ADA: a major issue for public-use buildings

While your single-family home doesn’t have to handicap accessible, your business might need to be

By John D’Annunzio, columnist,

The Americans with Disabilities Act came about due to the increasing need for people with disabilities to have access to facilities that are used by the general public. Since the inception of the ADA guidelines for buildings have changed to accommodate disabled Americans. The guidelines below are for commercial properties; nothing is required for a single family residence.

Doorways must have a clear width of a 32” minimum when the door is open 90 degrees measured from the door stop to the face of the door. This includes sliding, folding, pocket doors.

Ramps shall not have a cross slope no greater than 1:48 inches and a ramp width of no less than 36” wide. Now  lets use a 4’ wide ramp for example .To check a 4’ wide ramp place a level across the ramp (right to left) down flat on the ramp. If the ramp is level, that is fine, but if a slope is noticed, for example, the right side has a noticeable slope, place a level flat on the ramp and even with the edge of the ramp. Remember in this case the ramp and the level are the same width. Lift the level up on the right side and place a ruler vertically at the very edge and you should read no more then 1” on a 4’ wide ramp and ¾” inch on a 3’ ramp.

Landings are required for ramps at the bottom and top of each run. They must be 60”in length and no less then 36” wide. Where ramps change directions, for example 90 degrees, a 60”x 60 landing is required. This is for maneuvering capability reasons. The slope on the new ramp runs shall not exceed 1:12 inches except on existing buildings were space is tight. These slopes are permitted to be built with a pitch of 1: 10 inches to 1: 8 inches.

Cross slopes (36inch and wider ramps) greater than quarter inch per foot cause difficulty for someone in a wheel chair. They are fighting to keep themselves level whether it be in a parking space, ramp, sidewalk, etc.

Handrails are required for the full length of a ramp run and shall measure 34” to 38” from the top of the handrail to the ramp walking surface. On circular handrails the cross section of the outside diameter shall be 1 ¼” minimum to 2” maximum. You want to be able to put most of your hand around the rail to prevent a fall.

If constructing a new bathroom and space is available some of these guide lines can be used. The center line of the toilet shall be 16” to 18” from a side wall or partition (the center line of the toilet or toilet floor drain). The clearance around the toilet shall be 60” minimum measured from the side wall, and 56” measured perpendicular from the rear wall. The top of a toilet seat shall be 17” to 19” maximum above the walking surface.

In toilet areas side wall grab bars shall be a minimum of 42” long, installed 12 inches from a rear wall. The rear wall grab bar shall be 24” long minimum and centered with the center of the toilet or floor drain. Where space permits a 36” bar can be used with the remaining length provided on the transfer side of the toilet.

Grab bars for bathtubs without permanent seats shall be provided one at the front end wall (spigot wall) and being installed even with the outside edge of the tub and be 24 inches minimum in length. Two grab bars 24 inches minimum in length shall be installed on the back wall and be installed 24 inches maximum from the head end wall  (  opposite the spigots ) and 12inches from the front end wall ( spigot wall )

Grab bars in bath tubs shall be mounted 9 inches above the rim of the tub (Very top edge of tub).

The above guidelines are just a few to get someone started. If you need more guide lines contact me or call your local township on what they recommend. All the above guide lines are from the American National Standard Institute and the International Code Council. And again these guidelines are for commercial use but for someone who is doing a single family residential project for a handicapped person; these would be a good start since they are well received.

John D’Annunzio is a local Commercial and Residential builder who has held nearly every job in the construction industry from heavy equipment operator to home builder. He is ICC building code certified and lives and operates in Chester County, PA. His column will appear weekly and address various home improvement and building issues with special attention to subjects of interest locally.

Contact John at

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