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Designed for Access in the School Washroom

Designed for Access in the School Washroom

Tips for planning accessible school restroom facilities.

Many stakeholders in the public and private sectors have been involved in establishing minimum accessibility standards for people with disabilities in public buildings. One of the most important spaces in any building is the restroom.

Unless a building has a restroom that is compliant with applicable accessibility standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it may be cited for violations. Most local building codes also carry accessibility requirements, usually referencing ANSI A 117.1.

And, local permitting and certificates of occupancy require review and approvals that include restrooms. A building cannot be opened to the public without accessible restrooms.

Making sense of accessibility standards has been challenging for commercial architects, designers, developers and education administrators. Accessibility consultants have for many years translated the complexities of the accessibility standards into easy-to-read resource documents complete with layouts.

Bobrick’s Planning Guide for Accessible Restrooms(Referencing: 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design; ICC A117.1-2009 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities) was published in April 2012 and is the latest in the series.

Important Developments

Important changes from the prior edition of the planning guide include:

•Addition of 18-inch vertical grab bar (2009 ICC/ANSI).

•L-Shaped area for accessories outlet, including toilet-tissue dispenser 24-inch maximum from rear wall and 36-inch maximum top and 42-inch bottom; 48-inch maximum and 18-inch minimum from floor inside accessible toilet compartment (2009 ICC/ANSI).

•Maximum mounting height for operable parts of dispensers is 48 inches above floor (formerly 54-inch side reach) (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

•Tolerance for installing toilets in accessible toilet compartments. Centerline of toilet is now 16 to 18 inches in wheelchair-accessible and 17 to 19 inches in ambulatory-accessible toilet compartments. The centerline formerly was 18 inches (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

•Simplification of toilet compartment layouts. Now, three basic layouts are shown: wheelchair-accessible toilet compartment, large wheelchair-accessible toilet compartment and ambulatory accessible toilet compartment. Formerly, there were five layouts (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA). It should be noted that many more accessible toilet layouts are possible.

•Toe clearance of 9-inch minimum for adults and 12 inches for children under toilet compartment panels, and doors on front and side of compartments extending 6 inches minimum beyond side and front of compartment (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

•Grab bars outside diameter 1.25-inch to 2-inch maximum. Now, circular profiles, ovals and rounded rectangles are allowed (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

•Seats for transfer and roll-in showers. Now use rectangular or L-shaped shower seats with 3-inch maximum space between seat edge and shower compartment entry (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

•The 29-inch minimum knee-height requirement at lavatories and countertops has been replaced by a 27-inch minimum height requirement (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

•Lavatories no longer are allowed within the clear floor space around the toilet in an accessible compartment (2009 ICC/ANSI and 2010 ADA).

Universal design

A universal design approach to restrooms improves usability for all products, building elements, and spaces to ensure they are usable by people of all ages and abilities.

Also, this concept brings universal features into the mainstream by eliminating radically different looking amenities and the stigma associated with them; the same choices are provided for all users.

Space requirements and reach ranges

To to allow use by people with limited reach range, accessories must be mounted with their "operable parts," including dispensing mechanisms, start buttons, coin slots or dispenser opening, situated no more than 48 inches above the finish floor.

Over obstructions such as countertops, the height requirement is between 44 and 48 inches. Within toilet compartments, the 2010 ADA Standards allow the operable portions of the toilet-paper dispenser to be mounted no lower than 15 inches above the floor; the 2009 ICC/ANSI Standards restrict all dispenser outlets to no lower than 18 inches.

A 60-inch-diameter circular space allows a person using a wheelchair to make 180-degree or 360-degree turns. The T-shaped space allows for a three-point turn and may conserve space.

Planning an accessible restroom

Beginning with entrance and exit, several options may meet the standard depending on the space available, including single-door entries and opposing doors. As illustrated in Figure 3c above, the open vestibule is the most universally accessible of the choices.

Interior doors must pull or push open with a minimum of 5 pounds of force. Door handles, pulls, latches, locks and other operable parts must have a shape that is easy to operate with one hand and not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. Operable parts of door hardware are to be mounted at 34 to 48 inches above the finish floor. Lever-operated and push-type mechanisms, and U-shaped handles are acceptable.

If a door has a closer or spring hinge, it must be adjusted to meet the minimum opening and closing requirements.

Special considerations for lavatories

At least one lavatory area in each restroom must meet or exceed 2010 ADA standards. If it is to be installed in a countertop, place it as close as possible to the front edge. Water supply, drain pipes and exposed surfaces under lavatories must be insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact. Controls and operating mechanisms must be operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist, and cannot exceed 5 pounds of force.

Accommodating diverse users

The needs of people who use wheelchairs is a fundamental factor for determining floor space, turning diameters, mounting heights and reach ranges. But accessible restrooms work better for people who use canes, crutches and walkers.

Also important is that accessible restrooms better serve our aging population, families with children, and the growing number of people who use scooters. Where there are specification, dimensional and tolerance ranges, to assure compliance it is recommended to avoid minimum specifications.

