New Accommodations for Diversity

A Planning Guide for Accessible Restrooms
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Sponsored by Bobrick Washroom Equipment
By Amada Voss, MPP
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Regulations for Lavatories

If the lavatory is to be installed in a countertop, best design practice is to place it as close as possible to the front edge, so that it is accessible. An accessible lavatory must be installed with the front of the highest point, of either the rim or counter surface, at 34 inches maximum above the finish floor. It needs to provide a vertical knee clearance of 27 inches minimum from the bottom of the apron to the finish floor. The knee clearance must also extend a minimum of 8 inches under the front edge of the lavatory.

The required forward approach path must provide clear floor space in front of and under the lavatory at a minimum of 30 inches wide by 48 inches deep, per ADA and ICC A117.1-2017 for existing buildings. For new buildings, ICC A117.1-2017 clear floor space minimum is 30 inches wide by 52 inches deep. Required toe clearance depth underneath the lavatory can range from a minimum of 17 inches to 25 inches maximum. Toe clearance height of at least 9 inches above the finish floor must be provided for the full depth units. Water supply, drainpipes, and exposed surfaces under lavatories must be insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact. There should be no sharp or abrasive surfaces. This is particularly important to prevent burns and other injuries to people who may have decreased sensation in their legs. One solution to prevent contact is to use wrapped pipes. Another design solution is to install a removable protective panel under the lavatory.

Certain jurisdictions have differing rules on lavatory location. In California, lavatories cannot be located in a toilet compartment. However, Florida requires an accessible lavatory be included in the Wheelchair Accessible Toilet Compartment. California limits the distance that clear floor space can extend under accessible lavatories to 19 inches. As always, it is vital to understand local accessibility requirements.

Regulations for Accessories

Designing restrooms to avoid protruding objects benefits those with disabilities or mobility challenges and those persons with low vision and the blind. Restroom accessories with leading edges between 27 inches and 80 inches above the floor shall protrude no more than 4 inches into a circulation path. This limitation is specifically designed to ensure detection by people who use a cane along the base of walls. Should the leading edge be at or below 27 inches, then the restroom accessory may project any amount, as long as the required minimum width of an adjacent clear access aisle is maintained. All floor-standing and surface-mounted units protruding more than 4 inches should be located in corners, alcoves, or between other structural elements. Fully recessed accessories are the recommended choice for eliminating protrusion from wall compliance issues and ensuring accessibility.

