Accessible Fixtures

Thirty-six-inch-wide aisles between fixtures help make Goodwill Industries’ store format accessible.

Although it’s been the law of the land for more than 10 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can still leave retailers feeling a bit overwhelmed, particularly with regard to the Standards for Accessible Design guidelines. Although most retailers understand the bigger, more attention-getting requirements, such as accessible entrances and bathrooms, they are often less familiar with the requirements in other areas, such as space planning and fixture design.

“It is the slightly smaller details that demand a little attention and know-how on your part,” said Troy Schwehr, retail consultant, F.C. Dadson. The fixture-management company is based in Greenville, Wis.

Designing accessible stores is heavily based on measurements, Schwehr explained. The United States Access Board, the federal agency charged with overseeing the list of design standards, has assigned appropriate heights, widths, amounts, etc.,—when applicable—to everything from toilets to door handles.

Store fixtures also have their own requirements. Schwehr gave some insight into ADA compliance regarding two common fixture types: counters and displays.

Counters: ADA guidelines for counters depend primarily on what the counters are used for.

“For instance, counters with cash registers require that at least a 36-in.- long section of the counter measure no higher than 36 in. from the finished floor,” Schwehr said.

Service or reception counters, however, may either have a portion similar to the cash counter or show reasonable accommodation through something like a drop-down shelf for customers in wheelchairs to complete written transactions. Another option is an open area alongside the counter where customers may be helped. There are yet different guidelines for foodservice counters.

Despite these differences, Schwehr said, there are three key things to remember that apply to all counters.

“The counters must be on an accessible route—an aisle that is at least 36 in. wide,” he explained. “And the accessible route must provide access to the accessible entrance and other areas where merchandise and service are provided. Finally, all counters need to have an area of clear space, at least 30 in. by 48 in., directly in front of the counter to allow customers in wheelchairs to pull up.”

Displays: The guidelines for merchandising displays aren’t as stringent as those for counters, according to Schwehr. Not all merchandise has to be within the reach range of a customer in a wheelchair as long as a sales associate is available to help retrieve items,

“However, permanent display fixtures must be located on accessible routes with additional space at corners for maneuvering,” he added. “Although it doesn’t hurt sales to make all floor fixtures, permanent and temporary, accessible if space allows.”

The details count when it comes to success in providing accessibility under ADA guidelines. One of the most common oversights in accessible design and construction is the installation of non-ADA-compliant door hardware.

“To be sure you’re not overlooking anything, don’t be afraid to do research,” Schwehr advised.

An electronic copy of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design is available through the ADA’s Web site, The same site has a wealth of additional resources, including newsletters, articles and links to other federal resources.

Schwehr also recommends consulting with the local code official. Although the ADA Standards for Accessible Design are federally enforced guidelines, state and municipalities may have other requirements in addition to those given in the Standards that local businesses must meet.

“It may not be a bad idea to bring along your specific plans and fixture specifications to have them looked over,” Schwehr added. “The official can then tell you if anything needs to be changed and offer suggestions.”

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