The Americans With Disabilities Act is a federal law designed to provide equal access for people with disabilities. While private residences aren't subject to ADA regulations, following these guidelines can make your home more user-friendly for a family member who uses a wheelchair. When it comes to choosing a refrigerator, ADA guidelines cover everything from the amount of floor space needed in front of the unit to the force required to open the doors or operate various controls.
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Clear Floor Approach
Section 9.2.2 of the ADA Accessibility guidelines specifies that a minimum clear floor space of 30 inches by 48 inches is required in front of a refrigerator to accommodate people using wheelchairs. One side of this clear floor space must adjoin or overlap an accessible route, such as a corridor wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, or a second area of clear floor space measuring 30 inches by 48 inches. If the 30 inch by 48 inch space in front of the refrigerator is tucked away in an alcove, the size of the clear floor space in front of the refrigerator must be increased to allow for easy entrance and exit for users in a wheelchair. If the wheelchair user is required to make a front approach into an alcove deeper than 24 inches, then the clear floor space must measure at least 36 inches by 48 inches. If the user is required to make a side approach and the alcove is deeper than 15 inches, the clear floor space in front of the refrigerator must measure at least 60 inches by 30 inches.
At least 50 percent of all shelf space in the refrigerator and freezer must be accessible to a person in a wheelchair. If the user approaches the unit from the front, 50 percent of refrigerator and freezer shelf space must sit no higher than 48 inches off the floor, and no lower than 15 inches off the floor. If the user is able to approach the unit from the side, 50 percent of shelf space must sit no higher than 54 inches off the floor, and no lower than 9 inches off the floor.
All handles and controls in an ADA-compliant refrigerator must meet Section 4.27 of the ADA guidelines. These guidelines call for a maximum of 5 pounds of force required to open any doors or drawers or operate any controls, such as the ice dispenser. All handles and controls must be operable using one hand, and must not require any tight grasping, pinching or twisting. The highest operable parts of these controls cannot sit any higher than 54 inches above the floor for a side approach or 48 inches for a front approach. Controls must be placed higher than 9 inches above the floor for a side approach or 15 inches for a front approach.
If you live in a private home or apartment, you will not face any penalties if you choose not to follow ADA guidelines. However, these guidelines can serve as a valuable tool for those looking to plan a more accessible kitchen for family members. ADA guidelines do apply to accessible suites in hotels, dormitories and senior living facilities. Companies with more than 15 employees are also subject to ADA and must provide ADA-compliant refrigerators in break rooms.