The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that was approved three decades ago. The ADA is a very important civil rights law as it protects individuals with disabilities from all forms of discrimination. This law strictly prohibits discrimination in any aspect of life, ranging from employment, schooling, transportation, and even in public and private spaces.
In 2009 this law was actually amended to make significant changes to the definition of “disability.” Clearer terms help with the protection of a wider range of “disabled” persons, giving them equal opportunities when it comes to employment and even with public systems. These public systems include transportation (like trains), commercial facilities (like hotels and restaurants), and even local and state government buildings.
The amendments have resulted in big changes and modifications within the United States. Minimum standards for accessibility and alterations are now set to accommodate individuals with any disability. These standards are being followed for new construction of facilities and direct businesses to make alterations to their public spaces as well.
Aside from physical accommodations, the ADA also required merchants to make reasonable modifications to their “business as usual” when it comes to serving people with disabilities such as removing barriers and improving communication to customers with visual, hearing, and/or speech impairments. This is a big step as discrimination can be rampant among society – so this law and has been put in place to prevent any of that from happening. These ADA requirements must be followed by any big or small business that services the general public. People without disabilities may overlook that these are necessary changes which can really improve the quality of life of those who do have disabilities.
There are several ADA requirements for commercial building and existing facilities to create an environment that can accommodate people with all types of disabilities. Standards and requirements are in place to ensure that all individuals, regardless of ability, can use a building with minimal impediment.
It is then required by law to be ADA compliant, otherwise serious financial penalties will be incurred. First-time violations can cost 55,000 to 75,000 USD while second violations go as much as 110,000 to 150,000 USD.
ADA Requirements for Commercial Buildings
Existing buildings – or those built before 1990 – need to remodel in order to attain ADA compliance. However, this can be tricky because retrofitting older buildings is difficult and costly. Title III of the ADA goes into detail about the construction changes that should be made to an older building that does not meet ADA guidelines.
To reach ADA compliance, existing buildings should remove all architectural barriers as much as possible in order to accommodate persons with disabilities.
The ADA clearly states that, “architectural barriers should be removed unless it can be shown that removing a barrier is not readily achievable or accommodations can’t be made through other means.” Removing these barriers can be costly and there are many factors that should be considered if this is indeed “readily achievable,” such as:
- cost of the barrier removal
- financial resources of the involved facility
- number of people employed by the facility
- effect on the facility’s expenses and resources
- impact on operations
- overall finances
- number type and location of facilities
- type of operations (including composition, structure, and functions of the work force) in the facility
- geographic, administrative, fiscal relationship of the facilities
With that, the ADA then outlines a number of handful suggestions in order to bring the existing building up to code and reach ADA compliance.
- installing ramps, flashing alarm lights, offset hinges to widen doorways, and accessible door hardware
- installing grab bars in toilet stalls, lavatory pipes under bathroom sinks to prevent burns, raised toilet seats, and full-length bathroom mirrors
- rearranging toilet partitions to increase space (for wheelchair users and improved access to the sink)
- making curb cuts in sidewalks and entrances
- repositioning shelves, furniture, telephones, and even the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom
- widening doors and doorways
- creating designated accessible parking spaces that must be near the entrances
- installing vehicle hand controls
- removing high pile, low density carpeting
We will break down the most common ADA requirements for bathrooms in commercial buildings. Compliance to these ADA standards is enforced by law, so it is important to make sure that the necessary constructions have been done.
ADA Bathroom Requirements
One of the more obvious changes as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act is the ADA bathroom requirements. Everybody needs to use the restroom, especially in public. Most times, there are many barriers which make it difficult or almost impossible for someone with a physical or mental disability to use – and using it may not even be safe for them in the first place.
Below are the most common requirements to be considered an ADA compliant restroom and ensure safety for all persons with disabilities.
- An accessible toilet seat must be at a height between 17 to 19 inches.
- For the inside of toilet stalls, the center line of the toilet must be between 16 to 18 inches from the side wall.
- The space to access the sink should be at least 30 to 48 inches, and the bathroom door cannot swing into this rectangle.
- The sink should not be mounted 34 inches above the floor and should have a knee clearance of 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and between 11 to 25 inches deep. Note: The measurement starts from the point where a standing person has 27 inches vertical clearance for their knees and 9 inches vertical clearance for their feet.
- There must be a clear floor space and insulated pipes below the sink of the restroom.
- For toilet stalls to be wheelchair friendly, a clear circle of at least 60 inches around the side wall and 56 inches from the rear wall are required. Note: The door cannot swing into this circle as it is a minimum required area to be an ADA compliant lavatory, provided that it is even wheelchair accessible.
- Urinals should be mounted to the wall or stall-type at a maximum height of 17 inches from the restroom floor.
- Water closets must be 17 to 19 inches from the floor. Note: the measurement begins from the restroom floor to the top of the toilet seat in question.
- Flush valves must be easy to manipulate – meaning it does not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. This ensures the user a smooth and effective use of the flush valve after using the toilet.
- Grab bars in the restroom must be at least 36 inches long on the rear wall or 42 inches on the side wall. Each grab bar should be mounted between 33 to 36 inches above the floor.
- Lastly, the ADA outlined the dimensions of grab bars in order to meet ADA compliance. Grab bars must have a gripping surface of at least 1.25 inches, be mounted at least 1.5 inches from the bathroom wall, and be able to withstand at least 250 pounds of pressure.
Keep in mind that these are minimum regulations that any building must comply with. Persons with disabilities are protected by the ADA, therefore commercial buildings must improve and invest in their space in order to accommodate them.
It is highly important that a public space is ADA compliant to ensure safety and protection for persons with all types of disabilities.
Any public room or space must be user friendly to any person with at least one disability. This space should be likewise accessible to them whether they are using a wheelchair, crutches, or anything else that helps them function best. Commercial buildings including any small business, and even their restrooms, should be ADA compliant before opening their doors to the public.