Part 2: The ADA and Exterior Requirements

“Accessible parking,” “ramps,” “slope ratio,” “route of travel.” Do these terms sound familiar? How about “accessible parking spaces,” “van-accessible parking,” or “accessible signs?” Do any of these phrases ring a bell? These are all important terms with which bar and restaurant owners should be well acquainted—terms that focus on the exterior requirements set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Law

As mentioned earlier, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects all individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities. The ADA hosts many titles within its regulations, but the one most 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).” Barriers to services are focused upon with the stern declaration of their removal by law, yet judgments about their removal are made on a case-by-case basis. These judgments are made while considering the financial resources of the facility and the nature of the cost. A yearly internal re-evaluation is essential to determine if the barriers that remain need to be addressed. Let it be comforting to know that most adaptations typically require only a simple change to the physical environment.

Exterior Considerations

You know how important curb appeal is for making your patrons feel welcome. For people with disabilities, if your parking lot and entrance aren’t accessible, they won’t feel welcome to come inside, sit at one of your tables, and spend their money in your establishment.

Think about the exterior of your bar or restaurant and answer these questions:

  • Do you have accessible parking spaces and appropriate signage?

  • Do you have an accessible entrance on level ground or with a ramp?

  • Does the exterior of your establishment lend itself to the ease of transport and entrance for individuals with disabilities?

Let’s concentrate on what you need to do so you can answer YES to all of these questions.

In order to be accessible and meet the requirements of the ADA, the following is a sampling of the many exterior regulations that apply to bars and restaurants:

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. 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.

Parking and Drop-Off Areas

The ADA requires that you have an adequate number of accessible parking spaces in your bar or restaurant’s parking lot for individuals with accessible parking tags. Guidelines are provided to assist you in determining the appropriate number of accessible parking spots you need to have based on the total number of parking spaces you have on site. For example, if you have 1 to 25 parking spaces, you must have one accessible parking space; for 26 to 50 parking spaces, you need two accessible spaces; for 51 to 75 parking spaces, you need three accessible spaces; and for 76 to 100 parking spaces, you need four accessible spaces. At least one out 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 aisle on each side. For a car, the access aisle must be at least 5 feet wide and for vans, the access aisle must be at least 8 feet wide.


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.


When using the term “accessible parking,” please know that this is currently the appropriate use of the term that most of us know as “handicap parking.” As time passes, terminology changes for the better. Rather than using the word “handicap,” which denotes a negative, the terminology has been updated and changed to denote a positive one, “accessible.” And accessibility is what the ADA is all about. Let’s educate others on the new positive and appropriate term “accessible parking.” Education will make a difference, one person at time. You can start by making sure your use of terminology is current and appropriate.

This is not a comprehensive list of exterior considerations that the ADA requires by any means. For more information and specifics on the requirements, please refer to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website at


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

Adaptive Environments Center, Inc. and Barrier Free Environments, Inc. (1995). The Americans with Disabilities Act Checklist for Existing Facilities, version 2.1. 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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