Interpreting the ADA guidelines for drinking fountains for children and adults can be difficult.

On July 3rd of last year, I came across a news story stating that the Professional Golfers Association was going to ask the United States Supreme Court to review a case involving PGA golfer Casey Martin and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For those of you who are not aware, Casey Martin is a practicing PGA golfer who played on Stanford's 1994 NCAA championship golf team with Tiger Woods and Notay Begay. From a very young age, Casey had a dream of playing on the PGA tour but had been diagnosed with Klippel-Trenauanay-Webber Syndrome, a rare debilitating disease that left his right leg extremely weak. Unfortunately for Casey, the PGA has strict rules, which require players to walk from hole to hole during a tournament. Casey then made a decision to challenge this rule under the ADA and won a favorable ruling in Oregon. Challenged by the PGA, a U.S. appeals court in San FranFrancisco upheld the lower court's ruling that would have allowed Casey to play, but the PGA has decided to take the fight to the United States Supreme Court.

This story is just one example of the struggle people have interpreting the ADA and its guidelines. Recently, Sunroc Corp. put together a team to study the ADA regulations and how they applied to product development. This team shared Casey's high level of frustration in trying to understand the ADAAG guidelines that we, as an industry, are forced to meet.

Figure 1. Current ADA drinking fountain guidelines for adults.

A Proposed Amendment for Children

While studying ADAAG in the development of its new drinking fountains and water coolers, Sunroc's team discovered some very interesting issues that were proposed to the Department of Justice by the Access Board on July 22, 1996. One issue was addressed in a "proposed rule to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) by adding a special application section for children." Effective April 13, 1998, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board agreed upon the new guidelines for buildings designed for use by children.

However, on the Access Board's Web site, it has been made clear that, to date, the new guidelines have not been incorporated into the Department of Justice's accessibilities standards and are therefore not enforceable. Copies of the April 13, 1998, ruling are available through the Access Board's automated publications order line at (800) 872-2253 or online at

Calls to the Access Board did, however, confirm that this proposal is again under consideration and a ruling is pending.

Until the Department of Justice rules on these matters, there are no regulations in place that address the needs of disabled young people. For many of us, this makes designing and specifying buildings used by children difficult. The only guidelines federally recognized for drinking fountains for adults require a frontal approach spout height with a maximum of 36 inches, a frontal approach knee clearance with a minimum of 27 inches and a toe clearance with a minimum of 9 inches. For children under 12 years of age, current guidelines only require a spout height of 30 inches with a parallel approach and do not require frontal approach clearance.

Figure 2. Current ADA drinking fountain guidelines for children.

Texas Standards Address Needs of Children

The Texas Resource Commission, long viewed as a leader in developing ADA standards, has enacted a standard called The Texas Accessibility Standard. With this, Texas has implemented standards that go beyond ADA guidelines by aggressively pursuing standards that address the needs of children under the age of 15. For example, Texas has broken its requirements into two specific groups-one for children ages 4 to 11 and another for children ages 11 to 15.

Figure 3. Proposed changes to ADA drinking fountain guidelines for children.

Drinking Fountain Regulations

For drinking fountains specifically, the new regulations are as follows:

Ages 4-11, Grades Pre-K through 5 and 6

--Frontal Approach Spout Height: 32" max

--Frontal Approach Knee Clearance: 26" min

--Side Approach Spout Height: 32" max.

Ages 11-15, Grades 6 through 8 and 9

--Frontal Approach Spout Height: 34" max

--Frontal Approach Knee Clearance: 28" min

--Side Approach Spout Height: 34" max.

Figure 4. TX Accessibility Standard Guidelines for ages 4-11.
The Texas standards are consistent with the October 21, 1996, proposal presented by the Justice Department, whose standards were for 2-to 12-year-olds.

This proposal states that:

Frontal Approach Spout Height: 30" max

Frontal Approach Knee Clearance: 24" min

Toe Clearance: 12" min.

ADAAG's July 22, 1996, guidelines have been modified due to concerns from manufacturers that no product, specifically drinking fountains, could meet these standards due to the knee clearances. Yet both Sunroc Corp. and Elkay Manufacturing Co. have designed water coolers that meet both the Texas standards and the ADAAG 1996 proposal.

Figure 5. TX Accessibility Standard Guidelines for ages 11-15.

Looking at the Model for New Standards

Architects and engineers also need to be aware of state guidelines that can be more restrictive than the federal standards. The state of Georgia has already passed legislation that addresses ADA. Indiana has also had discussions on child ADA regulations for its schools. Developing these standards is just the first step; implementation and enforcement will be a far greater challenge.

"Texas is viewed as a leader in developing standards and implementing them," said Ken Clark, who helped spearhead the Aqua-Specs faucet line for Zurn Industries. Ken remembered looking to Texas for several standards before designing Zurn's products. Now, as a member of Sunroc's development team for fountains and coolers, Ken suggests that "before moving forward on any process, we must first look to Texas."

Sunroc's development team first commissioned David Cunningham, president and CEO, and Ross Stubber, vice president, of Hugh Cunningham and Associates to make sure that the decisions Sunroc was making were the correct ones. "We at Sunroc are all thankful for our partnership with the Cunningham group," said Sunroc's Director of Engineering Ron Greenwald. "Their guidance has helped us understand the complexities of child ADA."

Elkay Manufacturing was also on the forefront of designing coolers that meet a disabled child's needs. Like Sunroc, Elkay chose to follow the lead set by the state of Texas when designing their products.

"It takes nme for a manufacturer to take the lead:' said Tony Salanione, president and CEO of Sunroc Corp. "I feel that both Sunroc and Elkay desrrve a lot of credit for pushing our industry to service the needs of all of our children"

The Future of ADA and Casey Martin

I remember studying hundreds of pages of ADA documents, trying to get a dearer understanding of where ADA will require our industry to go in the future. The difficulties we faced as to what guidelines needed to be met and which would change are the same as those that many architects and engineers now face and that many more will face in the years to come. As we move forward, we should all look to the standard -setting leaders for direction to ensure complete compliance. Something as simple as a drink of water is trivial to many of us, but we must remember that there are many adults and children alike who have great difficulty obtaining this simple goal.

We do expect the Supreme Court to give us a ruling on Casey Martirfs case soon, and there is a lot of emotion in the industry regarding whether or not Casey will be able to fulfill his dream. But I have always rooted for the underdog, and my money is with Casey. Martin is a survivor, and even if he doesrft win in the Supreme Court, I am sure that he will win in life. Good Luck, Casey.