Accessibility: What Bar and Restaurant Owners Need to Know

 Part 2 of 3, Exterior Considerations

Accessibility isn’t only a requirement for the interior of your bar or restaurant.  Individuals needing accommodations have to be able to drive up, park, and access your services with the same ease as everyone else.  Not to say that an accessible interior is less important but how can a customer with a disability take advantage of your menu items if they can’t get in?

Americans with Disabilities Act

As noted in part 1 of this blog series titled Accessibility: What Bar and Restaurant Owners Need to Know, Interior Considerations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities.  There are many titles within this law which specifically target requirements that facilities must follow but the one that is applicable to bars and restaurants is Title III.  This title states, “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation (ADA, 1990).”  In doing this, facilities need to remove barriers, yet it is decided on a case-by-case basis as to whether those barriers are easily removed by the establishment without financial hardship.  Regardless of whether the change is made or not, continual re-evaluation of barriers is essential in assuring that accessibility is achieved.
Exterior Considerations

You’ve probably pulled in to many parking lots and noticed designated accessible parking spaces, accessible signs, curb cuts, and ramps, all which welcome individuals with disabilities into any public facility.  The ADA requires that these are in place so as to give those with diverse needs the ability to utilize that particular public service.  In addition to these requirements, there are many other exterior regulations that apply any facility or establishment.  Here is a sampling of the most important requirements set forth by the ADA that would specifically be of interest to bars and restaurants.

Handicapped Sign2Parking and Drop-off Areas

  • An adequate number of accessible parking spaces must be available for individuals with accessible parking tags. The guidelines that determine the number of spaces you need to have depends on the total number of parking spaces that are available.  For example, if you have 1-25 parking spaces, you must have one accessible parking space; for 26-50 parking spaces, you need two accessible spaces; for 51-75 parking spaces, you need three accessible spaces; and for 76-100 parking spaces, you need four accessible spaces.
  • At least one of every eight accessible parking spaces must be van accessible with a minimum of one van accessible space at all facilities.
  • Accessible car and van spaces must both be 8-feet wide with an access isle on each side. For a car, the access isle must be at least 5-feet wide and for vans, the access isle must be at least 8-feet wide.


Route of Travel

Route of travel refers to the route that an individual takes to arrive on site, approach the building, and enter as freely as everyone else.

  • At least one route of travel should be safe and accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities. If there are stairs into your establishment, a ramp or alternate route on level ground needs to be added.
  • The route of travel must be free of uneven, bumpy surfaces with holes or breaks as well as be at least 36-inches wide. These surfaces must be stable, firm, and slip-resistant.
  • Any curbs on the route of travel must have a curb cut or a small ramp to the curb for ease of movement.


  • Ramps must host a width of at least 36-inches between railing and curbs with sturdy railings at the height of between 34 and 38-inches. These railings must be on both sides of the ramp if the ramp is longer than 6-feet.
  • Ramps must have a non-slip surface with a 5-foot-long level landing at every 30-foot horizontal length of ramp, at the top, bottom, and at switchbacks.
  • The slope of the ramp must not be greater than a 1:12 ratio. This means that for every 12-inches along the base of the ramp, the height increases one inch.


  • The ADA requires that if there are stairs at the main entrance, there must also be a ramp or a lift or an alternate entrance for individuals with disabilities to enter.
  • There must be appropriate signage at all inaccessible entrance as to the location of the nearest accessible entrance, which must also be able to be used independently (without assistance or service to enter like waiting for someone to answer a doorbell, operate a lift, or put down a temporary ramp).
  • Accessible parking must also be located by all accessible entrances for ease of entering the facility.
  • Entrance doors must have at least a 32-inch clear opening with at least 18-inches of clear wall space on the pull side of the door next to the handle so that individuals who use wheelchairs or crutches can get close enough to open the door.
  • Beveled edges in the door must not measure more than 3/4-inch high and any mats or carpeting in the entrance must be secure and not more than 1/2-inch high.
  • Door handles cannot be any higher than 48-inches and must be operable with a closed fist in order for individuals who have limited use of their hands to be able to open.
  • Doors must also be easy to open without too much force and if the door has a door closer, it must take at least three seconds to close.


Appropriate Terminology

As you may have noticed in this article, the terms “handicap parking” and “handicap sign” were not used, or any use of the word “handicap” for that matter.  And, you may be wondering why since it is a word that most people use.  Let us explain.  In today’s world, terminology within the world of disabilities is changing for the better.  Instead of looking at a disability in a negative way, a more positive approach with regard to the terms used is taking place.  Instead of “handicap parking,” it is most appropriate to say “accessible parking.”  Just like it is most appropriate to say “accessible signs,” “accessible entrances,” and so forth.  Would you have been aware of these changes if you had not been reading this article?  Likely not, so we’re glad you did.  It takes being educated for change to happen and a difference to be made.  And as bar or restaurant owners, you can make a difference by not only educating yourself and your staff on the appropriate use of terminology but also by using it with your customers.


The exterior of your bar or restaurant is the first impression patrons get when they pull up with the desire to explore your menu.  So, why not make it welcoming for all?  By following the requirements set forth by the ADA with regard to parking, signage, routes, and entrances on the exterior of your establishment, any individual with a disability that pulls up will surely feel as if your doors have been opened just for them.


