How to rate public venue accessibility: A primer

Mobilize Waco, an initiative of the Amberley Collaborative, is encouraging Wacoans to use an app called iAccessLife to rate businesses and public venues for accessibility.

On iAccessLife, users can post a star rating for the accessibility of any venue’s entrance, restroom, parking, and interior, as well as leave a written review.

Then others can check the app for the venue’s accessibility so they will know before they go!

When I started rating venues on iAccessLife, I discovered I had a lot to learn: How do I know if a bathroom is truly accessible? How can I tell if a venue has enough accessible parking spaces? What makes an entrance accessible?

So I asked registered accessibility specialist James Wick, of Waco architecture firm CP&Y and accessibility consulting firm Meeting the Challenge, to give us the lowdown on accessibility. Here is what I learned.


Newer buildings must have a stairless public entry, or stairs with a nearby ramp, to be considered accessible. Buildings that were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 must also have a stairless entry at or very near the main entry, even if the original entrance can’t be made accessible.

Doors must have 32 inches wide clear opening width, with no knobs that require turning or twisting, plus additional space for maneuvering on the opening side of the door. Automatic push-button entries are not required, but they do increase accessibility a lot. If there are two sets of doors with a vestibule in between, there must be at least four feet to maneuver whether the doors are open or closed.


In an accessible single user restroom there must be enough space for someone who uses a wheelchair to maneuver. Imagine a big circle, five feet across. There should be nothing within that space but floor. It can overlap the sink, if it is a wall mounted fixture; see the image below.

Illustration of circular turning space, with a wall-mounted sink overlapping the circle, from the U.S. Access Board:

[Illustration of circular turning space from U.S. Access Board]

Doors to the main bathroom area and to each individual accessible stall (in multiuser restrooms) must be at least 32 inches wide and must not require turning or twisting of the wrist to open. Faucets should also not require turning or twisting. An accessible bathroom or stall will have grab bars alongside the toilet and behind it. Finally, the sink should be no higher that 34 inch to the top of the rim, and towel dispensers and any other operable element must be no higher than four feet from the floor.


At least one spot in a venue’s parking lot must be van accessible. In smaller parking lots with up to 100 spaces, one out of every 25 parking spaces must be accessible (one out of every 50 parking spaces will do in larger parking lots with between 101 and 1000 spaces). For every six accessible spaces, one must be van accessible—wide enough for someone to enter and exit a vehicle using a wheelchair lift.

Signs and pavement markings must clearly mark accessible spaces, and well-maintained ramps must lead from the accessible parking spaces up to the sidewalk that takes visitors to the entrance. If a curb or sidewalk crack or offset is more than a quarter inch (or half an inch with a beveled edge), it is inaccessible. Also, if the sidewalk is too steep it is inaccessible. How steep is too steep? Well there’s an application of high school math!

Illustration of ramp steepness from

[Illustration of ramp steepness from]

For every inch of rise, at least one foot of ramp is required. Any slope over 8.33%, or one to twelve, is inaccessible.

Finally, sidewalks and ramps must be at least 36 inches wide.


When a venue has tables, at least one of them must be accessible to someone using a wheelchair—and not used as storage space. Where there is bar seating, for example, at least one space should allow for wheelchair seating. Where there are many tables, at least one table in 20 must allow for wheelchair seating. Accessible seating must have at least three feet of floor space around it so a wheelchair user can maneuver. And of course, at least one service counter must be low enough for someone using a wheelchair to reach it comfortably and take care of business.

Again, all doors need to be at least 32 inches wide. If there are any indoor steps, an accessible venue will have a ramp, lift, or elevator so every patron can enjoy all parts of the space. A fully accessible outdoor space will have ramps or lifts so everyone can enjoy all parts of the outdoor space as well.

Learn more!

What we have presented here is a very basic overview of accessibility. It should be enough to get you started with rating venues on the iAccessLife app. To learn more about accessibility and ADA compliance, visit the U.S. Access Board website. And to learn more about iAccessLife, explore Then download the app and let ’er roll!

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