The rules and regulations for ADA-compliant commercial products have not changed much since the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect Jan. 26, 1992.
But according to multiple manufacturers of commercial bath products, the want and desire for more attractive-looking products has never been higher.
“Architects and designers are finding ways to comply with ADA using the most aesthetically-pleasing products available,” Sloan Valve Director of Strategic Accounts Jeff Gilmore says.
Sarah Reep, director of design relations and education for Delta Faucet’s sister company Masco Cabinetry, notes once specifiers check the box of having an ADA-compliant product, they are interested in better performance and looks.
“For years, ADA was about function and an institutional look,” she says. “The residential look has come to commercial products. The modern style is rising in preference. We’re seeing a lot of chrome, sharp lines and crisp edges for the aesthetics.”
LIXIL America’s Vice President of Chinaware and Commercial Products James Walsh agrees: “We also are seeing the trend toward more ‘stylish’ products, similar to those in residential settings, being used in institutional facilities. Designers and building owners are striving to make these facilities more like home for the residents.”
Still, manufacturers follow the ADA guidelines to a T and even look to state-level regulations. Sloan Fixtures Product Line Manager Mark Lawinger says the company takes a lot of its development queues from the Texas Accessibility Standards, a program that “mirrors ADA standards.”
“The TAS also adds additional requirements that differ, including a juvenile category that takes children ages six through 12 into consideration,” he continues. “This category mainly affects grammar schools and daycare centers that have children in these age ranges.”
The continued aging of the baby-boomer generation is a key factor to ADA-compliant products, says Kohler Commercial Fixtures Product Manager Charles Scott.
“The percentage of Americans that will be 85-and-older by 2030 mirrors the increase of the baby-boomer population,” he says. “A 50% increase is a huge shift in the population. The ADA toilet bowls, for example, give the aging population an advantage because they are taller so the user doesn’t have to bend down as far to sit or get off of the toilet.”
The hospitality, health-care and institutional markets continue to be the most important markets for ADA-compliant products. However, other markets continue to grow.
“Retirement homes are an emerging market,” Sloan’s Lawinger says. “Regardless of whether a resident is in a wheelchair or not, the taller the rim height is, it’s simply easier to get on and off.”
LIXIL America’s Walsh adds: “The aging population creates an expanded need for these products. The ADA-compliant commercial product market will continue to meet federal and locally-required codes. However, products that incorporate attractive and contemporary designs, along with water efficiency and ADA-code compliance, will enjoy the greatest success.”
Daniel Gleiberman, Sloan’s manager of product compliance and government affairs, adds: “Products that allow for aging in place and flexibility for the building owners will continue to be developed.”
ACO Polymer Northeast Sales Manager Jim McConnell notes his sales reps report back saying ADA-compliant shower drains that are “discreet” have been popular in recent projects. The Casa Grande, Ariz.-based manufacturer’s 80-millimeter linear shower drain has been utilized in locker-room and military barrack applications with great success, McConnell says.
“They almost want the drain hidden visually and functionally,” he notes. “You can’t get any better for an ADA style if all you see is a little slot.”
McConnell says even a slight raise in the drain can be difficult for a disabled person to roll their wheelchair over, so a barrier-free linear drain removes those issues.
“You want to have a nice, smooth transition,” he says. “Barrier-free is the wave of the future and the future is now.”
Kohler Commercial Faucets Product Manager Orkun Onur says ADA requirements are the baseline in designing new commercial products for the Wisconsin-based company.
“When we design new products we start by thinking about ADA overall,” he says. “If anyone wants an ADA-compliant product they can use it, if not it doesn’t matter because it still will fit their needs. Going forward, that’s what we have in mind.”
Kris Alderson, Bradley Corp.’s senior marketing manager, says the company is seeing universal design concepts running concurrently with ADA-compliant products.
“For example, in a commercial restroom usually only one toilet stall and sink needs to be ADA-compliant as opposed to making the whole restroom universally accessible,” he says. “Universal design goes beyond ADA and makes things easier for all users. Rather than focusing on users with specific disabilities, universal design creates solutions that will work for everyone.
“ADA-compliant products should be designed to be incorporated into any restroom without looking different than a non-ADA counterpart.”
Bradley’s ADA-compliant Verge with WashBar is a fully-touchless handwashing fixture that provides users touch-free access to soap, water and a hand dryer.
“It’s an all-in-one design that addresses accessibility and safety for those with mobility challenges who may otherwise need to use wet hands while using a walker, cane or wheelchair to access the dryer,” Alderson says.
Sloan’s Gleiberman notes a product such as Sloan’s hybrid urinal, which offers a touch-free, hygienic operation as something of a jumping off point for technological advances in the ADA market.
“Technologies will continue to provide water-efficient ADA-compliant products offering the user a positive interface that meets the needs of the entire ADA community,” he says.
At American Standard and LIXIL, Walsh notes the desire for hands-free technology continues to be at the top of the list. The company’s ASSE 1070-certified NextGen Selectronic integrated faucet with SmarTherm Technology was developed to address the need for an anti-scalding device, while providing installation and maintenance ease for facility managers.
“The trend still is for more and varying hands-free products such as faucets and flush valves,” he says. “An added plus is these hands-free products also prevent the transmission of germs because there is no need to push buttons and handles to operate them.”
Masco’s Reep has noticed designers and engineers are expanding the scope of their design of ADA-compliant bathrooms. The designers are looking to create typical bathroom suites with products readily available or ones that have multiple uses.
“When you’re older or have a knee issue, you might need to get into the shower with a walker,” she states. “It’s not so much designing for a walker, as it is about designing beautiful baths that facilitate easier living. For example, the towel bar on the tile is great. You walk into the shower and there isn’t a curve. Designers love it and consumers aren’t offended by it. It’s a towel bar that can support up to 500 lb. of weight.
“All that hard work has shifted to an organic, natural-by-design occurrence. It’s happening through design and modern trends.”
Kohler’s work in sensor technology has expanded to include touchless flush valves that can be manually operated by placing a hand over the unit.
“Sometimes it can be hard for a disabled person to get off the toilet and get back onto the chair,” Orun says. “The regular sensors can trigger while they’re getting back onto the chair. It’s hygienic, while manually controlled.”
The long view
Kohler’s Scott says ADA-compliant products play a major part in the big picture of commercial bath and kitchen design.
“The whole notion of what’s behind ADA covers a lot of what goes into the application,” he says. “We have to think about other needs such as accessories — like grab bars, counters, mirrors, the lights, the countertops. It all has to come together and we’re thinking that way.
“It is about how does this bathroom work and how do we make the whole experience better for the individual?”
While manufacturers continue to enhance and develop their ADA-compliant product lines, engineers continue to have a major presence on what ends up in the finished application.
“They are the gatekeepers of the process and the ones who need to make sure the overall design meets ADA standards,” Lixil’s Walsh notes. “We train our engineers using CEU presentations to make sure they are aware of the various options and technologies available to them within our organization.”
This article was originally titled “Style meets ADA” in the August 2017 print edition of PM Engineer.