Americans with Disabilities Act Technical Assistance Letters


July 30, 2001

DJ No. 202-26S-0

Mary E. Ham, Esq.
Vice President, General Counsel
Steak'n Shake, Inc.
500 Century Building
36 South Pennsylvania Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Dear Ms. Ham:

        This letter responds to your April 9, 2001, letter, in which you pose several questions about accessibility requirements under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in relation to the Steak'n Shake chain of restaurants. Please excuse our delay in responding.

        The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities with rights or obligations under the Act. This letter provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA accessibility standards. However, this technical assistance does not constitute a legal interpretation of the statute and it is not binding on the Department.

        Title III of the ADA prohibits owners or operators of a place of public accommodation, such as the Steak'n Shake restaurant chain, from denying persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from the goods and services that are provided. In addition, public accommodations are required to remove architectural barriers from existing facilities when it is readily achievable to do so. Title III also requires facilities that are newly designed, constructed or altered to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.

        We note at the outset that your letter provides very limited information regarding the specific nature of your inquiry or the specific circumstances that inform each of your questions; we will attempt to respond, however, based solely on the information you have provided.

        You first ask whether the ADA's requirement that a restaurant provide access to at least 5 percent of its fixed seating area includes non-fixed or "movable" seating. You note, furthermore, that your restaurants provide counter seating, booths (both of which we understand to be fixed or built-in) and tables and chairs (which we understand to be movable). If the fixed seating area is newly constructed or altered, then the ADA requires access to at least 5 percent of fixed or built-in tables to be distributed throughout dining areas. The 5 percent calculation does not include movable seating. In addition, where food or drink is served at counters exceeding 34 inches in height, a portion of the counter 60 inches minimum in length must be accessible to persons with disabilities or service must be available at accessible tables in the same area. See ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards) at 28 C.F.R. pt. 36, app. A, ァ 5. In an existing restaurant that has both fixed and movable seating and where the fixed seating area is not being altered, the ADA requires that barriers to access be removed when it is readily achievable to do so. In this context, providing accessible seating that includes seating at movable tables may be permissible. This analysis, however, is to be made on a case-by-case basis and cannot be determined in the abstract.

        Second, you ask whether the ADA requires a urinal, toilet or other plumbing fixture to be "centered" with regard to the "clear floor space" in front of the fixture. With regard to the location of a plumbing fixture in relation to the clear floor space in front of it, the ADA does not require that the urinal, toilet or other plumbing fixture be strictly centered or centered with mathematical precision in relation to the clear floor space in front of it. The ADA does require that the clear floor space be located in front of the fixture, and that the urinal, toilet or other plumbing fixture not be located beyond the required width of the clear floor space.

        In addition to these general considerations, the ADA includes specific clear floor space requirements for lavatories, water closets, urinals, etc. These requirements take into consideration the space required for a person in a wheelchair to approach the particular fixture, either from the front or the side, and in some instances to transfer onto the fixture, as would be the case with a water closet. For example, the ADA requires a clear floor space of 30 inches by 48 inches in front of a lavatory so as to allow for a forward approach by a person in a wheelchair, and the clear floor space cannot extend more than 19 inches underneath the lavatory. 28 C.F.R. pt. 36, app. A, ァ 4.19.3. There are different requirements, however, for the clear floor space for water closets, the arrangement of which is dependent, among other things, on the approach provided to the water closet. 28 C.F.R. pt. 36, app. A, ァ 4.16.2. We refer you to these more specific ADA requirements as you consider the arrangement of clear floor space in relation to the plumbing fixtures at issue in your restaurants.

        Third, you ask whether toilet stall doors are subject to the same minimum maneuvering clearance as other doors. Generally, toilet stall doors are subject to the doors requirements in section 4.13 of the ADA Standards, which includes the maneuvering clearance requirement. However, section 4.17.5 of the ADA Standards specifically provides that "[i]f toilet stall approach is from the latch side of the stall door, clearance between the door side of the stall and any obstruction may be reduced to a minimum of 42 in[ches]...." Therefore, except for the allowance provided in section 4.17.5, doors requirements in section 4.13 of the ADA Standards apply to toilet stall doors.

        Fourth, you ask whether a toilet stall door that closes as a result of gravity is considered to be equipped with a closer. Although we are not altogether certain of what you mean when you reference a door that closes as a result of gravity, we note for your information that if a toilet stall door is equipped with a gravity hinge, then the door is not considered to be equipped with a closer.

        Last, you ask whether movable chairs may encroach on an accessible route in a restaurant. The ADA requires that all fixed accessible tables must be accessible by means of an access aisle at least 36 inches clear between parallel edges of tables or between a wall and the table edges. Therefore, movable chairs may encroach on an accessible route. However, the restaurant must provide an accessible route to an accessible table. For example, if movable chairs at an occupied table obstruct an accessible route, then the restaurant employees must move the chairs so that a person in a wheelchair can maneuver to an accessible table.

        We hope that this information is helpful to you. If you have additional questions about the ADA, you may call our ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TDD).


                                                                                                                John L. Wodatch
                                                                                                                Disability Rights Section

Updated August 6, 2015

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