by Craig Maniscalco

As with residential dwelling unit bathrooms, when working with multi-user commercial toilet rooms it is important to determine what applicable state or local building code applies to the project.

There are two standards that are most widely used and apply to commercial toilet rooms, they are: the ICC/ANSI A117.1 – 2003 Standard for Accessible & Usable Buildings and Facilities (which applies in jurisdictions that have adopted the ANSI A117.1 standard for technical accessibility requirements) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). In July 2004, a comprehensive update of ADAAG was completed, along with an update of its guidelines for federally funded facilities covered by the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). These new guidelines will serve as the basis for updated standards that will be used to enforce the design requirements of the ADA and the ABA. This revision is anticipated to be adopted sometime in 2010 at which time it will be referred to as the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines. Until the US Department of Justice adopts the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines for entities covered under Title III of the ADA, compliance with ADAAG must be achieved nationwide. Note – the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines has been adopted by DOT, USPS, and DOD.

While the 2003 ICC/ANSI A117.1 standard is widely adopted nationwide and referenced by state and local building codes for accessibility, you should always check to verify what edition of the ANSI A117.1 standard is enforceable in the region you are working in.

Wheelchair Accessible Compartment

Where compartments (stalls) are provided a wheelchair accessible compartment is also required. When working with a multi-user toilet room, one of the most common mistakes made by designers is not providing the mandatory approach to the wheelchair accessible compartment door. The following are the major requirements to be aware of:

  • If the approach is to the latch side of the compartment door, the clearance between the door side of the compartment and any obstruction shall be 42 inches minimum ANSI A117.1 604.9.3 and ADAAG 4.17.5.
  • The width of a Wheelchair accessible compartment is required to be 60 inches.
  • If the water closet is floor mounted the depth of the compartment is required to be 59 inches
  • If the water closet is wall-mounted the depth of the compartment is required to be 56 inches.
  • Toilet rooms, like other accessible and usable spaces, are required to provide a 60 inch turning diameter or alternate T-turn somewhere in the room.
  • Contrary to common belief, toilet room doors are permitted to swing into the 60 inch turning diameter within toilet rooms.

Grab Bars

Another common mistake is providing an insufficient number of grab bars and/or not installing them in their correct locations within the accessible compartment. (Grab bars are cited in 604.5 in both 2003 ICC/ANSI A117.1 and the Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines, and in Section 4.17.6 of ADAAG). There are two areas in which grab bars will need to be provided; the rear wall (behind the toilet) and the side wall (closest to the water closet). While we will discuss each location’s specific requirements we must make certain that under both circumstances the distance between the grab bars and the wall does not exceed 1 ½ inches and the diameter for circular grab bars is between 1 ¼ inches to 2 inches. This is required to ensure that the arm of a wheelchair user does not slip between a larger gap during the transfer. Also, keep in mind that non circular grab bars are permitted. They have to have a 2 inch cross section dimension and 4.8 inch maximum perimeter.

Rear wall grab bars: Grab bars behind the water closet must be 36 inches in length. They must be a minimum of 12 inches between wall and centerline of water closet and an additional 24 inches minimum between centerline and transfer side of water closet. In instances where the lavatory or other fixtures are required to be recessed so that the necessary clear floor space for the water closet can be achieved, the rear grab bar is permitted to be 24 inches in length.

Side wall grab bars: A 42 inch long parallel grab bar must be located 12 inches maximum from rear wall and extend 54 inches minimum from rear wall. ANSI A117.1 requires a vertical grab bar as well (this requirement is not found in ADAAG or Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines). A vertical grab bar 18 inches minimum in length must be provided with the leading bottom edge between 39 inches and 41 inches above the floor and with the center line located between 39 inches and 41 inches from the rear wall.

Water Closets

  • While water closets are required to be 16 to 18 inches from the adjacent/parallel wall in ANSI A117.1 and Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines, ADAAG stipulates that the centerline shall be 18 inches from the side wall (ADAAG 4.17.3)
  • The height between floor and toilet seat is required to be 17 to 19 inches above the floor.
  • Flush valves shall be located on the wide-side of the water closet.
  • The distance between the centerline of the water closet and fixture or wall is 42 to 44 inches.
  • No other fixtures are permitted to be located in the clear floor space required for the water closet as it is necessary for a wheelchair user to transfer onto the water closet.

Toilet Paper Dispensers

The requirements for a toilet paper dispenser can easily be overlooked and are often a last minute add-in when designing an accessible stall. However, Special care should be taken to ensure that toilet paper dispensers are located properly to prevent the need for relocation after an incorrect installation has occurred. This can be costly and time consuming especially on projects of large magnitude.

Toilet paper dispensers are required to be centered 7 to 9 inches in front of the water closet and 15 to 49 inches above the floor. Also, they must not be located closer to 1 ½ inches below the parallel grab bar or 12 inches above. If this requirement is not met the toilet paper dispenser will interfere with the functionality and will require relocation.


ADAAG requires that where urinals are provided an accessible urinal shall be provided. An accessible urinal is either the stall type or wall hung with the rim no higher than 17 inches above the finished floor. IBC and Revised ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines provide an exception from providing an accessible urinal if only one urinal is provided in the toilet room.

Ambulatory Stalls

Ambulatory accessible compartments are required when there are 6 (six) or more water closets and urinals (both combined) in a toilet room. As with a wheelchair accessible compartment a 42 inch-wide approach is required to an ambulatory compartment as well. The compartment is required to be a minimum of 60 inches in length and must be 36 inches wide.

Make sure you review your local building codes before proceeding with any prototype bathroom design. Additional requirements can be found in the 2003 ICC/ANSI A117.1.

Click to view layout image of bathroom stall