ADA guidelines for bathroom accessibility

  • 28.10.2020

It is an unfortunate fact of life that we have to go to the bathroom to do our business every once in a while. And this is even more complicated when you are someone with a disability.

Imagine this. You have to use a wheelchair every day. Right now, you are at a restaurant enjoying your dinner with friends but gradually, you feel that warmth accumulating in your body. Maybe you had a little too much wine, and now you can’t avoid it, so you excuse yourself to go find the restroom. You wheel yourself independently but, once you get there, someone is already in queue. There is only one restroom! But you patiently wait for your turn, since you’re already there anyway. After a while, the lady finally exits the door and you can’t wait to get inside. Lo and behold. There is not a single grab bar. The space is too tight and there’s just no way you can actually wheel yourself in! What do you do now?

Such is the struggle that a lot of people with disabilities have to put up with every day. For business establishments, this also means a lot of expensive fines and lawsuits. Unfortunately, 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, a lot of facilities still miss the mark in meeting ADA standards and guidelines. In this article, we hope to discuss some of the basic ADA bathroom requirements that everyone should know.

What is an ADA compliant restroom?

The main requirement for an ADA compliant bathroom is accessibility for those who might encounter difficulty moving around. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that protects the equal rights of persons with disability to accessible features. Any facility that serves the general public is required to comply with the ADA. Further, since the ADA also concerns itself with the rights of persons with disability with regards to work, employee restrooms must also be ADA compliant. After building codes have been taken into consideration, ADA requirements must then be followed. One of the ADA’s demands is a toilet stall for each gender. But the ADA guidelines are not exclusive to the number of toilets or the measurements of the finished floor and toe clearance. Below, we’re going to break down some of the bathroom requirements for complying with standards for accessible design.


The first thing you see when you go look for the bathroom is its signage, but in the United States, there are at least 12 million people who have some form of visual impairment. This has necessitated the use of ADA compliant bathroom signs that feature raised Braille characters as well as raised pictorial symbols. On top of other efforts to adhere to ADA requirements, this is a great way for a business to signal to their customers their deference for ADA compliance.

Grab bars

The addition of grab bars in public restrooms can easily go unnoticed by the majority of people who will not have to use them. However, to the people who do need them, it means the world. Grab bars are safety features mounted on the wall to help support our weight when our heft cannot be entrusted to our lower extremities. For ADA compliance, grab bars must be 36 inches at the rear wall and 42 inches on a side wall. They must also have at least an inch and a half clearance from all directions. At a public toilet compartment, a grab bar must be attached a foot from the rear wall while a separate grab bar cannot be mounted more than half a foot from the side wall. They should also be conveniently placed near the location of toilet paper and a hand dryer. Since we are talking about the restroom location, grab bars must also be waterproof.


No restroom is complete without toilet compartments but there are indeed public restrooms that only have one for all. The ADA bathroom requirements for either are mostly the same. Overall, an ADA accessible toilet must be at least 60 inches wide with its flush lever located on the open side. The center of the toilet must be between 16 to 18 inches of space from the side wall and the toilet seat must be at least 17 to 19 inches above the floor. In the 1991 legislation, toilets could be placed immediately by the sink but this was updated by the Department of Justice in 2010 discussed below.

Clear floor space

An often overlooked bathroom feature is the amount of clear floor space. It’s a detail that is often easy to miss since a lot of people will not require the need for ambulatory accessible design. However, the measurement of clear space is required for ADA standards and the following are the numbers that bathrooms must make sure to have. There must be a whole 60 inches of clearance for easy turning of the average wheelchair. One of the requirements in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design is that the sink must be located out of this 60-inch space. Today this is still a common issue since it wasn’t included in the 1991 ADA guidelines. Further, the door cannot swing into the sink by at least a rectangular room space of 30 inches by 48 inches.


Another existential requirement of the room is the sink, since water is a basic human need. An ADA compliant sink must be at least 34 inches above the floor. To give ample room for someone on a wheelchair, there should be a knee clearance of 27 by 30 inches wide and 11 to 25 inches deep. Since one should keep in mind that a person with disability might have loss of at least one upper extremity, the faucets, soap dispensers, and hand dryers must also be easy to use with only one hand.

Even though you might not have any disability, it is important to be sensitive to the needs of other people. A little empathy can really go a long way. And sometimes, that’s all people with disabilities actually need so that we can ensure their right to equal access and opportunities. It’s time to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

For the nitty gritty of ADA requirements, you can see the ADA Accessibility Guidelines of the United States Access Board here. Please feel free to contact us to discuss these guidelines and other requirements.

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