Our Accessibility Team works on a wide variety of project types across the country, and each comes with its own unique set of challenges. It is common for even our most experienced accessibility consultants to encounter a design problem we have never seen before. However, there are also recurring issues that we see crop up again and again and again; common accessible design oversights that are not difficult to avoid if accounted for early enough in the design process.
In this post, we dive into the top ten accessible design oversights that our consultants find in…Hotels.
1. Dispersion of Accessible Guest Rooms
Guest rooms required by the ADA to include mobility features must be dispersed among the various classes of guest rooms provided. Accessible rooms need to provide guests with the same range of choice afforded to guests without a disability. Often, designers select one or two room types to meet the minimum number of accessible guest rooms required by the ADA (e.g., a King room and a Double Queen room) while failing to account for other room types and amenities. For example, if a hotel provides multi-room suites, king rooms, double rooms, rooms with couches or seating areas, rooms with kitchenettes, etc., then the number of required accessible rooms must be distributed among each of those room classes. Other factors to consider when dispersing accessible rooms include view, floor level, price, bathroom fixtures like hot tubs, or other amenities provided to guests. Only when a hotel contains more room classes than the number of accessible guest rooms required are you permitted to have rooms classes without an accessible equivalent. In this case, you still must disperse the accessible guest rooms in the priority of guest room type, number of beds, and then amenities.
2. Required Rooms without Roll-in Showers
When designing bathrooms for accessible guest rooms, many designers overlook the fact that there are a specific number of rooms required to provide roll-in showers, and a specific number that cannot include roll-in showers (i.e., the accessible bathing fixture must be a bathtub or transfer shower). We frequently review plans where all accessible guest rooms are designed with roll-in showers. Older codes and standards focused on ensuring that a minimum number of roll-in showers were provided, but they did not limit that number. As a result, hotels could be designed with all accessible guest rooms containing roll in showers; however, that is no longer the case under the current requirements. Despite common misconceptions, a roll-in shower is not necessarily the best bathing option for all guests. The variety of bathing fixtures required by the 2010 ADA Standards accommodates the needs of people with a range of disabilities.
3. Reception / Check-in Desk
An accessible portion of counter must be provided at reception desks or counters to offer a usable surface for a person with a disability to check-in or fill out paperwork. The accessible counter must be no more than 36 inches in height and at least 36 inches in length. Commonly, reception desks or check-in counters are mounted too high, at 42 inches AFF or more. A fold down countertop, small ledge, or portable desk that is brought out only when needed are not acceptable means of achieving compliance.
4. Accessible Tables
Frequently, a sufficient number of accessible seating spaces are not provided where tables are provided in hotel lounges, restaurants, breakfast bars, conference rooms, or other guest amenity spaces. At least 5% of seating spaces must be accessible. Accessible tables must also be dispersed throughout the facility. The different types of tables provided should also accommodate accessible seating. For example, if two-seater tables, six-seater tables, and counter seating is provided in a lounge, then at least one of each type of table should be accessible. Accessible tables have a counter no more than 34 inches in height with knee and toe clearance below. Designers tend to be drawn to tables with pedestal bases, which obstruct knee and toe clearance and cannot be used to meet the required number of accessible seating spaces. Tables with corner posts at least 30 inches apart are the best option for achieving compliance.
5. Buffets / Breakfast Bars
Many hotels provide a breakfast buffet or coffee station as a perk for guests. Often, these counters are installed too high or hotel staff arrange the food service items and dispensers on the counters in a way that places these features out of accessible reach range. Buffet counters must be mounted no more than 34 inches AFF and at least 50% of shelving and dispensing devices (e.g., food, drinks, condiments, etc.) must be located within accessible reach range.
One of the most consistent accessible design oversights that we encounter is noncompliant room signage. Signage is often designed to help achieve a particular aesthetic throughout the building, and designers tend to create visually interesting signage packages that may not meet applicable accessibility requirements. All signs identifying permanent rooms and spaces like guest rooms, conference rooms, restrooms, etc., must be accessible to persons with visual disabilities. Accessible signage must provide tactile characters and Braille. Characters must contrast from their background (e.g., dark text on a light background), must be uppercase, and in a sans serif font. Signs must be mounted in a consistent location throughout the building, preferably on the latch side of the door, so that a person who is blind or has low vision will always know where to find information needed to navigate through the building.
7. Clear Floor Space at Beds in Accessible Guest Rooms
In accessible guest rooms, a 36 by 48 inch clear floor space must be provided on both sides the bed, parallel to the length of the bed. If two beds are provided within the room, one 36 by 48 inch clear floor space may be provided between the beds. This allows a guest to choose the side of the bed that is easiest for transfer. We frequently see rooms that are not large enough to provide the required clear floor space. Even in layouts that are designed to provide adequate clearance, the clear floor space is often obstructed by FF&E elements like desks, dressers, or even draperies when rooms are fully furnished.
8. Bathroom Size in Accessible Guest Rooms
Since space is at a premium in hotels, it is common for bathrooms to be designed with the smallest possible footprint that will still provide all required clearances (i.e., turning space, clearance at fixtures, and maneuvering clearance at the door). The problem with designing a bathroom to the minimum allowable dimensions is that it does not allow for the installation of towel racks, shelving, or other storage elements that must be provided within the finished bathroom, without these features overlapping the required clearances. These items are typically added in the later design phases, which means that it is too late to go back and expand the bathroom to accommodate the necessary furnishings.
9. Dispensers / Shelves at Accessible Guest Room Bathing Fixtures
In many hotel guest rooms, shelves for towels, shampoo, or other accessories are installed on bathtub or shower walls. This often interferes with the spacing that must be maintained around grab bars. Projecting elements like shelves and dispensers that are mounted above grab bars must be at least 12 inches above the top of the bar or at least 1½ inches below the bottom of the bar so as not to interfere with the usability of the bars. Because the top of the grab bars is required to be 33-36 inches AFF, mounting dispensers more than 12 inches above the top of the bar often places controls out of accessible reach range.
10. Controls in Accessible Guest Rooms
All controls intended to be operated by hotel guests in an accessible guest room must be located within accessible reach range, be operable with one hand using no more than five pounds of force, and require no pinching, tight grasping, or twisting of the wrist to operate. Noncompliant controls are frequently found at draperies and blackout shades. A loop or hook pull, or automated controls are common means of providing window treatments with accessible controls.
By Theresa D’Andrea, Senior Accessibility Consultant