For more information on more specific requirements set forth by the ADA, please refer to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website at

Accessibility: What Bar and Restaurant Owners Need to Know

Part 1 of 3 – Interior Considerations



As a public establishment, your bar or restaurant surely sees a lot of diversity. Customers of all shapes, sizes, orientations, and nationalities, with an abundance of different characteristics, stroll in wanting to take advantage of the services and menu items that you offer.  But, what about the customer who is using a wheelchair? Or the one who is blind?  Or the one who is using a specialized device to communicate?  Do you have the accessibility at your bar or restaurant for these customers to take advantage of your services and menu like everyone else?  Regardless of how you answer this question, as a public establishment your goal should be to serve all people, including individuals with diverse needs.

Accessibility is a topic of increased interest among bar and restaurant owners because it’s one that most owners know little about.  So, we’re here to help! In this three part blog series on accessibility, we will give you the information that you need to welcome a diverse clientele into your establishment whether they walk in, are guided in, or roll through your door.  Today’s article will focus on interior considerations within your bar or restaurant, including the aisles and walkways, seating, tables and counters, interior doorways, restrooms, and other important areas that need addressed.  Part two will focus on important exterior considerations like routes of access, ramps, parking and drop-off areas, and entrances with a focus on appropriate terminology.  And finally, part three will focus on employing individuals with disabilities as well as communication with customers and employees using person-first terminology.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Any discussion of accessibility in a public facility should reference the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA is a civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities. Signed into law in 1990, the ADA made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. Within the ADA, each of these areas is focused on in sections called “titles.”

For bars and restaurants, Title III of the ADA is the most significant.  It states that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.”

New facilities, constructed after the ADA, must make their facilities readily accessible. Existing facilities, constructed before the ADA, must remove physical barriers if readily achievable or easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense.  The regulations do not define the specifics about what the “difficulty” or “expense” is, therefore the judgment is made on a case-by-case basis. It is possible that a facility does not have to remove a barrier because the law will consider the nature and cost, as well as the overall financial resources of the facilityIf this is the case, it doesn’t mean that the change will never be made.  Something that many not be readily achievable now may be later on.  The good news is that most of the time a barrier can be removed by simply changing the physical environment, like adding a ramp when steps are the only means of entrance into a public facility.  But, these physical improvements are not a one-time “fix.” Yearly re-evaluation of accessibility is imperative.

The ultimate goal of the ADA is to give everyone the opportunity to benefit from the services and goods that businesses offer, as well as for businesses to benefit from the patronage of everyone.   Following these requirements will make your customers feel welcome and allow them the freedoms that the law provides them.  And as a bar and restaurant owner, you likely agree that regardless of who enters your building, it’s all about making the customer happy; every single one of them.

hallway PSD

Part 1: Interior Considerations

Bars and restaurants, as public establishments, are required by law to meet specific interior requirements so that their services are accessible to individuals with disabilities.  The following is a list of interior considerations that are required in order to be ADA compliant.  Please note; this is not a comprehensive list that includes every detail of what the ADA requires of all public establishments.  Rather, this is a list of items that are most important for anyone who owns and operates a bar or restaurant.

Routes of access must meet the following requirements:

  • Aisles, walkways, or routes to public spaces must be at lease 36-inches wide.
  • There must also be a 5-foot circle or T-shaped space available for a person using a wheelchair to reverse direction.
  • Any obstacles located in any of the circulation paths must be cane-detectable. This means that any obstacle must be located within 27-inches of the floor or higher than 80-inches, or protruding less than 4-inches from the wall.

Interior doorways must have at least a 32-inch clear opening with handles that are 48-inches high or less and operable with a closed fist.

Tables, seats, and counters must meet the following requirements:

  • In order to accommodate wheelchairs, the height of the tables and counters need to be between 28 and 34-inches. For tables, knee room under the table needs to be at least 30-inches wide, 27-inches high, and 19-inches deep to accommodate a wheelchair.
  • If tables are attached to the wall or floor (fixed tables), 5% of the tables (or at least one when less than 20 tables) must be accessible, if doing so is readily achievable.
  • Accessible seating must be available at each accessible table for individuals using a wheelchair. Movable chairs can be used so that the chair can be moved and the wheelchair can take its place.
  • Cashier and food ordering counters must be 36 inches tall or less or they must have a space on the side where restaurant staff can assist customers or pass food to a customer who cannot reach over the counter.Table-Distance3

Restrooms must meet the following requirements:

  • Restrooms must have at least one available restroom that is fully accessible with a sign located to the side of the door, 60-inches to center-line.
  • Doorways must be at least 32-inches wide for clear passage with the interior having a 36-inch wide path to all fixtures.
  • Restroom doors must be easily opened without more than a 5-pound force and have accessible handles that are 48-inches high or less. And, they must have a lever, loop, or other accessible handle that can easily be used with a closed fist.
  • Accessible stalls must have at least a 5-foot by 5-foot area for a wheelchair to maneuver.
  • Grab bars must be both behind and on the side wall nearest to the toilet with a toilet seat that is 17 to 19-inches high.

Other important requirements that must be met:

  • Service animals used by a person with a disability must be allowed.
  • Permanent signs must have raised letters or Braille text, must be positioned with the center-line 60 inches from the floor, and must be mounted on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door.
  • Emergency systems must provide flashing lights and audible signals to alert all customers.

Whether you are building a new bar or restaurant, or remodeling the interior of your current establishment, abiding by the requirements set forth within the ADA is a must.  These requirements assure that individuals with disabilities are given the equal opportunity to enter your establishment and enjoy your tasty menu items.  Pair that opportunity with a welcoming atmosphere and we know your bar or restaurant doors will be opening to even more diversity every day.

For more information on more specific requirements set forth by the ADA, please refer to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website at