  • Operable Parts: Restroom accessory controls and operating mechanisms include push buttons, valves, knobs, and levers. Controls must be operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching of the fingers, or twisting of the wrist, and should require less than 5 pounds of force. Controls should be centered over sufficient clear floor space for both left- and right-hand approaches.
  • Mirrors: Mirrors located above lavatories or countertops must be installed with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface 40 inches maximum above the finish floor. Mirrors not located over lavatories or countertops must be installed with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface no more than 35 inches above the finish floor. A single full-length mirror is recommended in each restroom because all people can use it, including children.
  • Soap Dispensers: Soap dispensers installed over lavatories must be mounted so push buttons or operable parts meet specified reach ranges. When the soap dispenser is mounted more than 20 inches from the edge of the counter, the soap dispenser mounting height is limited to 44 inches maximum above the finish floor. Lavatory-mounted soap dispensers and lever-handle faucets should be spaced far enough apart to avoid interference with their operations and so they are usable by persons using the accessible lavatories.
  • Additional Accessories: Additional restroom accessories include paper towel dispensers, waste receptacles, hand dryers, and feminine hygiene product vendors. Paper towel dispensers, waste receptacles, and warm-air hand dryers should be conveniently located in an area that is accessible to people using wheelchairs, preferably adjacent to an accessible lavatory. Install the towel dispenser and waste receptacle unit with the paper towel dispenser opening, and operable parts, 48 inches maximum above the floor. Note that in California, maximum height of the operable part is set at 40 inches maximum above floor. Install hand dryers with the operable part, whether start button or sensor, at 48 inches maximum above floor; again, in California, 40 inches is the maximum height.
  • Feminine hygiene product vendors are recommended in all women’s restrooms. Vendors with push-button operation mechanisms that can be activated with less than 5 pounds of force are the recommended choice for universally designed women’s restrooms.
  • Baby Changing Stations: Baby changing stations are increasingly found in men’s and women’s restrooms and in single user “family” restrooms. While not required as a product category by the accessibility standards, baby changing stations are widely regarded as an important, or even essential, feature in many facilities, particularly those facilities that serve families. Baby changing stations need to be located with care to provide for both the needs of users while not preventing other restroom patrons, including people who use wheelchairs, from gaining access to other fixtures and dispensers in the restroom.
  • Baby changing station installation and use must comply with the following ADA and ICC A117.1-2017 standards: mounting height to operate; clear floor space; controls and operable parts; force to open and close; working surface height, knee clearance height; and toe clearance depth. To maximize accessibility for all, position baby changing stations in corners. Add screens or floor-standing waste receptacles on open sides of the unit that extend below 27 inches above the floor for the full depth of the open changing bed to provide cane detection for patrons with low vision or the blind, alerting them to move away from an open baby changing station.
  • Child protection seats are another newer adaptation in public restrooms to provide a safe, secure, and convenient location for a child, generally weighing up to 50 pounds. Unlike the baby changing stations, child protection seats should be installed inside a toilet compartment, on a side wall or partition, but never on the back of a door. This positioning provides visual and physical access. Like baby changing stations, they should be assessed for operability and reach in both the up and down positions. The bottom of the lowered seat should be no less than 15 inches above the floor, the minimum reach range distance allowed by 2010 ADA and ICC A117.1-2017 standards.
  • Additional ICC A117.1-2017 Requirements: The ICC A117.1-2017 Standard requires altered installation heights and locations for paper towel dispensers and hand dryers. When at or near an accessible lavatory, where reach is obstructed, dispensers and dryers must be mounted on perpendicular walls adjacent to the accessible lavatories. The operable portions of these elements may need to be installed as low as 34 inches, depending on how far back from the front edge of a lavatory or counter a unit is mounted.
  • The ICC A117.1-2017 Standards require that the soap dispenser controls and faucets that serve certain accessible lavatories, in large restrooms with six or more lavatories, need to be installed with a reach depth of 11 inches maximum. Only one set of these controls and faucets needs to be provided in restrooms that require them, regardless of the additional fixtures provided.

Photo courtesy of Bobrick Washroom Equipment

Paper towel dispensers, waste receptacles, and warm-air hand dryers should be conveniently located in an area that is accessible to people using wheelchairs, preferably adjacent to an accessible lavatory.

Accessible Toilet Compartments And Accessories

Accessible toilet compartments are required in all public restrooms. There are two basic toilet compartment designs that are shown in the standards: the Wheelchair Accessible Toilet Compartment and the Ambulatory Accessible Toilet Compartment. The wheelchair accessible toilet compartment accommodates people who use wheelchairs and who transfer onto and off a toilet using a variety of approaches. Three common transfer positions are diagonal, side, and perpendicular. The ambulatory accessible toilet compartment accommodates people who use canes, crutches, or walkers to assist their mobility.

General Compartment Standards

There are two styles of Wheelchair Accessible Toilet Compartments: standard front access units and large wheelchair accessible units with side door access. The ADA Standard front access Wheelchair Accessible Toilet Compartment mandates a 56-inch minimum depth for wall-hung toilets and a minimum depth of 59 inches for floor-mounted toilets. The minimum width is 60 inches. This minimum required space allows a person using a wheelchair to maneuver onto and off the toilet on the open side of the toilet. The toilet, positioned diagonally across from the door, must be offset on the back wall with the toilet centerline 16 inches minimum to 18 inches maximum from the side wall or partition.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in October 2022