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Cabinetry and Sales & Service Counters

Whether you have a reception counter in an office, a reservation counter at a restaurant, or a sales counter in a store, it does need to be accessible. Since many of these items do not require a building permit, the business owner is responsible and often times relies upon the cabinetry fabricator to make it compliant. After all, they do specialize in this, right?

To make a surface compliant is relatively easy, but to understand how many accessible counters are needed and where they are located is more involved. Also, what most people do not realize is that not only the accessible portion of the counter should be clear of all items but also a clear floor space in front should be provided. This is well beyond the fabricator’s responsibility.

The accessible counter should fall within a specific height of 28″ to 34″ in California and should have a minimum width of 36″ for the full depth. A clear floor space in front should be provided of 30″ x 48″ running parallel to the counter. Both the counter and the clear floor space should always remain clear of items. What becomes tricky and is something that the fabricator may not even be aware of, is what portion of the counters need to meet this criteria and that depends upon how it is being used.

So what do you need?

    • Provide one minimum accessible counter for each type of sales or service – orders, pick-up, returns, cash vs credit card payment, express, etc.
    • If there are a number of sales and service counters 5% minimum are accessible.
    • The accessible counters should be dispersed through-out the store.
    • If cash registers are provided, the accessible counter portion should be near it.
    • If a 19″ deep by 36″ wide minimum knee and toe clearance is provided below then a clear floor space for front approach can be provided instead of parallel approach.

Be aware that if all counters are 34″ maximum above the finished floor you do not need to lower a specific portion although you still will need to have a 36″ min clear width for the full depth and a clear floor space in front. Also, if the counter is less than 36″ wide such as at a restaurant reservation counter, then the full counter should fall within the height requirements. Check-out stands, food service line counters, and bars have different parameters than sales and service counters. There are exceptions to these rules depending upon whether the counters were existing before the ADA went into effect in 1992, but this is an items which is considered Readily Achievable Barrier Removal so some form of equivalent facilitation needs to be provided.


Be aware that your local City or County may have additional requirements that are more restrictive than the State or Federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer. It is meant as a summary – current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions.

© 2012 Janis Kent, Architect, CASp