When is a toilet room required to be accessible?

January 14, 2010

When is a toilet room required to be accessible?

1991 ADAAG

4.1.3(11) Toilet Facilities: If toilet rooms are provided, then each public and common use toilet room shall comply with 4.22. Other toilet rooms provided for the use of occupants of specific spaces (i.e., a private toilet room for the occupant of a private office) shall be adaptable. If bathing rooms are provided, then each public and common use bathroom shall comply with 4.23. Accessible toilet rooms and bathing facilities shall be on an accessible route.

2004 ADAAG

213.2 Toilet Rooms and Bathing Rooms.  Where toilet rooms are provided, each toilet room shall comply with 603.  Where bathing rooms are provided, each bathing room shall comply with 603.

For new construction, the basic assumption is that all toilet facilities are required to be accessible.  Public use toilet rooms are those that are made available for use by the general public.  Common use toilet rooms are provided for any group of two or more people including employee-only facilities.

A common mistake is to assume that only public toilets are required to be accessible.  For example, an office/warehouse building with separate restrooms for the office area and warehouse area would require accessible facilities in both the office restrooms and the warehouse restrooms even if the public was not permitted to enter the warehouse.

Accessible toilet rooms are required regardless of the expected abilities of the intended users.  It may seem unlikely that a wheelchair user would work in an auto-body shop but that does not exempt the shop from the requirement to provide accessible toilet facilities.

Exemptions for New Construction.

Private Toilet Rooms: The 1991 ADAAG permits a private toilet room to be adaptable (see the definition of “adaptability”).  An adaptable toilet room will still require the clear floor space and minimum door widths, but the grab bars, accessible faucets and plumbing fixtures can be installed when needed by the occupant.  The 2004 ADAAG provides more specific exceptions for private toilet rooms: the door may swing into the required clearances of the fixtures (603.2.3 Exc.1), the seat height is not restricted (604.4 Exc.1), grab bars are not required if blocking is provided in the walls (604.5 Exc.1), knee clearance is not required under the lavatory (606.2 Exc.2), the height of the lavatory is not restricted (606.3 Exc.1).

Portable Toilets: Only 5% of single-user portable toilets in each cluster are required to be accessible.  Portable toilets at construction sites are exempt if they are used only by construction personnel (as if anyone else would want to).

Multiple Single-User Toilet Rooms: The 2004 ADAAG allows only 50% of single-user toilet rooms clustered at a single location to be accessible.  This exception is NOT permitted in the 1991 ADAAG.

Accessible Toilet Rooms in Existing Facilities.

The ADA does not “grandfather” existing facilities.    Even if alterations are not made, an existing public accommodation, such as a restaurant, must provide accessible features when it is readily achievable to do so.  Barrier removal is readily achievable if it is easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.

The ADAAG does not impose requirements for alterations beyond that required for new construction.

In alterations, each altered element must be made accessible but altering one element does not necessarily require compliance for existing elements.  For example, if a faucet is to be replaced, it must be replaced with an accessible faucet even in the lavatory will not have the required knee clearance or be at the correct height.

Alterations Affecting Primary Function Areas.

Even if no alterations are planned for a restroom, renovations to the area served by the restroom may trigger compliance.  This is referred to as an alteration to an area containing a primary function. A primary function is a major activity for which a building or facility is intended.  Office and conference areas within an office building are considered primary function areas.  Hallways, restrooms, break rooms and other support areas are not considered primary function areas.  When an area containing primary function is altered the restrooms serving that altered area are required to be made accessible.  An alteration is defined as:

A change to a building or facility that affects or could affect the usability of the building or facility or portion thereof.  Alterations include, but are not limited to, remodeling, renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, resurfacing of circulation paths or vehicular ways, changes or rearrangement of the structural parts or elements, and changes or rearrangement in the plan configuration of walls and full-height partitions.  Normal maintenance, reroofing, painting or wallpapering, or changes to mechanical and electrical systems are not alterations unless they affect the usability of the building or facility.

In addition to affecting the restrooms, alterations to primary function areas will also require that the existing connecting routes, parking, drinking fountains and public telephones be made accessible if any of those elements serve the altered area.

Options for Existing Toilet Rooms

The 1991 ADAAG provides some exceptions for achieving compliance in existing toilet rooms:

  • A single accessible unisex toilet room can be provided if it is determined that compliance in the existing restrooms is technically infeasible. The unisex toilet must be provided on the same floor and in the same area as the existing inaccessible restrooms.  Signage is required to identify the location of the accessible toilet room.
  • In a multi-user toilet room, smaller accessible toilet stalls may be allowed if it is technically infeasible to provide the standard accessible stall or if a reduction in fixtures (to provide a double-wide stall) is not permitted by the plumbing code.

The 2004 ADAAG also permits the use of a single unisex accessible toilet when compliance for the existing toilet rooms is technically infeasible, but it does not allow the use of the alternate accessible toilet stalls.  Added in the 2004 ADAAG, in qualified historic buildings, the accessible unisex is not required to be in the same location as the existing toilet rooms.

For the purpose of these exceptions, technically infeasible is defined as:

With respect to an alteration of a building or a facility, something that has little likelihood of being accomplished because existing structural conditions would require removing or altering a load-bearing member that is an essential part of the structural frame; or because other existing physical or site constraints prohibit modification or addition of elements, spaces, or features that are in full and strict compliance with the minimum requirements.