The federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) established a federal standard for accessibility in places of public accommodation. This includes all kinds of businesses open to the public. The statute sets a minimum bar: individual states are free to additional requirements to protect the rights of disabled persons.
California has enacted laws that establish more detailed and arguably broader requirements to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. These laws include the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which requires “all businesses of every kind whatsoever” to afford “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services” to persons with disabilities.
The California Disabled Persons Act ensures that persons with disabilities or medical conditions have the same rights as the general public to the “full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public buildings, medical facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices, public facilities, and other public places.”
Access for disabled persons to California public places is governed in large part by applicable state building codes, with rules set forth by the Division of the State Architect of California. All new buildings must comply, and existing buildings must remove barriers when it is “readily achievable.”
Places of public accommodation include, of course, public restrooms. Learn about the importance of California ADA restrooms.
How the Law Defines Disability
The federal ADA protects the rights of disabled persons to have equal access to public places. But what qualifies as a disability? The law defines disability as an impairment that “substantially limits” a major life activity or the ability to care for oneself. Blindness and physical disabilities that require the use of mobility aids come immediately to mind.
However, not every disability is readily apparent. You can’t necessarily “see” deafness, mental illness, or intellectual/developmental disabilities that affect a person’s ability to gather and process sensory information about their environment. It’s important to remember that reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities may require more than wide doors and grab bars.
California’s definition of disability, or medical conditions, resides in Section 12916 of the state’s Government Code. That definition’s section broadly defines “major life activities” to include physical, mental, and social activities, including working.
What Does This Mean for Restrooms In California?
California’s accessible restroom requirements establish that restroom and stall doors must be least 36 inches wide to allow a wheelchair to pass through. The doors must have lever-type handles. Stall doors can’t swing inward.
There also must be a clear path of travel to the toilet, meaning the space should be at least 30 inches wide and 48 inches deep. Wheelchairs may need to turn around to move around inside the restroom, so in practical terms, this means that the room must be wide enough to draw a circle with a 5-foot radius.
What About Bathroom Fixtures?
Using a bathroom involves more than just using the toilet. California requires that at least one sink, and for men’s rooms, one urinal be no more than 34 inches from the floor, with knee space beneath. Toilets must be between 17 and 19 inches from the floor and between 16-19 inches from the side walls.
Grab Bars and Accessories
To accommodate persons with disabilities, stalls need grab bars behind and beside the accessible toilet. But accommodations don’t stop at grab bars or the floor space of the bathroom; restroom accessories must also be useful to persons with disabilities. This means soap dispensers, trash cans, toilet paper holders, and hand towel dispensers must be readily available without blocking the path of travel in and out of the bathroom.
What About Mobile Toilets?
ADA compliant luxury restroom trailers have brought accessibility to facilities for outdoor events. These types of trailers should comply with all California’s requirements for accommodating persons with disabilities, not just inside, but outside as well.
California law requires that the path into a place of public accommodation be accessible. This may mean ramps or smooth thresholds for wheelchairs to travel up or over. When considering restroom trailer rentals, make sure you provide accessible trailers for guests or employees with disabilities.
Equal Accommodations for Single or Unisex Bathrooms
As of 2017, single occupancy restrooms in California must be accessible to everyone regardless of gender identification.
Unisex bathrooms require signs that superimpose a triangle (to indicate men) on top of a circle (the symbol for women’s restrooms.) The circle/triangle system was developed by an inventor named Samuel Genensky, who was visually impaired, who deduced that shapes easily recognized by touch could be used to denote men’s and women’s bathrooms.
In addition to signage that indicates if the bathroom is for everyone or just a single gender, restrooms must have Braille signage next to the door to identify the room. Keeping the Braille sign next to the door, instead of on the door, helps prevent collisions between people leaving and those trying to enter the restroom.
Legal Requirements Are Important, But So Is Inclusivity
Maintaining accessibility is important for legal compliance, but it’s also simply good for business. Persons with disabilities and their families are always grateful for cordial treatment, and will sing the praises of your business or event when you demonstrate that you’ve thought about inclusivity. Providing accommodation for persons with physical and intellectual disabilities makes you a good citizen of your community and demonstrates to your clients, employees, and guests that you care about all of their comfort and safety.
Non-Compliance Is Costly
If being regarded as a good community member isn’t enough, then consider this: in California, persons who were denied access to a facility that is open to the public because it failed to comply with building codes are entitled to sue, and if they win, to an award of $4,000 in damages plus attorney’s fees. Such lawsuits have cost California businesses over $20 million every year since 1992. Moreover, federal law provides for fines of as much as $75,000 for a first violation, doubling to $150,000 for a second offense.
Non-Compliance Is Bad for Business
Failing to demonstrate a commitment to serving all members of the community in a place of public accommodation can damage a business’s reputation. The disability community is a vocal one, and doesn’t take kindly to being condescended to or ignored. Online reviews are potent tools for unhappy customers and clients to voice their opinions, and unkindness or ignorance toward persons with disabilities will be noted emphatically.
The importance of ADA restrooms in California has been enshrined in state law that is even stricter than federal requirements. The state vigorously enforces its building code provisions regarding accessibility, and where the state hasn’t acted, aggrieved residents will, with costly lawsuits.
If you’re planning an event or need temporary restroom facilities for your business during expansion or remodeling in Northern California, contact The Lavatory for California ADA compliant luxury restroom trailers for rent.
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