New Accommodations for Diversity

A Planning Guide for Accessible Restrooms
[ Page 2 of 5 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 next page
Sponsored by Bobrick Washroom Equipment
By Amada Voss, MPP
You are not currently logged in to your CE Center account. Log in to view and complete the quiz questions that are embedded in this article.

Incorporating Universal Design

Ensuring usability is not simply the domain of code or requirements. A universal design approach improves the accessibility of products, spaces, and building elements to ensure they are usable to the greatest extent possible by people of all ages and abilities. The objective is not to design or build for the “other,” that is, people with disabilities, but for each other – for everyone!

Over the past 60 years, the U.S. has seen growth in the numbers of two important groups: people with disabilities and older adults. A universal design approach for restrooms mainstreams products and eliminates radically different looking fixtures and accessories, as well as the non-inclusive stigma associated with different looking products.

While accessibility standards were created to principally benefit people with particular disabilities, demographic trends and experience have shown that environments built with accessible and universal design features often benefit a wide range of users, including people with stability and balance issues, children and people who are short or tall, people who are large or heavy, and even parents attending to their children using strollers. These restrooms are responsive to a wide range of ages and abilities, and they adapt well to the needs of those with sensory issues. For those users with visual challenges, a responsive restroom avoids protruding objects and increases lighting levels, helping those with low vision stay safe. Providing strobe lights on the fire alarm system helps alert people with hearing loss or those who are deaf. Family restrooms allow the ability to meet other patron needs such as diaper changing, adults with children, older individuals who need assistance, particularly from opposite gender caregivers, and transgender individuals.

Universal Design accommodation can be accomplished through mindful selection of fixtures and placement. Using the same product for everyone means offering a welcoming countertop with multiple accessible lavatories, as opposed to individualized lavatories with only one dedicated accessible lavatory. By positioning the same products differently, such as lowering the mounting height of all towel and waste units for accessible compliance, restroom accessories become universally usable, as opposed to asymmetrical restroom accessories, which limit usability for some.

After ensuring accessibility compliance, restrooms should be designed and maintained to support hygiene best practices. COVID-19’s effects served to emphasize design considerations that have been in practice through existing standards. Many of the same design standards that ensure accessibility also enable better hygiene. These strategies include selecting accessories with touchless operation, which enables use by all people while preventing the spread of germs through contact. Doorless entries ease access for all and help avoid possible microbe spread. Paths of travel, which add space for wheelchairs, also supply a physical waiting distance at lavatories, toilet compartments, and urinals.

Changes in the ICC A117.1 – 2017

For the first time, the 2017 ICC Standards make a distinction between some dimensional requirements when requirements are applied to new buildings versus existing buildings. The 2017 ICC Standards require larger clear floor space dimensions for new buildings, based on the increased size of three basic space requirements: wheelchair clear floor space, circular wheelchair turning space, and T-shaped wheelchair turning space. The 2017 ICC Standards have retained the smaller dimensions found in the 2010 ADA Standards and the ICC 2009 Standards for existing buildings.

Image courtesy of Bobrick Washroom Equipment

The number of individuals who use wheelchairs has grown considerably in recent years, as have the variety of wheelchair types and sizes. The increase in the numbers of older adults, demographically, has also contributed to the growth in the number and variety of alternative mobility devices and scooters. Scooters have different sizes, use parameters, and can even require more space to maneuver when compared to wheelchairs. With the 2017 ICC Standards, accessibility requirements are now beginning to reflect these trends. Design professionals should take care to provide the extra space that larger mobility equipment devices require.

An aging society has contributed to another development in restroom requirements. The accessibility standards require the provision of ambulatory accessible toilet compartments to support the needs of individuals who are ambulatory but may require the use of a cane, walker, or crutches. Mounting locations and the proximity of equipment are important for people who use wheelchairs and who may have limited reach range. The design standards reflect these users’ needs in the mounting heights for common accessories, such as mirrors, paper towel dispensers, waste receptacles, soap dispensers, feminine hygiene product vendors, and toilet partition-mounted equipment, including grab bars, toilet tissue and seat-cover dispensers, and sanitary napkin disposals.

Significant changes in the ICC A-117.1-2017 Standards include increased size of the basic floor space requirements for new buildings. In the 2010 ADA and ICC A117.1-2017 for existing buildings there is no change in the wheelchair clear floor space, with a 30-inch x 48-inch minimum space delineated. In the ICC A117.1-2017 for new buildings, the wheelchair clear floor space increases to a 30-inch x 52-inch minimum.

A circular space allows a person using a wheelchair to make a 180-degree or 360-degree turn.

The 2010 ADA and the ICC A117.1-2017 requirement for existing buildings is unchanged, at a 60-inch minimum diameter circular space. For new buildings, the ICC A117.1-2017 requires a circular space that increases to 67 inches minimum diameter.

A T-Shaped turning space allows for a three-point turn. In the 2010 ADA, and the ICC A117.1-2017 standard for existing buildings, there is no change in the 60-inch x 60-inch minimum square with arms and a base set at 36-inches wide at a minimum. In the ICC A117.1-2017 Standards for new buildings, three new T-Shaped Turning Space options are included with different, larger configurations. These larger options are 60 inches by 68 inches and 60 inches by 64 inches with 36-inch, 38-inch, and 40-inch-wide bases. These larger options accommodate the new 30-inch by 52-inch Wheelchair Clear Floor Space.

A portion of the circular or T-Shaped turning spaces may be located under countertops, lavatories, or accessories, if the required knee and toe clearance is provided. The allowed knee and toe overlap clearance remains at 25 inches maximum in the 2010 ADA and ICC A117.1-2017 for existing buildings. The allowed knee and toe overlap clearance is restricted to 10 inches minimum in the ICC A117.1-2017 for new buildings.

The 2010 ADA and the ICC A117.1-2017 standards require both left- and right-handed facilities be provided in restrooms to the greatest extent possible. Providing clear floor space centered in front of controls and operating mechanisms will allow both left- and right-hand access.

Accessible Lavatories And Accessories

Lavatories are important features in public restrooms, providing convenient hygienic facilities for all people. At least one lavatory in each restroom must meet or exceed 2010 ADA Standards for accessible lavatories.

Photo courtesy of AdobeStock

Certain jurisdictions have differing rules on lavatory location. Make sure to understand the applicable codes in a project and follow the most stringent standard.


[ Page 2 of 5 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 next page
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in October 2022