Restrooms can nominally be divided into two spaces. The area around and adjacent to the countertop and sink(s) requires minimum mounting heights for mirrors, paper-towel dispensers and waste receptacles, soap dispensers and sanitary-napkin/tampon vendors. Toilet compartment interiors have their own mounting heights and locations for grab bars, toilet-tissue dispensers, seat-cover dispensers and sanitary-napkin disposals.

Some characteristics, needs and equipment required by a wide range of users:

•Those with stability and balance issues.

•Very short and very tall people.

•Large and overweight people.

•People recovering from Illness or surgery.

•Senior citizens.

•Those that need restroom assistance.

•People with strollers or those who need baby-changing stations.

•People with mobility equipment.

Important planning considerations

When planning accessible restrooms:

•Entrances and exits are laid out to minimize congestion and for universal access.

•Passageways and access aisles are at least 42 to 48 inches wide.

•Limit protrusions between 27 and 80 inches on all circulation routes, passageways and access aisles to no more than 4 inches.

•Wheelchair-turning spaces wherever required. The increased use of large wheelchairs, chairs and scooters means that larger maneuvering spaces should be considered.

•Accessories are recessed into the walls fully wherever possible.

•Make sure accessories and vendors, faucets and flush valves meet or exceed 2010 ADA and 2009 ICC/ANSI standards (are reachable and usable with limited hand dexterity and don’t require more than 5 pounds of force).

•Centered minimum clear floor space of 30 inches by 48 inches is provided at each accessory.

•Lavatories, urinals and toilet compartments meet or exceed 2010 ADA and 2009 ICC/ANSI standards.

•If there are six or more toilet compartments or urinals, there is at least one ambulatory accessible toilet compartment in addition to the standard accessible compartment.

•Situate baby-changing stations with care, avoiding locations in accessible compartments, and putting them in places that won’t block others while in use.

Accessories provide additional service amenities

Restroom accessories with leading edges between 27 and 80 inches above the finish floor may not protrude more than 4 inches. When the leading edge is below 27 inches, accessories may project any amount so long as the minimum dimension of an adjacent access aisle is maintained.

The guide provides information and standards for:


•Soap dispensers.

•Paper-towel dispensers.

•Waste receptacles.

•Warm-air hand dryers.

•Sanitary napkin/tampon vendors.

•Baby-changing stations.

•Child-protection seats.

Accessible toilet compartments are required in all public restrooms

There are basically two compartment designs. Wheelchair-accessible compartments must be 56 inches minimum depth with wall-hung toilets and 59 inches with floor-mounted toilets. The minimum width is 60 inches. Ambulatory accessible compartments are to have a minimum depth of 60 inches. The 2009 ICC/ANSI Standards have an absolute width dimension of 36 inches (the 2010 ADA Standards allow a range of 35 to 37 inches wide).

Further requirements for the toilets per se, doors and door hardware, toilet location, toe clearance and grab bar installation location(s) are covered in the guide. Several accessories should be included in toilet compartments, and they must be situated on the side wall or partition, preferably the one nearest the toilet in accessible compartments, and 7 to 9 inches in front of the leading edge of the toilet seat:

•Grab bars (horizontal and the 18-inch vertical per 2009 ICC/ANSI).

•Roll toilet-tissue dispensers (non-controlled delivery).

•Sanitary-napkin disposals (recommended for women’s facilities).

•Toilet-seat cover dispensers (an optional hygienic amenity).

•Combination units (incorporate several accessories).


Sidebar: Overlaps between the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and 2009 ICC/ANSI A1171.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities

There is jurisdictional overlap between the standards. Many projects will have to comply with both:

•2009 ICC/ANSI requires an 18-inch-long vertical grab bar in accessible toilet compartments, tubs and transfer showers.

•2010 ADA allows ambulatory accessible compartments to range between 35 and 37 inches wide. 2009 ICC/ANSI maintains the old standard of 36 inches wide.

•2010 ADA restricts toilet-paper outlets in accessible compartments to a range of 7 to 9 inches in front of toilets. 2009 ICC/ANSI measures dispenser location from the rear wall of the compartment and allows a wider range of locations.

•Although 2010 ADA allows reachable items to be as low as 15 inches above the floor, 2009 ICC/ANSI restricts items to no lower than 18 inches above the floor.

•2009 ICC/ANSI introduces a more complex array of reach range considerations when determining the installation of dispenser and vendor locations.

Gettelman is vice president/external affairs, for Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc., North Hollywood, Calif.

Bobrick’s new Planning Guide for Accessible Restrooms describes concepts for designing large and small restrooms; individual toilet rooms; bathing facilities, including individual shower compartments and combination tub/shower units, bathtubs and combinations, and dressing compartments. Note: The information contained in the guide is of an advisory nature only and represents an interpretation of the standards. Use of this document is not a substitute for the study and understanding of the standards. When working on projects with both ADA and ICC/ANSI standards, it is recommended to follow the more stringent of the standards. However, the planning guide refers primarily to the 2010 ADA standards.

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