Designing for a New Age of Accessibility

Sponsored by Inpro
1 AIA LU/HSW; *1 ADA State Accessibility/Barrier-Free; 1 IDCEC CEU/HSW; 0.1 ICC CEU; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Discuss the trends and statistics drivinggreater ADA accessibility and universaldesign trends in today’s bathrooms.
  2. Describe insights on product and materialselection for accessible bathroom designs.
  3. List common cases where designs may beADA compliant but not fully functional.
  4. Explain ADA requirements for privacydoors, wheelchair turn radiuses, grab bars,showers, seats, and signage.
  5. Identify the need for bariatric bathroomsand key design requirements.

This course is part of the ADA Academy

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Along these same lines, there are a number ADA/universal design aspects that some project teams may fail to consider. Offering some best-practice advice, Fisher Knott recommends the following:

  • Ample space for access to sinks with space for purses, luggage, and other personal items.
  • Installation of hard surfaces that are easily cleaned and maintained, and provide simple or no patterns that confuse the eye and might cause a person to lose balance.
  • Well-lit spaces at entrances, counter/sink areas, and toilet stalls.
  • With more fathers taking care of their small children, changing platforms with ample space should be planned in the mens’ room.

Meanwhile, it is important to be aware of common errors in order to best avoid them.

In a Health Facilities Management article titled “ADA-ready: Ten steps to ensuring hospital accessibility compliance,” Katherine McGuinness, associate AIA, founding principal, Kessler McGuinness & Associates, Newton, Mass., highlights common mistakes that ideally are caught during the design review process, including:

  • Failing to remove barriers on the path of travel.
  • Accessible parking spaces and access aisles that are not level in all directions.
  • Objects such as glove and sanitizer dispensers that protrude more than 4 inches into corridors.
  • Lack of visual alarms in all exam rooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and toilet rooms.
  • Heavy doors without automatic door openers.
  • Toilet rooms built to minimum dimensions without room for trash or dispensers.
  • Shower stalls with thresholds that patients must step over and without adequate clear floor space next to them.
  • Mirrors that are mounted too high.
  • Sinks that are too deep, compromising necessary clear knee space below.
  • Staff locker rooms that do not have benches with backs.

One way to help catch these potential mistakes is to utilize an accessible design punch list, such as the ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities (, which is made available by the New England ADA Center and the Institute of Human Centered Design. In particular, an easy-to-use checklist on bathrooms starts on page 60.

Some examples of ADA questions that building teams must answer are related to signage, accessible routes, thresholds, door hardware, and positioning of the lavatory, soap dispenser, and hand dryer.

Another best practice McGuinness notes is itemizing the request for proposal and contracts for design services in compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design as the designer’s responsibility, separate from and in addition to building-code conformance. She points out that although the two are often similar, they are not the same. “Not only are there technical and jurisdictional differences, the ADA standards are enforced as civil rights violations and the building code as a safety standard,” she writes. Similarly, the same should be done for contractors in terms of separating contractors’ responsibilities for ADA compliance and those related to building-code conformance. All too often, facilities are designed correctly, but contractors are still constructing to the outdated standards. McGuinness lists common problems, such as toilets too far from the wall, grab bars located in less functional places, and deep sinks that constrict knee space underneath.

Overall, when evaluating the shower area, Pinto-Alexander emphasizes the health, safety, and welfare as the most important factors. Consequently, slip-resistant flooring materials are critical, as are floor types and locations, floor drains, sloped floor surfaces, and flooring transitions.

She also points out that bathroom fixtures and elements can bump against each other in the general circulation space required to accommodate them, creating challenges for the general design and shape of the toilet room. One way to help rectify this is choosing a through-body porcelain tile that consists of rectified edges, which reinforces a smaller, minimal grout joint.

Another often overlooked item is ensuring that items such as mirrors and vertical grab bars do not project beyond the tile wainscot. “Work-arounds in the field will be required if not caught early enough and are typically aesthetically unappealing,” cautions Koffler.

