to accommodate front reach.

For freestanding filing and other storage cabinets, request alternative handles, such as loops, which can be opened with a hook or closed fist. Drawer mechanisms should be of the quality that allows fully loaded drawers to be operated with no more than 5 pounds of force.

ADA regulations for panel systems require clear width in aisles between cubicles to be a minimum of 36 inches, with a doorframe clear width of at least 32 inches, allowing adequate room for wheelchair movement. Cubicles intended for wheelchair use should contain worksurfaces no deeper than 24 inches and between 28 and 34 inches high. To accommodate side reach from a wheelchair, nothing in the cubicle should be lower than 9 inches or higher than 54 inches off the floor. Areas that require forward reach from a wheelchair should locate nothing lower than 15 inches and nothing higher than 48 inches. Panel system doors should have a lever handle to allow operation with a closed fist.

ADA also requires that protruding objects, such as countertops, cannot extend more than 4 inches into aisles. Countertops and surfaces at which employees or visitors stand, lean, or write should be 28 to 34 inches high above the finished floor, and must not extend more than 4 inches into aisles to accommodate visitors who use special transportation devices, or who cannot reach standard counters.

Adjustable-height tables are an excellent option for both commercial and academic facilities. Easy-to-use, plan, and reconfigure for varying applications, they can be adjusted and reconfigured to accommodate wheelchairs. Freestanding adjustable worksurfaces maximize use of facility space, cut costs in reconfiguring offices, and can reduce work-related injury costs.

If fixed-height tables are preferred, ensure that a "field fix" kit is available, enabling tables to be raised several inches or completely removed to fit the needs of different users, such as those in wheelchairs. ADA guidelines state that tables provide a "cube" of unobstructed knee space that measures 27 inches high by 30 inches wide by 19 inches deep.

ADA-compliant furnishings are a crucial part of creating a comfortable, flexible, productive, and effective facility, which ultimately is every facilities manager's goal.

Tom Barchacky is systems product manager at Green Bay, WI-based KI (, (800) 424-2432, a provider of innovative furniture solutions for the educational, business, commercial, institutional, and healthcare markets.

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