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ADA Requirements: An Accessibility Compliance Overview

Posted by Leah Riley, Nov 14, 2017

Meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, is essential to any construction project. During our compliance reviews, we encounter violations because the ADA’s accessible design requirements are misunderstood or overlooked. The following is a very general overview of some of the ADA’s requirements.


Photo by Joel Martinez

The ADA’s Title III prohibits discrimination by private entities operating as places of public accommodations. The rules implementing the ADA, the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards), incorporate the 2004 ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) that contain new construction and alterations accessibility scoping and technical requirements.


Some bathroom accessibility requirements are regularly omitted. Periodically, we see bathroom plans that are ADA compliant but the bathroom elements are installed improperly during construction. The 2010 Standards have detailed requirements for bathrooms that can be found in ADAAG Chapter 6: Plumbing Elements and Facilities.

There are very specific requirements for the toilet compartment area. For example, the water closet must be located between 16” to 18” from the side wall or partition, and the clearance area must be 60” perpendicular from the side wall and 56” perpendicular from the rear wall for wall mounted toilets (clearance can overlap elements specified in the section).

Grab bars must be placed on the side walls adjacent to the toilet as well as the rear wall. There are also detailed requirements for the grab bar dimensions, length, height placement, and spacing from the wall.

Also relevant to bathrooms, are the requirements for toilet seat heights (17” to 19” above finished floor), flush controls (toilet’s open side), toilet paper dispenser location, urinals, sinks, bathtubs, showers, soap dispensers, hand dryers, and waste receptacles. Some of the common errors we see on our site reviews are flush controls not placed on the open side, trash cans placed in the toilet clear floor space, hand dryers protruding more than 4” into the accessible route, and pipes under the sink that are not protected.

To learn more about the ADA’s bathroom requirements read our posts: Commonly Overlooked ADA Bathroom Requirements and ADA Restroom Requirements: What is Wrong with This Picture?


Elevators accommodating the needs of people with communication and mobility disabilities must be provided whenever vertical accessibility is required in a building covered by the ADA. The specific ADA requirements for elevators are contained in Section 407 of ADAAG Chapter 4: Accessible Routes (Section 206.2.3 has some exceptions to the elevator requirements).

Elevators must be free of obstruction, have visible and audible signals indicating such information as elevator direction and which elevator car is arriving, contain doors that

remain open for a minimum of three seconds, and have buttons (interior and exterior) within wheelchair user reach range, and buttons with accompanying tactile characters and Braille.

Additional information about elevator requirements is contained in our blog post ADA Building Requirements for Elevators


Handrails are also an important consideration when providing accessibility. Section 505 of ADAAG Chapter 5: General Site and Building Elements contains the ADA’s handrail requirements. Handrails must be placed on accessible route ramps with a rise greater than 6 inches and stairways (new construction or replacements during alteration). Handrails must be on both sides of stairs and ramps run.

Handrails must also be at a consistent height. The top of the gripping surface must be between 34-38 inches above walking surfaces, stairs, or ramps. It is also important to have a clearance of a minimum of 1 ½ inches between a handrail and the wall.

For more details, read our post Are You Complying with the ADA’s Handrail Requirements?


The ADA’s detailed ramp requirements are found in Section 405 of ADAAG Chapter 4 Accessible Routes. Ramps are required when there are level changes a ½ inch above a floor or ground surface, and they must be adjacent or in close proximity to routes used by the general public.

The ramp’s running slope (direction of travel) can be no more than 1:12 and the cross slope (perpendicular to running slope) should not be more than 1:48. Additionally, a ramp should have a rise of no more than 30 inches maximum.

Landings that are level and as wide at the ramp must be at both the bottom and top of the ramp. Edge protection is required on the side of ramp runs and landings.

You can find more about ADA ramp requirements in our post Are You Compliant with the ADA’s Ramp Requirements?


If you’re working on a building with public parking, you will need to be aware of the ADA’s parking requirements. Section 208.2 in ADAAG Chapter 2 specifies the minimum number of accessible parking spaces required in parking lots and structures (see chart - Table 208.2) based on the total number of parking spaces in a parking facility. There are specific requirements for van parking spaces as well as additional accessible parking spaces in special types of facilities, such as hospital outpatient facilities.

The technical requirements of accessible parking spaces may be found in Section 502 of ADAAG Chapter 5. For example, accessible parking spaces must be at least 96 inches wide (van spaces must be at least 132 inches wide unless the access aisle is 96 inches or wider) and markings are to be used to show the parking space width.

Accessible parking spaces require an access aisle that meets specific requirements and is located next to an accessible route. There must be a mounted handicapped sign placed in the front of each space, at least five feet off the ground. This also includes a sign stating a fine designated by the authority having jurisdiction. All van-accessible spaces should have “van accessible” marked on their signs.

Find more information on parking requirements in our blog post ADA Parking Space Requirements: What is Wrong With This Picture?

Other Areas to Remember

When we conduct our accessibility compliance reviews, we periodically see violations of the ADA’s standards for objects extending into circulation paths. It is essential to comply with the ADA’s requirements for protruding objects to avoid injuring anyone with a visual impairment. For example, an object that is above a cane detection area (more than 27 inches) and lower than the headroom clearance area (below 80 inches) cannot extend more than 4 inches horizontally into a path (handrails 4 ½ inches).

Another common violation we come across is the failure to comply with the requirement that the push side of swinging manual doors and gates have a smooth surface at the bottom a minimum of 10 inches in height from the finished floor or ground. Often, we see hardware protruding too low from the door bottom’s push side.

It is critical to check all of the ADA’s detailed requirements as part of your project. Also, always remember that state and local jurisdictions have their own accessibility requirements that may be stricter than the ADA’s standards. It is essential to be familiar with the state and local requirements that pertain to your jurisdiction as well as the federal standards.

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