In the United States one in six people — or nearly 57 million Americans, according to the 2010 U.S. Census — has a disability.
In 1990, these citizens’ lives were greatly impacted when one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, was implemented. This law prohibited discrimination and guaranteed people with disabilities would have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.
Title II of the ADA significantly impacts public spaces and commercial design stating no one can be denied access to public services because of their disability. Throughout the years, new amendments, such as a revised Title II in 2010, meant modifications were required for nearly every newly constructed or renovated public space to be usable by those with disabilities.
Today, design is moving one step further by exceeding the requirements mandated by the ADA and incorporating principles of Universal Design. While ADA laws were put into place to ensure a safe and accessible environment for those with special needs, Universal Design allows people of all abilities and ages to use the same product – offering ADA compliance without segregating areas specifically for the disabled.
Accessible restrooms are integral for any commercial space. However, in addition to meeting today’s rigorous ADA standards designers also must consider factors including sustainability, efficiency, hygiene, durability and aesthetics. Some manufacturers are making plumbing choices for commercial spaces easier, blending Universal Design principles with advanced technology and innovation. These updated fixtures are no longer institutional-looking and complement a variety of décors. In addition to style and compliance, here are a few key areas for facility managers and engineers to focus on when designing and selecting products for a public restroom.
ADA guidelines require fixtures to be 20 to 25 in. deep with a reach range of 44 in., so that a person seated in a wheelchair can easily access the faucet. Also, users shouldn’t need to exert more than five lb. of force to operate a faucet.
Given these regulations, electronic faucets are one of the more preferred choices when creating an ADA-compliant space for a number of reasons; they’re easy to use – especially for those with disabilities – and the hands-free operation means no grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist to turn on the faucet.
However, this was not always the case. Originally introduced in airport restrooms in the 1950s, early technology generated many technical issues. But such as all innovations, today’s equipment has helped eliminate facility owners’ hesitations, offering improved sensors, better response and extended battery life.
The popularity of sensor-operated fixtures goes beyond their ADA compliance, as they offer facilities additional benefits. Since the faucets turn on only when hands are placed beneath the faucet and turn off immediately when no longer in use, there is potential for up to 70% water savings when compared to manual lavatory faucets – good for the environment and a facility’s bottom line.
Metering faucets are another viable option for those who prefer manual operation. Easy to operate, users simply press down on the faucet handle to activate water flow for a preset length of time; no need to twist the wrist to turn on hot and cold water. Contributing to a facility’s conservation efforts, these faucets feature timed shutoffs, which can be adjusted from 10 to 60 seconds, controlling not only the amount of water used, but also eliminating the possibility of the water being accidentally left running. When weighing options, consider bull-nose, single-handle metering faucets since they extend further over the sink and only require one hand to use, meaning easy operation for all.
Toilet flush valves
Sink fixtures aren’t the only areas of the restroom where technology and elements of Universal Design have met. Sensor-operated flush valves have come a long way since they were first installed in commercial restrooms a decade ago. Today, there are number of different options to provide heavy-use facilities with efficient, vandal-resistant and hygienic solutions to help maintain sanitary environments and reduce maintenance while providing ease of use.
Electronic flush valves are beneficial for everyone, especially those with disabilities, since the toilet will flush on its own after use — eliminating the need to bend over to manually push down a handle. In addition to this physical benefit, electronic flush valves offer a sanitary option by nearly eliminating the need to touch a toilet surface. It also reduces the chance for product damage since manual flush valve handles are often actuated by a user’s foot — leading to leaks and malfunction.
Automatic soap dispensers and hand dryers
A 2011 study of bacterial hand contamination found users of public restroom facilities have up to 25 times more germs on their hands after washing with soap from a contaminated refillable bulk soap dispenser. Hands-free models of soap dispensers and hand dryers offer more hygienic options, while also offering ease of use for all users — eliminating the need to push down on the soap dispenser pump or a button to start a hand dryer.
For facility managers, these universally designed products can often dry hands 50% faster than previous versions, thus providing energy cost savings as well as reducing the amount facilities spend on paper products. To meet ADA guidelines, it is important these components are mounted between 38 to 48 in. from the floor to accommodate users of all heights or in wheelchairs, as well as being easily detectable for those who are visually impaired.
Add safety in restrooms
According to the National Safety Council, there are nearly 200,000 bathroom accidents per year in both commercial and residential spaces. Maneuvering around the restroom can be challenging and potentially dangerous, especially for those with disabilities because of the hard and sometimes wet surfaces.
Toilet stalls: Grab bars are an ideal solution for all users to help maintain balance, whether simply needing assistance when lowering and raising from a seated position on the toilet or transferring from a wheelchair. Manufacturers have expanded the selection of grab bars, offering new lengths, styles and finishes to make it easier than ever to match safety needs with bathroom style.
Standard ADA-compliant commercial grab bars feature straight bars in lengths starting at 36 in. However, additional variations are now available, including L-shaped, angled or flip-up grab bars, which can be pulled down as needed and flip up and out of the way when assistance is complete or not necessary. Each grab bar must be rated to withstand 250 lb. for optimum safety. State and local building codes offer precise descriptions of placement and heights required per region.
Shower stalls: Grab bars are important for facilities with a shower area. ADA requirements for grab bars differ based on the configuration and size of the shower and if seating is provided in the stall area. Similar to toilet stalls, grab bars are featured in a variety of lengths to provide safety for both balance and transfer situations.
Safety doesn’t end with grab bars. To enhance security throughout the bathroom and improve the overall design, consider other ADA-compliant options such as motion-operated lighting or push-button door openers. Both offer energy efficiencies and hygienic solutions for all users.
A poll conducted by the United Cerebral Palsy Association shortly after ADA laws were put into practice found the new guidelines improved the lives of those living with disabilities. So when it comes to ensuring ADA compliance, it’s important to know you’re not only following regulations but you’re making a difference in the lives of all users.
Familiarizing yourself with national, regional and local ADA building guidelines is the first step to creating an accessible commercial restroom. From there, manufacturers are doing their part by developing more universally designed, innovative products to make lives easier for all ages and ability levels.