Since its passage in 1990, the American with Disabilities Act has helped increase access and opportunity for people with disabilities in our nation’s workplaces and communities. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and other places open to the general public. The purpose of this law is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

We’re aware that what many of us take for granted as inclusive design was signed into law just three decades ago. And so much has evolved since then! As an agency steeped in the design environment – working with and representing brands, builders, showrooms and those who utilize the products our clients produce – we have a unique perspective on the breadth of ADA compliant products. Let’s take a look at some of those refinements through the years.

The biggest change we’ve seen in recent years is an intentional upgrade in the appearance of ADA-compliant products. Living with physical disabilities is challenging enough, and it is encouraging to see more attractive and well-designed options in this category. Institutional-looking grab bars and homely door levers are things of the past. Why shouldn’t compliant products have character, too? As we like to say, “There is nothing so small that it cannot be designed.” These days, seemingly simple products like shower grab bars are available in beautiful finishes and styles, designed well enough to be mistaken for towel bars. In fact, they may even be used as such.

When it comes to faucets, the options are plentiful and evolving as well. In the past, the task of turning a faucet on or off may have been difficult for those with physical limitations, but now, there are many options that comply with the ADA’s requirements.

ADA compliant grab bars from GINGER
Electronic, hands-free faucet and soap dispenser from VOLA

Recommendations for ADAcompliant faucets
You must be able to turn on a faucet using less than 5 of force, without twisting or straining your wrist, and do so with one hand

  • Operating parts of a faucet must be no higher than 48” from the ground if the area is free from obstructions. Handles mounted on the base of the faucet will help ensure that installations meet this height requirement.
  • The distance between the floor and the underside of the mounting surface must be 27” to allow for knee clearance. The faucet must be installed without obstructing this space.
  • For hands-free dispensing devices and/or plumbing fixtures with motion sensors, the water must flow for at least 10 seconds before shutting off.
Thin rectangular Basin by Hastings Tile & Bath

Recommendations for ADA-compliant sinks:

  • Sinks shouldn’t be mounted higher than 34 inches from the floor to the top of the cabinet top for an under-mount or drop-in model.

  • Sinks should not exceed six inches in depth and must be installed within three inches from the front of the overhanging cabinet top edge.

  • Simple wall-hung sinks must have a knee clearance of 27 inches high and be at a minimum 32 inches wide by 11-25 inches deep.

  • Be sure the lavatory controls are easily controlled with lever or paddle handles and are capable of being operated with one hand and do not require tight grasping or pinching. Knobs, discs, or ball type handles can be hard to operate by anyone with soapy hands and more so by those with arthritic conditions or other ailments. The closer the sink valves can be located toward the front of the sink, the better.
Luxury Countertops by Hastings Tile & Bath

Recommendations for ADA-compliant vanities:

  • When designing for someone who uses a wheelchair, care must be taken to protect the user from being scalded when coming into contact with anyone of the plumbing pipes serving the sink (underneath the vanity), especially if unable to feel sensations. These connecting pipes may become heated merely by water passing through The knee clearance below needs to be 27″ to allow for unobstructed legroom.

  • The vanity can extend beyond the sink but the area containing the sink is required to have roll-under capability of 27” tall and 32″ wide.

  • The vanity top must exceed 34 inches above the finished floor with the sufficient lower clearance/open knee spaces mentioned above. Clear, unobstructed reach distances around the countertop area must be observed at 24 inches.