Accessible Work Surfaces and Countertops: When and Where

September 22, 2009

As is the case with many technical requirements, the confusion is not how to make something accessible but when is it required to be accessible.

Counter-tops are a great example since not all work surfaces are treated equally.

5% of common-use work surfaces are required to have knee clearance and shall not be higher than 34″.

4.1.3(18) If fixed or built-in seating or tables (including, but not limited to, study carrels and student laboratory stations), are provided in an accessible public or common use area, at least five percent (5%), but not less than one, of the fixed or built-in seating areas or tables shall comply with 4.32. An accessible route shall lead to and through such fixed or built-in seating areas, or tables

But sales and service counters can be 36″ high since the person with a disability is not expected to spend much time at a service counter.

Sales and Service Counters, Teller Windows, Information Counters.

(1) In department stores and miscellaneous retail stores where counters have cash registers and are provided for sales or distribution of goods or services to the public, at least one of each type shall have a portion of the counter which is at least 36 in (915 mm) in length with a maximum height of 36 in (915 mm) above the finish floor. It shall be on an accessible route complying with 4.3. The accessible counters must be dispersed throughout the building or facility. In alterations where it is technically infeasible to provide an accessible counter, an auxiliary counter meeting these requirements may be provided.

In a dining area, if fixed counters are provided, then 5% of the fixed counters are required to be accessible, even if accessible tables are provided. There are no technical requirements for loose furniture, the Texas Accessibility Standards and the ADAAG only regulate the fixed seating and tables. This is a common violation in employee break rooms and delis where a bar height counter may be provided for dining and the need for accessible fixed counters is overlooked.

5.1* General.

(1) Except as specified or modified in this section, restaurants and cafeterias, including snack bars and other areas for obtaining or consuming food or drink, shall comply with the requirements of 4.1 to 4.35. Where fixed tables (or dining counters where food is consumed but there is no service) are provided, at least 5 percent, but not less than one, of the fixed tables (or a portion of the dining counter) shall be accessible and shall comply with 4.32 as required in 4.1.3(18).

And as previously discussed, work surfaces that are provided for employees to perform their job are not required to be accessible. There are a few places where this can get confusing. For instance, a working laboratory is not required to have accessible work surfaces, but an almost identical student laboratory is required to have accessible work surfaces since it is not an “employee work area”.  The issue gets fuzzy when you may have a research laboratory at a university where students are receiving credit for working in the lab.  Let the university lawyers figure that one out, it’s what they are paid for.