Seven Common Bathroom Accessibility Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Published November 30, 2020

Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations regarding restrooms may seem tricky because of the number and scope guidelines that must be met. A poorly constructed bathroom can bring significant compliance issues down the road.

"When a person is denied access to use the restroom, you are at a much greater risk of that person not only being denied access, but being thoroughly ticked off," said David Meihls, Principal Consultant for ADA Consultants of Indiana, in an article on Buildings.com. If a patron has an accident because of poor restroom accessibility, "There's a pretty good chance he's going to sue, whereas if someone just had to help him get up a curb ramp, that's not as big a deal," Meihls said. "I think that's why restrooms are such a hot-button issue."

Here are some common disability-related bathroom faux-pas and how to correct them.

  1. Difficulties getting into the bathroom: Door weight and handles can pose issues for those unable to exert the necessary pressure to push a door open or squeeze the handle. ADA door requirements state that doors must have handles that can be used with one hand and that open with no more than five pounds of force. Using a handle instead of a a doorknob can alleviate this issue. Remember that door handles required for accessible door passage should be mounted no higher than 48 inches above the finished floor. (ADA 4.13.9)
  2. Doors that swing inward: A person who uses a walker, wheelchair, or another assisted mobility device may have issues closing the door. Doors shouldn't swing into the clear floor space where people need to turn. Ensure that the doors swing out to give the space required for all to move around comfortably.
  3. Misplaced grab bars: Grab bars help people maintain their balance and prevent falls, so they need to be sturdy, unobscured and easy to grip. If grab bars are mounted adjacent to a wall, the space between the wall and the grab bar needs to be 1-1/2 inches. (ADA 4.26.2)
  4. Awkward toilet paper dispenser placement: Don't install toilet paper dispensers too low or too close to the grab bar; that can make them challenging to reach. Steer clear of dispensers that control delivery, or that do not permit continuous paper flow. (ADA 4.16.6)
  5. Toilets too low: Having the correct height for toilets and urinals is essential for ease of use. Toilets should be elevated between 17 and 19 inches with an easy to reach handle or automatic-flush capability. Urinals need to be stall-type or wall-hung with an elongated rim no more than 17 inches above the floor. (4.18.2)
  6. Sinks mounted too high: Sinks that are too high may be inaccessible to those in a wheelchair. The ADA requires a knee clearance of at least 29 inches under the bowl. Sinks need to be mounted with the counter or rim no higher than 34 inches above the floor. (ADA 4.24.2)
  7. Inaccessible mirrors: For those in wheelchairs, a standard mirror height of 40 inches or more will not work. Place mirrors with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface no higher than 40 inches above the floor. (ADA 4.19.6)

If you need an update to your bathrooms and aren't sure where you'll find the funds, you may want to check out tax incentives for ADA compliance to help offset the costs.

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