Choosing Between ADA and Handicapped-Accessible Units

Both types of units allow access for people with disabilities, but your clients and placement circumstances will dictate selection of the best restroom for each job

Choosing Between ADA and Handicapped-Accessible Units

ADA-Compliant||Handicapped-Accessible||Special Event

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Special events have dramatically slowed down for the winter, but we had questions from a PRO looking to enter the event marketplace next year. This company has plans to purchase new units for events, hand-wash stations and a six-stall restroom trailer. The PRO had several questions concerning another integral piece of equipment for special events.     

Question: What is the difference between ADA-compliant and handicapped-accessible units? What are the pros and cons of each? If you were starting from scratch, would you invest in both types of units?      

Answer: To begin with, accessibility for people with disabilities became law in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This federal law ensures individuals with disabilities will have access to toilet facilities. The 1991 official ruling is entitled “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities.”      

Since this PRO is looking to enter the special event marketplace, be aware that there are requirements as to the minimum numbers of such units at events, as well as the construction of the units themselves.

Numbers of Handicapped Units Required

To begin with, the ADA mandates that at least 5% of the units at an event be accessible for people with disabilities. Furthermore, in some states and municipalities, there is a requirement of one handicapped unit per bank of units. For example, if there are four distinct and separate banks of five units each at an event, some municipalities would mandate that each bank must include a handicapped unit. With this example, there would be 20 units and four handicapped units required. If this PRO’s new six-stall trailer did not have ADA access, a handicapped unit would also be required to sit on the ground next to the restroom trailer.

Types of Handicapped Units in Our Industry

Two classifications of units exist for service to people with disabilities. ADA-compliant units and handicapped-accessible units are manufactured to help PROs serve those with disabilities. Both types of units are to be identified by the blue International Symbol of Accessibility.

ADA-compliant units meet all ADA requirements, primarily that an individual in a wheelchair can make a 360-degree turn inside the unit. The advantages of this type of unit are that it:

Meets all ADA requirements and therefore meets all requirements for government bid requests.

Does not make the PRO subject to any complaints or legal actions that would attempt to infer that the unit was only “accessible” and not “compliant” with the ADA law.

The disadvantages of this type of unit are that they are generally larger, bulkier units and that they not only are harder to move and take up more space to transport, but also are more expensive.

Handicapped-accessible units can be used by individuals with disabilities. The only difference is that a person in a wheelchair cannot make the 360-degree turn per ADA requirements. Typically the user would still be able to enter the unit, pull up to the tank, use the restroom and then maneuver out of the unit. These units have the same handrails, low tank height and wide doors of the ADA-compliant model.  

The advantages of these units are that they are smaller than ADA units and also cost less.

The disadvantage is that they don’t fully comply with ADA rules and regulations.


• If a PRO were starting from scratch, we would recommend the ADA-compliant units; there would never be any doubt or disagreement as to whether or not users with disabilities had the necessary restrooms for their use.

• If a PRO has both types of units, we would recommend caution in placing each of these units depending on several factors. If, for example, the event in question is one for the general public, consideration should be given for the ADA-compliant units where possible. At an event such as a road race with no participants in wheelchairs, handicapped-accessible units should meet the demand.

• If there is any question about the event having a problem with the type of ADA unit provided, educate and consult with the customer and explain the nuances between these units. This will strengthen the relationship with the customer and ensure open communication on a variety of issues.

• If a restroom trailer is being delivered to an event and the trailer is not handicapped accessible, given a choice we would strongly recommend the ADA-compliant unit. Should you be approached as to why a user who has a disability does not have all of the amenities of the restroom trailer, you can demonstrate that you are providing a 100% ADA-compliant unit and that is all you can do.  

 Final Thoughts

“Path of travel” is one final consideration regardless of type of handicapped-accessible unit used. This section of the ADA law sets requirements that individuals with disabilities must be able to travel on a continuous, unobstructed path via wheelchair in order to access the unit. Paved sidewalks, parking lots and flat areas are ideal for the placement of ADA units. Be aware of placing ADA units next to curbs on the street since wheelchairs would not be able to reach the unit placed on the sidewalk above. Consider gravel as another impediment to a wheelchair.      

Be aware and be compassionate about providing access to your portable restrooms for individuals with disabilities. They will thank you, and your customer will thank you! 


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