Commercial businesses in the US are required to follow ADA requirements in regards to many facets of design and landscaping, including ADA compliance for benches. The ADA requirements for benches located in dressing rooms, gyms, hospitals and so forth vary from the suggested guidelines implemented for outdoor benches. These discrepancies often confuse people and lead to the institution of outdoor benches that are not functional for anyone. Allow us to help clear up the confusion so that you can create friendly site furnishings for people of all mobility.
Businesses Impacted By ADA Bench Requirements
There are ADA requirements for the design and placement of benches used in particular settings. These requirements are aimed at ensuring people in wheelchairs can safely transfer to benches as needed. Wheelchairs are the ultimate portable chairs, and so it’s important to note that transferring out of a wheelchair is not all that common and only occurs under certain circumstances. That’s why the specific requirements outlined in Section 903 of the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities are only geared at particular institutions and settings, not outdoor benches.
These guidelines pertain to spas (612 Saunas and Steam Rooms), clothing stores and gyms (803 Dressing, Fitting and Locker Rooms) and legal institutions (807 Holding Cells and Housing Cells and 808 Courtrooms).
What About ADA Compliance For Outdoor Site Furnishings At Commercial Locations, Public Parks, etc.?
Following Section 903 bench requirements for outdoor seating is not productive, hence why there are separate outlines regarding outdoor benches. By following the guidelines outlined in Section 903, you’ll likely end up providing little to no benefit while unintentionally disadvantaging people.
People in wheelchairs do not commonly transfer out of their chair in order to sit at an outdoor bench. Instead, it’s much easier and comfortable to pull up next to the available seating, either facing people sitting in benches or in moveable chairs.
Section 903 specifies the need for benches with high backs and no armrests in order to allow wheelchair users to easily slide onto the bench from their chair. Considering most people in wheelchairs do not utilize outdoor benches, very high backs and deep seats without side arms can make it difficult for people with other disabilities to utilize benches. Plus, the lack of side arms on benches makes it difficult for people with visual impairments or mobility issues to sit down and get up.
All of this brings us to…
The One ADA Guideline For Outdoor Benches
There is one ADA guideline directly addressing outdoor benches. As confirmed by the US Access Board, it is not legally enforceable but instead a recommended guideline. According to The Revised Draft Guidelines for Accessible Public Rights-of-Way, outdoor bench seats should be a minimum of 17-inches in height and a maximum 19-inches above ground. The Access Board has added Advisor R307, 6.3.2, stating: “Benches will be most useful if they have full back support and armrests to assist in sitting and standing.”
It’s important to note that there are unique requirements for outdoor eating areas furnished with picnic tables. Benches should have one seat removed or one side of the bench made shorter. This grants proper space for a wheelchair to approach and comfortably sit at the table. ADA requirements state there must be 36” clearance on all usable sides of the table, this measurement is taken from the back edge of the bench. There must also be enough knee and toe clearance beneath the table, measuring 27” in height, 30” in width, and 19” in depth. These measurements provide ample space in regards to maneuverability and comfort.
How To Make Outdoor Benches Accessible To Everyone
There has been a shift in the ways we design landscaping furniture to accommodate people of all mobility. While solid fixed furnishings were once the main way to do things, it makes it difficult for everyone to use furniture and tends to isolate people in wheelchairs. As a result, we are moving towards the use of more flexible and portable site furnishings that people can move around as needed to accommodate their needs.
The number one goal is to create outdoor seating that offers a wide variety of accessible opportunities to people of all mobility. A little creativity can go a long way in making this a reality. As can the implementation of portable seating.
When planning the proper bench set up it’s important to consider how people actually utilize benches. For one, they don’t just line up on benches in some random configuration like robots. Instead, people often cluster together in order to socialize. Using portable site furnishings allow people to move seating around as needed to accommodate the size of their group, as well as if anyone in the group is in a wheelchair.
Many public places have instituted portable seating in order to better accommodate peoples’ needs as they shift and change day-to-day. For instance, the iconic Bryant Park located in New York has outdoor seating that can be moved around with ease.
Also, people look for benches that are protected against direct sunlight and wind. Benches are ideally located in close proximity to other people and ongoing activities. These factors may shift and change with the weather or ongoing activities, and for that reason portable site furnishings win again.
Tips To Make Outdoor Benches Wheelchair Accessible & Highly Functional For All
-Outdoor bench seats should be a minimum of 17-inches in height and a maximum 19-inches above ground. They should be equipped with handrails to assist with sitting down and standing up.
-Benches should be placed on a firm and stable ground surface that provides enough clearance space to move it as needed. The minimum clearance of ground space is 30” x 48” in order to properly accommodate a wheelchair with occupant.
-There should be enough space surrounding benches for people to join in when they are sitting in their wheelchair. For instance, leave plenty of space for a wheelchair to claim a spot at the end of the bench parallel to the short axis of the bench. This allows wheelchair users to easily interact with others from their chair.
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