ADA Requirements for Sales and Service Counters

Published October 14, 2020

If your business requires a sales or service counter, it’s important to ensure the counter meets a set of standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A counter that’s too high could limit accessibility to people in wheelchairs, for example, alienating potential customers and even employees. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s important first to know what’s considered a sales or service counter. Obvious examples are a sales counter at a fast-food restaurant or the reception area at a doctor’s office. For those and similar environments such as bank branches and hotel front desks, the area in front of any service counter must be at least 30 inches by 48 inches and parallel or perpendicular to the service counter.

The counter should be at least 36 inches long and a maximum of 36 inches off the floor. The area must also have an accessible route to all entrances and other areas of the business where goods are sold, or services are provided. An auxiliary table or desk can be safely used as a substitute if no accessible counter is available.

If your business isn’t immediately able to offer an accessible counter or peripheral accessible surface, a clipboard is an acceptable temporary solution until an accessible counter can be properly installed. If it’s not possible to furnish an accessible counter or table in a certain area, then the business should be prepared to offer alternative services, such as delivering the service or goods to a fully accessible area.

Supermarket checkout counters have their own ADA standards. An important factor in this scenario is aisle width because if the checkout aisle is too narrow it can block access to people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

The aisle should be a minimum of 36 inches wide and be visibly marked with a sign bearing the universal symbol of accessibility (right). The checkout counter can be a maximum of 38 inches tall, or 40 inches if there is a lip between the counter and aisle. The number of completely accessible check-out aisles which must be available varies depending on how many standard checkout aisles are provided. If the store has up to four checkout aisles, at least one should be accessible; if it has between five and eight aisles at least two accessible aisles must be provided. All checkout types must have an accessible aisle, including express and self-checkout lanes.

Counters in self-service restaurants should not exceed 34 inches in height. If that’s not possible, then a lowered portion of the counter must be provided with a maximum height of 34 inches and a length of at least 60 inches. Additionally, self-service restaurants must offer a queue line at least 36 inches wide for people using wheelchairs, along with extra space in any area the line may turn to provide an adequate turning radius. If utensils and condiments are available, they should be placed on a surface no higher than 48 inches for a forward reach or 54 inches if the surface is accessible via a side reach. If it’s not possible to provide accessible condiments and utensils, the business should provide for employees to assist customers with disabilities.