ADA Compliance Overview


The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is an important topic that those involved with the construction or remodel of buildings or spaces should be aware of and informed on. This post touches on some of the main ADA design issues we often come across when working with new and existing buildings, especially in distilleries!

We hope that with the information here, you can gain a general understanding of this broad topic and have the tools & knowledge to head in the right direction to avoid any accessibility hiccups at your building.

What, Where, & How

The ADA is a civil rights law that passed in the U.S. in 1990. It is applicable in the entire United States. The ADA publishes the ADAAG (ADA Accessibility Guidelines), which set standards for accessibility in buildings. The current publication is the 2010 ADAAG.

Enforcement is generally brought on after a lawsuit is filed for non-compliance. Some jurisdictions, such as California have incorporated these guidelines into building codes, in order to pre-emptively encourage proper design and avoid frivolous litigation after the fact. The IBC (International Building Code) also has some provisions for accessibility, covered in chapter 11.

What do I need in my existing or new building?
Generally speaking, any non-compliance in a new or existing building open to the public can be exposed to liability. All new buildings are expected to be designed completely to the current ADAAG design standards.

For existing buildings, many exceptions are provided, and the code can get quite convoluted (passages for accessibility in existing building both in ADAAG & IBC Chapter 11). But, in short, existing buildings that undergo no changes are more or less grandfathered in to whatever was the standard/ law when it was built. Once a building undergoes an alteration or change of use/occupancy, the building may be subject to certain upgrades depending on the level and area of change.

The most common upgrades we see in many building remodels (i.e. turning an old factory/industrial type building into a distillery & tasting room) include:

-Upgrading the Bathrooms, including clearances, grab bars, etc…
-Providing ramps to inaccessible spaces
-Upgrading door clearances
-Providing signage
-Providing elevators to multistory spaces

Speaking of elevators, there are several exceptions to needing to provide elevators in buildings.

206.2.3 exception 1 of the ADAAG allows buildings under 3 stories or having less than 3,000 square feet per story to be exempt from providing an accessible route to connect stories. Certain facilities such as shopping centers and healthcare offices do not apply to this exception.

206.2.5 provides additional requirements and exceptions for restaurants (would include tasting rooms). You do not need to provide an accessible route to mezzanine dining areas provided the mezzanine:

– Is not required to provide an accessible route between stories (per 206.2.3)

-Contains less than 25% of the overall seating (In “alterations” can be more than 25%)

-Provides the same décor and services as the accessible area. This essentially means that the inaccessible area shall not provide anything more than the accessible level…it should not have a bigger menu, better happy hour, nicer décor, etc… As one can imagine, this could become a bit of a grey area as a lot of this could be up to interpretations.

example of a small mezzanine that may not require an elevator

General Design Standards

The ADA is intended to allow people in wheelchairs and other disabilities to access and utilize the same areas and perform the same functions as fully capable people.
Some of the most important dimensional standards for accessible building design include:

Minimum wheelchair passage width = 36”
Turning Space = 5’-0” circle minimum
Door Width = 32” clear with door open (usually with 36” door)
Handrail Height = 34”-38”
Floor Slope (Not a Ramp) = 1:20 (5%) Max
Ramps (Must have handrail)= 1:12 (8.3%) Max
Parking Space Size = 8’ wide with 5’ aisle beside
7- 50 Car Lot = 2 Accessible Spaces
51-100 Car Lot = 3 Accessible Spaces

In addition to this very concise list, the ADA covers guidelines for many more building components, including, but not limited to elevators, pools, toilet/ bathing facilities & fixtures, water fountains, kitchens, tables & chairs, signage, etc…

example of an accessible ramp

Accessible Bathrooms

New & upgraded accessible bathrooms is a very common item when building or remodeling a building. Small facilities & tasting rooms can often have single user bathrooms for each sex. We will get into the number of toilet facilities in a later blog post. Below is an example of a compliant single user bathroom:

Please see the full ADAAG for further information regarding grab bar heights & lengths, toilet location & height, sink height & knee/toe clearances, mirror locations, toilet paper locations, coat hooks, and more.

Thanks for reading! We hope you learned some important concepts, and encourage you to check out the full text of the ADAAG here:

2010 ADA Standards


Article by:

Matthew Taylor-Rennert

Dalkita Architecture & Construction

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