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How ADA & Building Codes for Elevators Work

While the line between them sometimes blurs, ADA compliance and building code compliance are not the same. When determining what kind of elevator access you require for your project, it is important to understand how ADA and building codes work together, and what distinctions exist.

What is ADA Compliance?

All places of public accommodation in the U.S.A. built or altered after 1991 are required to be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Although previous accessibility laws had been enacted, the ADA made it illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability. Among other things, the ADA  mandates usable, accessible routes in commercial areas and places of public accommodation.

Measures have evolved to make the ADA enforceable. These regulations are the teeth to the ADA. Although many organizations enforce this law, the primary enforcement agency is the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

The original set of accessibility regulations was released on July 26, 1991, as the Americans with Disability Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). The ICC/ANSI A117.1 “Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities” replaced the ADAAG and was later incorporated in DOJ 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

What are Building Codes?

DOJ 2010 Standards are not building codes. Building codes are standards developed at the local or state level to ensure the safe construction of buildings. Inspectors use building codes to evaluate the quality and usability of a building. Local and state government entities have the authority to enact building codes of their own, ones already in existence, or modify existing codes to suit their needs. Building codes help ensure proper building and elevator safety.

The International Building Code (IBC), created by the International Code Council (ICC), is the commonly accepted code within the US and other countries. A117.1, reviewed every three years and modified as required to account for new technology, is incorporated into IBC by reference.

What is an ADA-Compliant Elevator?

An ADA-compliant elevator is any passenger elevator that allows for unassisted entry, exit, and use by people with disabilities. Freight elevators, lifts without platforms, and stairway lifts are not considered ADA elevators (exceptions are stair lifts and lifts without platforms for entry and exit into swimming pools and spas). Wheelchair lifts for transport where elevators or ramps are not feasible are also subject to ADA oversight.

When is an Elevator Required by ADA?

Commercial buildings in the USA must meet all ADA elevator guidelines if the building’s business operates with three or more floors. An ADA elevator must meet the following requirements:

  • Be located in a public and easily accessible spot.
  • Have a door that remains fully open for at least three seconds.
  • Have call buttons centered 42 inches from the floor with button diameters of at least 0.75 inches.
  • Braille must be next to or below all floor numbers.
  • ADA elevators must include an automatic verbal announcement for elevator stops or a non-verbal audible signal for passing floors and stops.
  • Elevator cabs must have two-way communication for blind/deaf users.
  • Emergency controls must be at the bottom of the elevator control panel with centerlines no less than 35 inches above the floor.

How Big is an ADA-Compliant Elevator?

ADA guidelines dictate the size of ADA-compliant elevators. An ADA elevator measures at least 51 inches deep and 68 inches wide — big enough for someone in a large electric wheelchair to enter and turn around in the elevator. The door width for an ADA elevator is a minimum of 36 inches.

Which Buildings Do Not Require ADA-Compliant Elevators?

Buildings with less than three floors or less than 3,000 square feet per floor may be exempt from ADA elevator guidelines unless the building is one of the following:

  • The office of a healthcare provider
  • A public transit station
  • An airport passenger terminal
  • A shopping center or mall

What is a LULA Elevator?

A LULA (Limited Use/Limited Application) elevator is a lifting device designed for access in low occupancy or low-rise commercial buildings where installing a traditional elevator is not possible or not required by building codes. LULA elevators must meet specific ADA elevator guidelines:

  • A maximum vertical travel limit of 25 feet.
  • A maximum speed of 30 ft./min.
  • A maximum car size of 18 square feet.
  • A maximum weight capacity of 1,400 lbs.

LULA elevators often provide ADA-compliant transportation for schools, professional offices, and other public buildings with three floors or less.

Learn More

Questions about how building code and ADA compliance will apply to your project? Find the resources you need on our architects and builders page, or contact a local elevator company today. Trained professionals will assist you in navigating local requirements to ensure your project plans comply with local codes and permitting authorities.

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