Keeping Up with Handicap-Accessible and ADA Regulations

Knowing the difference between handicap-accessible and ADA-compliant restrooms is crucial to providing the best service to your customers
Keeping Up with Handicap-Accessible and ADA Regulations

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When your customers ask for a handicap-accessible restroom, is that exactly what they’re looking for? Are you asking enough questions to determine their actual needs?  

Sometimes customers, and even operators, may not realize that handicap-accessible restrooms and those that are ADA compliant are not necessarily the same. In short, every ADA-compliant restroom is handicap accessible, but not every handicap-accessible unit is ADA compliant.

It may not matter in all instances, but when a venue or event (such as a government-related one) calls for an ADA unit, that is what must be supplied.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was established in 1990, and while there have been tweaks to the act, most of its tenets remain the same. (The full specifications for ADA compliance can be found in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities Appendix A, Section 36.)

The ADA mandate also requires a minimum of one handicap-accessible (or ADA-compliant) unit for every 10 portable restrooms on a site.

Some cities require ADA units; others may not. Eric DeJong, owner of Diamond Environmental Services in San Marcos, California, says that each state has its own regulations and that regulations can change. “You have to keep up,” he says.

“Regulations differ from local, state and federal levels,” adds Joseph Hummel, marketing manager for PolyPortables in Georgia. Some states might more strictly adhere to the regulations, and Hummel says that as a manufacturer of both handicap and ADA restrooms, “We like to trust our customers” to know what an end user might require, “but we still inform them on their states regulations. We don’t want our customers to be under-prepared.”

Handicap- or wheelchair-accessible units usually indicate a ramped or ground-level entrance with a door wide enough for a wheelchair to back into. Doors are not required to be hinged, so closing the door unassisted can sometimes be a problem. They are often ideal for private events and functions that do not require ADA compliance.

ADA compliant, however, generally means that in addition to a ramped or ground-level entrance, a unit must have reinforced construction, a spring-loaded or magnetic door that closes automatically, and reinforced grab bars. Most important, there should be enough space for a wheelchair to make a 360-degree turn, not just a “three-turn maneuver.”

“The main things to look for in the ADA compatibility checklist is the internal space for the turnaround,” says Brad Stimers, international division manager, sales, for PolyPortables.

Also, a placard mounted on the outside of the unit will indicate ADA compliance. “On the ADA model, some sort of designation is required … the blue wheelchair sign and also Braille. The last change that I remember seeing was to have the placard with the Braille; it was just a few years ago.”

Handicapped hand-wash stations are also available; they generally require pumps that can be operated by the forearm rather than the feet.

ADA units typically do cost more to purchase and to rent, and they require more space on a delivery truck.

Most important, Stimers says, is that operators are aware of the differences and pass that information along to customers. “We’ve heard stories … of operators bidding for those [government] jobs and they have put in a smaller unit,” he says.

Some events only require a handicap-accessible unit, but operators should be aware of the differences and know when an ADA-compliant restroom is required. 


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