Assessing Access

July 1, 2005
A thorough look at facilities can provide guidelines for how to comply with the ADA.

Planning for compliance with accessibility is a process required for education institutions. They must start with a self-evaluation to determine if their policies and procedures comply with the ADA. Once out-of-compliance issues are discovered, the entities must develop a transition plan, which involves:

  • Identifying the physical barriers that limit accessibility.

  • Developing methods to provide for accessibility and a schedule for making changes.

  • Conducting the assessment.

Removing the physical barriers is not the only requirement for ADA compliance. Schools are required to be familiar with regulations, evaluate policies and carry out modifications. Other requirements deal with employment, assistance and programs.

Physical/architectural barriers

One way to examine an accessible route is to put yourself in a wheelchair or use crutches and perform your daily routine. If you cannot enter a building because steps are situated at the doorways, a barrier exists.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) indicate the design and construction requirements for accessibility. The standards often read “if provided …,” which means that if a feature does not exist in your facility, the ADAAG does not require that the feature be provided. Checklists are available to perform evaluations.

Following are some examples to conduct a cursory review of a facility:

  • Parking

    Have you ever driven to a business and were not able to park? This situation is common, but it would be considered a physical barrier if the parking area did not have accessible spaces and access aisles provided for people with disabilities.

    Accessible parking compliance deals with location, adequate number, access aisles and connection to an accessible route.

    The accessible parking must be situated closest to the accessible entrance, and an adequate number of spaces must be provided. A rule of thumb is one accessible space for every 25 spaces (or fraction thereof) must be provided, and at least one space must be van-accessible. Access aisles must be at least 5 feet wide for cars and 8 feet wide for vans.

  • Exterior route

    The exterior route includes pathways, sidewalks, ramps and stairs. The exterior route connects the transportation stops, parking, loading zones, public sidewalks and other buildings to the accessible entrance. The accessible route does not need to be the only route, but it must be identified as being accessible.

    The accessible route must be at least 36 inches wide and be firm, stable and slip-resistant. A grass or gravel pathway, for example, would not be considered firm and stable. Adequate headroom of 80 inches must be provided, and any obstacles must be cane-detectable. The slope of the accessible route cannot be greater than 1:20 (1 foot of rise for 20 feet of run) unless the slope complies with ramp requirements. If there is a change in level, the transition must be beveled or provided with a ramp.

  • Entrances

    At least 50 percent of the entrances must be accessible and must be identified as such. The entrance door must have a 32-inch clear width opening and must have adequate maneuvering clearances. Swinging doors must have varying floor clearances depending on the approach direction to the door. For example, if the approach is frontal to the pull side of the door, there must be a clear and level maneuvering space in front of the door that is 60 inches long. The width of the space must be the width of the door plus a minimum of 18 inches.

    The door hardware shall not be higher than 48 inches and needs to operate without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. Lever handles and pull bars usually are acceptable.

    The closer hardware must be adjusted to allow easy operation to open the door and must not close the door faster than 3 seconds.

  • Interior route

    Once inside the building, the interior route consists of the corridors and lobbies connecting the rooms that are required to be accessible. It has the same requirements as the exterior route with regard to width, height, slope, changes in level and cane detection.

  • Width

    The interior accessible route must be 36 inches wide, and if the route turns at an obstruction that is less than 48 inches, the width must be increased to 42 inches.

    If the accessible route is less than 5 feet wide, there must be passing spaces that are 5 feet by 5 feet or T-intersecting corridors no more than 200 feet apart.

  • Slope

    The slope shall not exceed 1:20 unless the change in level is achieved by a ramp. If a ramp is provided, it shall not exceed a slope of 1:12.

    Ramps that are longer than 6 feet or that have more than a 6-inch rise should have railings on each side. The railings must be continuous and mounted between 34 inches and 38 inches.

    Ramps should have 5-foot-long landings at the top and the bottom of the ramp.

  • Doors

    At least one door into public spaces shall have a 32-inch clear opening. Doors should have appropriate maneuvering clearances at each side of the door. The door handles should not be mounted higher than 48 inches. Doors shall be opened with a maximum of 5 pounds of pull force.

  • Stairs

    Stairs must have closed risers, and the treads should not be less than 11 inches.

    The stair handrails must be on both sides of the stair and should be continuous, and handrail extensions must be provided at the top and the bottom of the stairs.

  • Restrooms

    Restrooms that are available to the public are required to have accessible toilets, urinals, lavatories, mirrors, dispensers, graphics and doors. There also must be an accessible route to the accessible fixtures within the restroom.

  • Toilets

    Toilets must have a seat that is 17 inches to 19 inches high. Accessible toilets must be situated within an accessible stall that is 5 feet wide and 56 inches long for a floor-mounted toilet.

    The flush control must be situated on the wide side of the stall and no higher than 44 inches. Grab bars must be provided in the accessible stall.

  • Lavatories

    A clear floor space of 30 inches wide by 48 inches long must be provided in front of the lavatory. A maximum length of 19 inches of the 48-inch-long space may extend under the lavatory.

    The rim must not be mounted higher than 34 inches, and a 29-inch knee space must be measured from the floor to the bottom of the apron.

    The faucet must be operated without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. The hot water and drain pipes must be insulated.

  • Floor spaces

    The route to reach the fixtures in the restroom must be at least 36 inches wide.

A 5-foot diameter or a T-shaped clear floor space must be provided in the restroom for turns.

Making an effort

At times, architectural barriers can be removed with little effort. For example, maintenance personnel can replace door hardware. Other work such as widening doorways, reconfiguring toilet stalls and remounting fixtures should be performed by reputable contractors.

Keep in mind that if occupied spaces are renovated, these areas must be made accessible, and that renovation work may require other areas of the building to be made accessible. If additions are made to a building, the new addition must comply with the accessibility standards. If the only access to the addition is through the existing building, an accessible route must be provided.

Brennan, AIA, is a licensed accessibility specialist and senior facility assessment officer with 3D/International's Facilities Group, Houston.


  1. 30 BY 48

    Number of inches (wide by long) of clear floor space required in front of a lavatory.

  2. 19

    Maximum number of inches that may extend under the lavatory.

  3. 34

    Number of inches the toilet rim must not exceed.

  4. 29

    Number of inches of required knee space when measured from the floor to the bottom of the toilet apron.

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