ADA Construction Guidelines for Accessible Bathrooms

Basic Requirements for ADA Compliance

Image shows a bathroom blueprint with a man in a wheelchair in the middle. Text reads: "Accessible bathroom design requirements: toilet seat must be 17 to 19 inches above the floor. Sink must be 34 inches off the ground with clearance for knees underneath. Grab bars must be between 24-28 inches off the ground. Hand dryer must be in reach and about 38-40 inches off the floor. There must be clear floor space of at least 60 inches in diameter"

Image by Gary Ferster © The Balance 2019

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 includes specific guidelines for the construction of accessible, or ADA-compliant, bathrooms. These design requirements must be met for most public and commercial bathrooms. They can also serve as a general guide for safe, user-friendly, accessible design when ADA compliance is not required.

Keep in mind that the local code authority may impose additional or modified requirements that must be followed, so it is important to verify local code rules prior to construction.

Grab Bars

Grab bars are not intended to be used as towel bars and vice-versa. An ADA-compliant grab bar handrail must be fully anchored and have a smooth surface that can be easily grabbed. Grab bars with circular cross sections must be 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Those with non-circular cross sections must have cross sections of no more than 2 inches and a perimeter between 4 and 4.8 inches. Grab bars must be installed between 33 and 36 inches above the floor, and there must be a separation between the grab bar and the wall surface of at least 1 1/2 inches. Grab bars must have round edges and must return to the wall (or another anchor point) so there are no exposed ends.

Rotating Space

A single wheelchair must be able to rotate freely inside a bathroom. For this kind of motion, a clear floor space of at least 60 inches in diameter is required, allowing a 180-degree turn. In some cases, the available clear space can be supplemented by open space under a fixture to meet the minimum requirement.

Lavatory Installation

An accessible lavatory (at least one in each bathroom) must extend at least 17 inches from the back wall and have a clearance of at least 29 inches from the bottom of the sink apron to the finished floor. The lavatory must not be installed at heights greater than 34.

Toilet Access

Clear space around the toilet with minimum dimensions of 30 by 48 inches must be provided to accommodate a single wheelchair. This space must be designed for a forward or parallel approach to the toilet. Sometimes it is permissible for some of the clear space to be located under current fixtures, but these spaces must provide sufficient room to allow legs to move freely when the user is seated in a wheelchair.

Toilet Stall

Accessible toilet stalls or compartments must have a minimum width of 60 inches and sufficient space to accommodate a wheelchair to the sides of the toilet or in front of it. Horizontal grab bars must be installed behind the toilet and on the nearest wall or partition, whichever is closer. Toilet seat heights must be 17 to 19 inches above the finished floor (with different ranges for children). Flush control requirements are dependent on several factors and have different ranges for adults and children.

Hand Dryers

ADA bathrooms typically have hand dryers that are motion-activated or touch-free devices. Hand dryers with push buttons must be operable with one hand and require no more than 5 pounds of pressure to activate. Buttons and sensors should be no more than 48 inches above the finished floor. Hand dryers must not protrude more than 4 inches from the wall.