Types of Handrails for the Disabled


Many modern handrails are designed to aid those with certain disabilities, particularly blindness and ambulatory disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets certain structural parameters to which many commercial and public places must adhere to be fully accessible to persons with physical disabilities. One of these parameters covers the design and placement of handrails, including grab bars. Used in many homes, handrails for the disabled are not limited to public places. However, most handrails and grab bars used in private settings are also designed to meet ADA standards.

The Material

  • For handrails and grab bars to meet ADA standards, they must be able to withstand a certain amount of stress. Therefore, most handrails for the disabled, especially those used in public areas, are made of steel or anodized aluminum pipe. However, some grab bars and handrails produced for use in-home use are made of reinforced nylon or PVC pipe. Handrails must measure 1¼ inch to 1½ inch (32 to 38 mm) in diameter to comply with ADA standards.


  • The most common types of handrails for the disabled are those used for walkways, stairways and wheelchair access ramps. These rails extend along walkways parallel to the ground or incline. It is common for these rails to come in bright colors or colors that contrast the background. If the rail lies adjacent to a wall, there should be a 1½-inch (38mm) space between it and the wall. ADA-compliant handrails must sit at least 15 inches (380 mm) above the ground, be continuous (no breaks) and contain a rounded-off section at each end, called a "D-return." Also, these types of ADA rails will often have Braille signage at each end, indicating the position and destination of the rail.

Grab Bars

  • A grab bar is a shortened handrail, used primarily in bathrooms to aid disabled persons. Toilet grab bars are quite common in public restrooms but can also be installed in the home of a disabled person. These bars usually sit adjacent to the toilet on one or both sides, allowing the handicapped person to lift himself on and off the toilet seat or steady himself. Similar grab bars are made for showers and tubs. The purpose of a grab bar is usually to aid in support and movement in private situations where a handicapped or injured person is unlikely to desire help from another individual.


  • There are some portable grab bars on the market that use suction cups at each end to adhere to a smooth surface. These are not designed to ADA specifications, as they would not be able to meet the stress requirements, using suction cups for support. However, these help those with mild disabilities or those who travel a lot.


  • Some manufacturers make suicide-proof handrails and grab bars. Used mostly in hospitals, especially psychiatric wards, these rails have a sheet of metal that extends from the inside of the rail to an adjacent wall. This ensures that patients cannot tie anything around the rail with which to hang themselves.

Shower Seats

  • Shower seats are related to ADA grab bars and are typically made of a similar material. These seats unfold so that a disabled person may sit down while showering. Shower seats often have a built-in or nearby grab bar.

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