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Seating at Tables and Desks – How Much Space Do I Need?

Janis Kent, Architect, CASp © September, 2013

You are working on seating arrangements and the question is – how much space is necessary at a table or desk for the accessible space. The answer, of course is, it depends. Basically there is one spatial requirement if a wheelchair space is backing up to an accessible route or open aisle verses if the wheelchair space is backed up to a wall or some other object or obstruction.

Many times people feel that the extra space at the end of a table, such as at a restaurant table or built-in banquet, is adequate since a wheelchair guest can just sit at the end of the table. This might work if the clear floor space depth under the table is 19” minimum in California, or 17” to 25” outside of California, before it hits a table post along with a few other requirements. The main issue, though, is the additional 30” x 48” wheelchair space. Per ADA, the wheelchair space is required to adjoin an accessible route or another clear floor space, but it can not overlap it. California specifically states 30” minimum from the edge of the table to the accessible route.

Now if the wheelchair seat is not backing up to an accessible route but rather to a wall or some other obstruction, then more space is required to maneuver. California requires 48” minimum from the edge of the table or desk to the wall or obstruction. ADA does not specifically state this dimension, but rather states that one full side of the 30” x 48” clear floor space is unobstructed and adjoins an accessible route or another clear floor space. To interpolate – if the table is blocked with legs then the 48” open side of the 30” x 48” space is required to be contiguous to the accessible route, hence 48” also from the edge of the table to the obstruction or wall behind. More space may actually be required since the table creates an alcove deeper than 15″ with parallel approach.

As a note, aside from the required widths per exiting requirements, ADA states the accessible route is 36” minimum. On the other hand, California states it is 36” if the route is single loaded and 44” if it is a double-loaded aisle. So whether we are talking about built-in furniture or loose furniture, one should be aware of spatial requirements not only for the accessible route but also for contiguous wheelchair spaces. And keep in mind, this information also holds true for other surfaces such as bars, writing surfaces, and baby changing stations to name a few.

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.