Furthermore, construction tolerances should be taken into account. For instance, a 30-inch by 60-inch shower stall may be a half-inch off before finishes are applied to the wall surfaces. “In an ideal world, everything is straight, plumb, and to the dimensions drawn, but in reality, it may be off, which means the shower stall is no longer compliant once finishes are installed,” he adds.

Similarly, in health-care settings, large-roll paper-towel dispensers are the standard, but the depth of these units can interfere or overlap with the location of sinks. By designing the counter to be 36 inches wide, the sink can be slightly offset to give the paper towel dispenser a bit more room to function and not conflict with faucet usage, he advises. Offering a few more pieces of advice, Burnette notes that while ADA allows the toilet door to swing inwards, in the event that the disabled user were to faint or fall inside the toilet room against the door, access to individuals coming to help is restricted. Consequently, he recommends that the doors swing out.

Another challenging situation might come about if the product specifications are not tight enough.

Ultimately, by working with experts in ADA standards as they develop their designs to avoid re-work and product substitutions, and by seeking out products that meet all design criteria, including ADA compliance, architects can best ensure the end state of the project achieves their vision.


Delving into more details about bathroom product options, self-closing, no-sightline privacy doors are a great option for disabled users seeking enhanced privacy, with made-to-order partitions allowing for the most flexibility in terms of room layouts and accessible design.

Also serving as a universal design strategy, no-sightline doors—as well as interlocking doors and stiles—are ideal for nursing mothers or diabetics, for example, who may need to administer a blood test or insulin injection. Although other solutions, such as full drywall compartments, may offer greater privacy, they may often compromise project timelines and budgets by requiring multiple construction trades and additional materials.

The no-sightline privacy doors and stiles come with standard or optional full-height hardware and typically offer flush styling across a series of doors and stiles to deliver a high-end, clean aesthetic. No-sightline doors are often increased or extended height, typically between 72 inches tall with 4 inches of floor clearance and 81 inches tall with 1 inch of floor clearance. Compare this to standard metal, stainless steel, high pressure laminate, compact laminate and SCRC partitions, which are typically 58 inches high, and standard high-density polyethylene partition doors and panels, which are usually 55 inches high. Ultimately, these privacy options can offer as many as 26 more inches than a standard door with little to no sightlines.

When balancing privacy with ADA compliance, it is important to note that front toe clearance is not required if compartment depth is greater than 62 inches deep with a wall-hung toilet or 65 inches deep with a floor-mounted toilet.

With regards to actual ADA compliance for wheelchair-accessible stall dimensions, a compartment with a wall-mounted toilet must be 60 inches wide and 56 inches deep, and a compartment with a floor-mounted toilet needs to be 59 inches deep. Additionally, adult public restrooms must have at least one sink and one toilet that are accessible to people in wheelchairs. Alternatively, building owners can offer one separate accessible unisex bathroom. If the bathrooms have more than six toilets, two need to be accessible.

As for the accessible stall itself, it should be 60 inches wide by 60 inches deep. The toilet should be located on the 60-inch wall, the door should swing out and have a 32-inch clear opening, and the door lock should be located 36 inches above the floor. There should be 18 inches of clear space on the latch-pull side of the door, and a coat hook should be located 54 inches above the floor.

Image courtesy of INPRO

For the toilet to be considered ADA compliant, the center should be 18 inches from the nearest wall and at least 42 inches from the farthest side wall. In the front, there must be 42 inches of space from the closest fixture or wall. The toilet should be between 17 and 19 inches high, measured to the top of the toilet seat.

The flush controls—manual or automatic—should be located on the wide side of the toilet no more than 44 inches from the floor, and the toilet paper dispensers must be installed on the closest side wall. The center of the dispenser should be at least 24 inches from the ground, and dispensers that do not permit a continuous paper flow are strictly prohibited.

Sinks and vanities need a clear floor space along an accessible route and must have a maximum of 19 inches of space underneath for people in wheelchairs to roll up to the sink. The sink must be installed so that the rim is not higher than 34 inches from the floor. The sink must also extend at least 17 inches from the wall, knee clearance should be at least 27 inches from the floor to the underside of the sink, and the sink depth cannot exceed 612 inches.

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Originally published in April 2022