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Accessibility and ADA Compliance: A Tour of Considerations When Renovating Existing or Building New Residence Halls

By Jeffrey Horowitz, Assistant Director of Residential Life
Binghamton University

Understanding ADA codes and the needs of individuals with disabilities is of critical and legal importance when renovating existing or constructing new residence halls.

As a starting point, let’s review the legal aspects of the American Disabilities Acts and a university’s responsibility per the code. This article will also provide a guided educational tour on important considerations as they relate to accessibility issues in your residence halls.

Summary of ADA Title II (government agencies) and Title III (public accommodations):

ADA code states that, “No individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability be excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity (or place of public accommodation), or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity” 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12101

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 precludes discrimination by programs receiving federal financial assistance

Based on these codes, I have listed just a few facilities and programmatic issues that campuses need to generally consider when accommodating a person with a disability.

Common Accommodations

  • Alternative formats on syllabi and materials (program challenge)
  • Advance notice of tests (program challenge)
  • Alternative teaching sites and methods (program challenge)
  • Use of assistive technology (both facility and program challenge)
  • Additional time on assignments (program challenge)
  • Class room adjustments (both facility and program challenge)
    – Changing rooms
    – Note takers and tape recording
    – Copies of lecture notes and overheads
    – Sign Language interpreters
  • Braille and TDDs (Facility challenge)
  • Physical Adjustments/Barrier removals (Facility challenge)

Issues of accessibility should be of critical importance to staff working in housing operations. Let’s spend time considering the components that you need to consider in evaluating whether your residence halls are assessable, and in making appropriate changes.

A Guided Educational Tour: Lets take a look…

What features determine whether a disabled person can approach a building?

  • Maximum slope at curb cut generally can’t exceed 1:12 grade
  • Flared sides (markings on the round to identify when a slope is going to begin) are required where travel is two-way, maximum slope at sides generally can’t exceed 1:10 grade.
  • Tactile warnings should be provided at the start of slopes.
  • Curb cuts should be aligned with pavement markings at road crossing.

What makes a parking lot space accessible?

  • It is located close to the building entrance.
  • The location of accessible spaces should be clearly identified.
  • The striping is marked via a different paint color.
  • Appropriate signage is provided.
  • Spaces are a minimum of 8 feet wide.
  • Parking spaces have an access aisle that is at a minimum 5 feet wide and 8 feet wide for van parking.
  • The access aisle is clearly identified.

What makes the main entrance of a building accessible?

  • A level approach without steps is the best.
  • Contrary to popular belief, historic buildings may already comply.
  • Where steps are unavoidable, they should have handrails so they are accessible to person with visual & mobility impairments.
  • Handrails must be continuous for the entire length of the ramp.
  • Handrail must extend 12 inches beyond the top & bottom of the ramp.

What makes the doorway itself accessible?

  • A clear level space of at least 48 inches between sets of doors.
  • The door itself is at least 36 inches wide.
  • Hardware that can be operated by simple hand motions.
  • A clear level space from 42 to 60 inches in front of the door, depending on the direction of approach & the door swing.
  • If the door is on a timer you need at least 15 seconds for it to remain open for someone to pass through.

What makes a corridor accessible?

  • Is it wide enough for: One way traffic? Two way traffic?
  • Are there protruding objects 27 inches or more above the floor?

Most older buildings have sunken lounges in their halls or a couple of steps to another level. If this is the case, what should you do?

  • A solution to providing accessibility to sunken spaces includes platform lifts.
  • Lifts must comply with codes as well.
  • Lifts must allow for unassisted operation.
  • Correct placement of the lift is crucial.
  • Also consider an alternative source when the power goes out.

Stairs: what makes them accessible?

  • Dimensions of accessible risers and treads: 7inch high maximum for risers and 11inch deep minimum for treads.
  • Handrail extensions of 12 inches at the top and 12 inches plus the tread depth at the bottom are required.
  • Handrails must leave at least 1_ inches of clear space between handrail and wall.
  • Handrails must meet specific dimension ranges to allow for gripping by a human hand.
  • Level landings are required at the top and bottom.
  • Open risers are not permitted.

Elevators provide accessibility between floor levels for all persons.

  • It’s not always possible for elevators to access all floor levels in a renovation of an existing building.
  • The elevator door should be at least 36 inches wide.
  • Controls should be mounted between 35 and 48 inches above the floor.
  • Up & down indicators should provide a visual & auditory signal.
  • Braille controls assist the visually impaired.
  • Voice indicators also assist the visually impaired.

What makes a bathroom accessible?

  • A lavatory mounted with the top no higher than 34 inches and at least a 27-inch space under it.
  • Fittings at the lavatory that can be operated with simple hand motions.
  • Protection on pipes under the lavatory to prevent persons in wheelchairs from bumping into them.
  • Mirrors that are mounted with the bottom edge no more than 40 inches above the floor.
  • The stall must be at least 60 inches wide.
  • Accessories in the stall cramp the space even more.
  • The stall should be 56 to 59 inches deep or the partition door swings to close to the fixture.
  • The seat should be 17 inches above the floor.

What makes a kitchen accessible?

  • Fittings at the sink should require only simple hand motions.
  • Countertops should be no more than 34 inches high.
  • A knee space at least 27 inches high should be provided under the sink.
  • Adequate maneuvering space is required around counters and appliances.
  • Operable parts of small wall mounted appliances should be no more than 48 inches above the floor.
  • Range controls should be usable without reaching across the burners.
  • Shelves in wall cabinets should be no more than 48 inches above the floor.

So we have just concluded this “tour”. Hopefully you can use it as a starting point when considering issues of ADA compliance when you renovate existing or construct new halls on your campus.

Need More Information?

  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
    25 west 43rd Street, 4th Floor
    New York, New York 10036

  • International Code Council (ICC)
    5203 Leesburg Pike, Suite 600
    Falls Church, VA 22041

  • US Department of Justice
    Tool free lines for ADA information and to order publications
    800-514-0301 (Voice)
    800-514-0383 (TTY)

  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME International)
    For information on elevator and platform lift requirements:
    800-843-2763 (Questions regarding purchase of standards)
    212-591-8500 (Questions regarding technical requirements of standards)

  • The Access Board (Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board)
    1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
    Washington, DC 20004-1111
    Toll free lines for technical assistance:
    1-800-872-2253 (Voice)
    1-800-993-2822 (TTY)

About the Author

Jeff is currently the Assistant Director of Residential Life for College in the Woods at Binghamton University. He currently also serves as the Chairperson for the Housing Operations and Auxiliary Services Committee for the Northeast Association of College and University Housing Officers (NEACUHO). Jeff received his Master's degree at Kent State University in Higher Education Administration in 1996, and received his Bachelor's degree at Binghamton University in Mathematical Sciences in 1994. Jeff is a member of ACPA and NASPA.