The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, requires business owners to make their facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Under Title III of the law, anyone who operates a "place of public accommodation," such as a store, restaurant, theater or other place open to the public, must adhere to certain rules, including ensuring access to sinks and vanities by people who use a wheelchair.
The United States Access Board -- the federal agency in charge of setting the regulations for ADA compliance in building and design -- provides detailed information about the height and clearance requirements for bathroom sinks, vanities and other fixtures. Referring to the guidelines proves essential for any business owner undertaking a new construction project. As of 2010, construction that begins after March 15, 2012, must comply with the most recent standards set by the federal government.
According to Chapter 6 of the federal ADA Accessibility Guidelines, the highest part of the vanity sink rim or counter surface should be installed no more than 34 inches above the floor or ground. Chapter 3 of the regulations specifies that an individual in a wheelchair shouldn't have to reach more than 48 inches above the ground to operate the faucets, if the sink protrudes from the wall 20 inches or less. For a sink between 20 and 25 inches deep, the faucet controls may only be 44 inches above the floor.
Other Relevant Considerations
The ADA also sets minimum standards for other bathroom fixtures. For instance, the bottom edge of the reflecting surface of a mirror installed above a toilet or counter top must be no greater than 40 inches above the floor or ground. Mirrors not located above lavatories or counter tops must be installed with the bottom edge of the reflecting surface 35 inches maximum above the floor or ground. In addition, coat shelves must be located 40 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum above the floor.
The Department of Justice is authorized to file lawsuits in federal court to enforce the ADA. Under Title III of the law, the Justice Department may obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation, as of 2011. A person who owns or operates a place of public accommodation not in compliance with ADA standards may also be liable for money damages to patrons who cannot use or enjoy the non-compliant facility.