Restroom Accessibility

North Carolina has always been on the leading edge of accessibility and universal design.  NC had one of the first accessibility codes in the country.  For many years, we had the North Carolina Accessibility Code, a standalone volume of the Building Code devoted entirely to Accessibility.  However, since January 1st, 2010, that volume has been retired.  What we now have is the 2012 NC Building Code with its Chapter 11 on Accessibility.  Chapter 11 references ICC/ANSI 117.1-03, American National Standard’s “Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.”

In addition to the North Carolina Building Code, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also in effect, but is not a “Code.”  It is civil rights law that is not enforced by the Inspections Departments, but rather through civil litigation.

There are LOTS of changes between the current Code and the previous Code – some big, some small.  It has been an adjustment for some Owners, and has had far-reaching impacts, even newer buildings that are already out of compliance with current code.

One such change involves single-user restrooms – “Unisex Restrooms” as they are mistakenly referred to on occasion.

A few things that may throw you for a loop (illustrations below are examples ONLY, many variations are possible):

  1. The lavatory (sink) can not overlap with clear floor space for the water closet (toilet).  This one requirement alone is the single biggest reason why restrooms built just a few years ago no longer comply with current Code.  In most cases, the lavatory encroaches on that floor space and will need to be moved (since it is usually easier to relocate a sink than it is a toilet).  This requirement will cause an increase in the width of the restroom (usually), at least in a typical fixture arrangement.
  2. The door is allowed to swing into the clear floor spaces and overlap the 60” turning circle, IF the toilet room is for individual use and 30”x48” clear floor space is provided beyond door swing.  This can actually save space within the restroom!
  3. Width of clear floor space for the water closet has grown from 48” to 60”.  Alas, space must be added.
  4. More specific dimensions have been added to both grab bars, so there is no longer any advantage to moving either grab bar closer to its adjacent wall.  No space savings here.
  5. The water closet (toilet) centerline is now allowed to be anywhere from 16-18” from adjacent wall where it had to be 18” previously.  A generous tolerance is now specified, but don’t go over 18″!
  6. An 18” vertical grab bar has been added on the side wall above the 42″ grab bar to help aid the folks needing grab bars.
  7. The toilet tissue dispenser is now dimensioned from edge of water closet rather than rear wall, and more specific vertical dimensions added.

All of this has come about after 25+ years of additional study of accessibility requirements of the handicapped.  Turns out, the additional space besides the toilet (and the subsequent relocation of the sink) is absolutely necessary after studying how a wheelchair-bound person uses a restroom.  The old layout practically dictated that the person approach the toilet from the front, and transfer while turning his body 180-degrees.  This maneuver is extremely difficult for people with mobility handicaps or those that require assistance. However, by allowing the space for the wheelchair to “back in” beside the toilet, they can make the transfer much easier.

So, there is serious “method” to the code “madness.”


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