The Federal Government enacted Civil Rights legislation in 1990 protecting the rights of disabled citizens. This legislation is known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and it includes provisions protecting citizens’ rights of equal access to public facilities. These provisions in turn have been adopted by local and state agencies into their own building codes. To protect such rights, the ADA and state-adopted building code regulations govern the design of many constituent pieces of buildings and their surroundings. Restrooms are essential components to any building type, and regulations governing the accessibility of restrooms are an important part of the ADA. There are several key components that are regulated by ADA and California building code restroom requirements.
Path of Travel
The door to accessible restrooms must be considered accessible. Generally, accessible doors are those that are a minimum of 36” wide, are outfitted with lever-type hardware, and do not swing into required clear areas in the restroom. Each accessible fixture in the restroom must have a clear area in front of it to allow wheelchair access. A clear path of travel must be provided to each of these fixtures. A typical clear area required is a space 30 inches wide and 48” deep. In addition, a clear floor space in the restroom must be provided that allows someone in a wheelchair to turnaround. This is stipulated to be a 5-foot diameter circle. Additionally, doors cannot swing into the clear floor space required for any fixture. It is important to note that while the Federal ADA regulations permit an accessible toilet stall door to encroach upon the theoretical clear space and turnaround for the toilet within the stall, the California Building Code (CBC) does not. The CBC maintains a slightly more stringent approach than the Federal ADA regulations in that it states that the, “door cannot swing into the clear floor space” and the “Compartment door to accessible fixtures must comply with door maneuvering requirements, and in no case shall the space immediately outside of the [toilet] compartment door be less than 48 inches.” Generally, accessible stalls under the CBC regulations should be a minimum of 60 inches wide and shall allow a 60-inch turning radius inside the stall.
ADA requires that at least one toilet and one lavatory be accessible in public restrooms. Men's rooms containing urinals require at least one accessible urinal. Accessible fixtures typically are those that meet certain height requirements. For example, an accessible restroom lavatory must be no more than 34 inches from the floor and provide accessible knee clearance below. Accessible toilets must be designed and installed such that the seat is between 17 and 19 inches above the floor. Additionally. The CBC requires that grab rails be provided at the side and to the rear of accessible water closets. This is consistent with the Federal ADA regulations except that the CBC specifically requires that the grab rails be mounted 33 inches above the floor, while the ADA permits a range from 33 to 36 inches.
Accessible restrooms must provide accessible toilet accessories. Items such as soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, and waste receptacles must meet minimum accessibility requirements. Primarily, toilet accessories must be located within an accessible reach range. Typically, accessories may not be located such that the operable portion of the item is above 40 inches from the floor. In addition, accessories may not impede on the accessible path of travel. Typically, if an item protrudes more than 4 inches from the wall, it is considered a hazard and may not be located within an accessible path of travel.
Carol Reeves is a licensed architect with more than 12 years of experience in architecture and construction. In 2003 she began writing and editing for local publications, as well as teaching at community colleges. Reeves holds a Bachelor of Architecture from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.