The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became effective in January 1992 and primarily was designed to open employment opportunities to millions of Americans with disabilities. Many ADA requirements affect the design of rest rooms in both the workplace and in public areas. While the reference to ADA requirements often are used interchangeably with local building codes, ADA is a federal civil rights statute, not a building code. As such, ADA requirements are enforced by the Justice Department.
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ADA compliant sinks in rest rooms in the workplace and in public-use facilities must have a rim or counter surface that is not higher than 34 inches (863 mm) above the floor. There also must be clearance of at least 29 inches (736 mm) between the floor and the bottom of the front edge of the sink---or apron---to allow for access by those using wheelchairs.
The knee clearance beneath a sink (below the front apron of the sink) must be at least 27 inches (685 mm) high, 30 inches (762 mm) wide and 19 inches (483 mm) deep. This allows a person in a wheelchair to roll up to the sink, use the faucet levers and reach any accessories, such as a soap dispenser. If the bathroom will be primarily used by children between the ages of 6-12, such as in an elementary school setting, the knee clearance can be reduced to 24 inches (610 mm) as long as the sink rim height is lowered to no higher than 31 inches (787 mm) above the floor.
Sinks also must have a minimum of 30-by-48 inches (762-by-1220 mm) of open access in front of the sink apron, allowing adequate open space for a person who is using crutches or a wheelchair to approach the sink. In the area beneath the sink, any exposed hot water or drain pipes must be insulated or otherwise routed to avoid contact. A minimum of 8 inches must be allowed for this knee clearance. There can be no sharp edges or abrasive surfaces below ADA-compliant sinks.
Faucets on the sinks must be easily operated with one hand, and not require tight grasping or twisting motions. Lever operated, push-in or electronically-controlled faucets are allowed. If the faucet is electronically controlled, it should remain open for at least 10 seconds.
The positioning of sink accessories, such as soap and towel dispensers, hot-air hand dryers and mirrors, also are regulated by the ADA. Generally, soap and towel dispensers and electric hand dryers must have their bottom edges set between 38 inches (965 mm) and 48 inches (1220 mm) above the floor, again to keep them within easy reach of a person using a wheelchair. A mirror must have the bottom edge of its reflective surface at a maximum of 40 inches (1016 mm) if it is mounted above a sink cabinet or at 35 inches (889 mm) maximum if it is positioned on the wall away from a countertop.
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