Is Your Bar or Restaurant Accessible?

Part 1: The ADA and Interior Requirements

We were frustrated, disappointed, and annoyed. How could this happen? Aren’t there laws protecting us against this? It happened one sunny Mother’s Day afternoon…

We pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant we had been dying to try because friends had been raving about the menu. We hadn’t asked about the accessibility of the restaurant…it’s not something that most of our friends worry about. But we do. We have a daughter with a disability who uses an accessible stroller to maneuver within the community. We call it the “Cadillac” of strollers, but it is comparable to a youth wheelchair.

When we walked in the front door, we knew this was going to be one interesting dining experience. We’ve been through this before. The tables were too close for the Cadillac to fit through the aisle…it was a cramped frenzy of tables and chairs galore. After being redirected twice, we finally reached a table. We attempted to roll the stroller up without success; the table was too low for the Cadillac to fit under with the arm rests hitting the table top. But, we adapted…like we always do. We removed the arm rests to push our daughter close enough to eat.

We agreed the food was as wonderful as our friends had described. But, our frustration outweighed our satisfaction. We know that public facilities have certain requirements by law to make their services and buildings accessible to people with disabilities. So what’s the deal?

Unfortunately, we experience this type of disappointment daily. We know what it feels like to struggle with accessibility in public places for our family to enjoy. “Public” means all people, including individuals with disabilities. And as a bar or restaurant owner, all of your customers should be able to access your food and services. Period.

The Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects all 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 and commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. Within the ADA, these areas are focused upon in sections of the ADA called “titles.” For bars and restaurants, Title III of the ADA applies.

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.” 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 facility.

The good news is that most of the time, a barrier can be removed by simply changing the physical environment. But it’s not a one-time “fix.” Yearly re-evaluation of accessibility is imperative. Something that may not be readily achievable now may be later on.

The ultimate goal of the ADA is to give every citizen the opportunity to benefit from the services and goods that businesses offer, as well as for businesses to benefit from the patronage of every citizen. And we all deserve equal opportunities, of course…every single one of us.

Interior Considerations

Let’s focus on the interior of your facility. Think about your bar or restaurant, specifically the aisles or walkways, the tables, the chairs, the doorways, the counters, and even the bathrooms; any area within your facility that the public can access when using your service. Now that you have that visual, let’s get into a little more detail…

In order to be accessible and meet the requirements of the ADA, the following are some of the many interior considerations that apply to bars and restaurants:

Route of Access

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

Seats, Tables and Counters

  • In order to accommodate wheelchairs, the height of the tops of tables and counters need to be between 28 and 34 inches.
  • Wheelchair accessible tables must be provided. If tables are attached to the wall or floor (fixed), then 5 percent 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 provided at each accessible table to accommodate people using wheelchairs. Movable chairs can be used, so the chair can be pulled away from the table when needed.
  • Knee room under the table needs to be at least 30 inches wide, 27 inches high, and 19 inches deep. An ADA-compliant table base can help ensure these measurements.
  • Cashier and food-ordering counters must be 36 inches tall or less or have a space on the side where restaurant staff can assist customers or pass food to a customer who cannot reach over the counter.

Interior Doorways

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


  • At least one available restroom must be fully accessible with a sign located to the side of the door, 60 inches to centerline.
  • Restroom 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.
  • Accessible restroom stall handles—lever or loop handles—must be installed so the door is able to be used with a closed fist.
  • Accessible stalls must have at least a 5-foot by 5-foot area for a wheelchair to maneuver within.
  • 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 Considerations

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

This is not a comprehensive list of interior considerations, just a sampling of the many that the ADA requires. For more information, please refer to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website at Until then, let’s hope your bar or restaurant is not part of another Mother’s Day mishap.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328 (1990).

ADA Compliance; Your resource for ADA Compliance Information. Retrieved from

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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