One simple way clothing stores, mall outlets, gyms and fitness boutiques can build loyalty with the one in four American adults with a disability is to outfit the establishment with included accessible fitting rooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms.
Despite this much-needed accommodation in businesses, many don’t comply. One 2017 study found that the majority of fitness facilities lacked accessible facilities for people with disabilities and complaints about ADA violations in dressing rooms at retail stores are one of the most common topics in ADA lawsuits, costing businesses thousands of dollars in legal fees and bad publicity. That’s unfortunate because accessibility is good business, and often not very difficult to achieve. The ADA Checklist for Accessible Design (PDF) offers plenty of guidance.
According to ADA guidelines, "Turning space shall not be required in a private dressing room entered through a curtained opening at least 32 inches wide if clear floor space complying with section 4.2 renders the dressing room usable by a person using a wheelchair."
In an open facility like a locker room there must be a minimum clear floor space of 30 inches by 48 inches that allows for either forward or parallel approach of lockers by a person using a wheelchair.
An accessible dressing room with a sliding or swing door requires a 180 degree turning circle inside. In other words, people using a wheelchair must be able to enter the space and turn their wheelchair in any configuration of the room, whether the door is open or shut. If a door swings into the space, consider changing the hinges so the door swings out and allows for more space to maneuver in the dressing room.
Doorknobs must also be considered. ADA requirements state door hardware "shall have a shape that is easy to grasp with one hand and does not require tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate." Door hardware that can be operated with a closed fist or a loose grip, such as an automatic door with a button or a simple turn lever instead of a knob, accommodates the greatest range of users.
Dressing rooms, locker rooms and showers are required to have an accessible bench with a clear floor space that allows people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to approach parallel to the short end of the bench seat.
To be ADA compliant, the United States Access Board requires that benches have seats that are a minimum of 20 inches to a maximum of 24 inches in depth with 42 inches minimum length. The seat must be between 17 and 19 inches above the floor. The bench must be able to withstand a vertical or horizontal force of 250 pounds applied "at any point on the seat, fastener, mounting device, or supporting structure." If benches are located in wet areas, like showers, the surface must be slip-resistant and designed not to accumulate water.
Shelves, hooks, and lockers
Storage spaces such as shelves, hooks, coat rods and lockers should be located at between 15 and 48 inches above the floor. If lockers are provided, five percent must meet ADA specifications. The locking mechanism should be no higher than 48 inches above the floor. A variety of ADA-compliant locking mechanisms are available, including large, flat keyheads for easy gripping or locks that require simple bumping action to enter a combination without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist.
For mirrors installed in a dressing room or locker room, the maximum mounting height from the floor to the bottom of the reflective surface should 35 inches. The maximum allowable mounting height for a mirror over sinks or counters is 40 inches. However, it’s a good idea to mount a full-length mirror on an adjacent wall where it can be used by everyone, including children. Another option is to mount a tilt mirror, which can be adjusted by pushing on the bottom edge to tilt downward.
ADA compliance requires rooms that are not temporary in nature to be signed with tactile braille room identification signs. It is best that all dressing rooms be properly marked, whether wheelchair-accessible or not.
Consider reducing background noise, like piped-in music, which can make it harder for some people, such as some with hearing disabilities, to hear things like an employee knocking on the door to see if a fitting room is open. Additionally, train employees to use a visual alert (such as waving under a door) before opening a locked fitting room, in case the person inside can’t hear the knocking. For other simple interactions, employees can use facial or body gestures that express information (such as a "thumbs up"), point to information, or write notes to communicate with a customer.