"It's not that complicated"

Prepared by:
John F. Mundt, Jr.
Vice President
Sterling Elevator Consultants, LLC

The ADA is often mistaken for a building code, when it is in fact a civil rights act. The public accommodations and commercial facility portion of the Americans with Disabilities Act became effective on January 26, 1992. With the passing of this legislation, additional responsibilities have been placed on building owners and managers.

The extent of ADA compliance requirements for existing buildings is ambiguous. Fortunately, the ADA recognizes that it is not always possible to bring existing buildings up to the standards applicable for new buildings. However, this in turn requires subjective decision making for each building. It is therefore prudent to have local authorities involved with those decisions.

The Act includes an elevator exemption that does not require the owner to install an elevator in a facility that is being altered if it is less than three (3) stories, or less than 3,000 square feet per story. Buildings not covered by this exemption are a shopping center or mall, the professional office of a health care provider, a terminal, depot or other station used for specified public transportation, or an airport passenger terminal.

When contemplating how and when to bring a building up to ADA standards, two important terms to understand are "public accommodation" and "readily achievable".

Public Accommodation - A private entity that owns, leases, leases to or operates facilities such as places of lodging, public gathering, recreation, and sale or rental establishments. This includes department stores, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, hospitals, certain professional offices and other places of public accommodation.

Readily Achievable - Alterations that can be easily achieved without much difficulty or expense. The factors determining readily achievable status include the nature and cost of the action and financial resources of the owner.

Alterations include remodeling, renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, changes or rearrangements in the plan configuration of walls and full height partitions. The Act stipulates that changes to mechanical or electrical systems are not alterations unless they affect the usability of the building or facility.

If portions of a public accommodation can be brought into full or partial compliance in a readily achievable manner, they must be. New construction and alteration projects beginning after January 26, 1992, require that the altered area must be made accessible to the greatest extent possible.

With particular regard to existing elevator systems, a large portion of these requirements may have already been met with only minor modifications being required for further compliance. When more drastic changes are deemed necessary, there are often several different approaches to addressing the same compliance issue. Taking the time and effort during this planning phase will often reveal the lowest cost means of achieving full compliance.

Below is a listing of the ADA requirements for elevators that is included to serve as a general guideline only. All project decision making and implementation should involve local governing authorities, your contractor and consultant.


4.10.1 - General
Accessible elevators shall be on an accessible route and shall comply with 4.10 and the ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. Freight elevators shall not be considered as meeting the requirements of this section unless the only elevators provided are used as combination passenger freight elevators for the public and employees.

4.10.2 - Automatic Operations
Elevator operation shall be automatic. Each car shall be equipped with a self-leveling feature that will automatically bring the car to floor landings with a tolerance of 1/2" (13mm) under rated loading to zero loading conditions. This self-leveling feature shall be automatic and independent of the operating device and shall correct for overtravel or undertravel.

4.10.3 - Hall Call Buttons
Call buttons in elevator lobbies and halls shall be centered at 42" (1065mm) above the floor. Such call buttons shall have visual signals to indicate when each call is registered and when each call is answered. Call buttons shall be a minimum of 3/4" (19mm) in the smallest dimension. The button designating the up direction shall be on top. Buttons shall be raised or flush. Objects mounted beneath hall call buttons shall not project into the elevator lobby more than 4" (100mm).

4.10.4 - Hall Lanterns
A visible and audible signal shall be provided at each hoistway entrance to indicate which car is answering a call. Audible signals shall sound once for the up direction and twice for the down direction, or shall have verbal enunciators that say "up" or "down". Visible signals shall have the following features:

  • Hall lantern fixtures shall be mounted so that their center line is at least 72" (1830mm) above the lobby floor.
  • Visual elements shall be at least 2 1/2" (64mm) in the smallest dimension.
  • Signals shall be visible from the vicinity of the hall call button. In-car lanterns located in the cars, visible from the vicinity of hall call buttons, and conforming to the above requirements, shall be acceptable.
4.10.5 - Raised and Braille Characters on Hoistway Entrances
All elevator hoistway entrances shall have raised and Braille floor designations provided on both jambs. The centerline of the character shall be 60" (1525mm) above finish. Such characters shall be 2" (50mm) high. Permanently applied plates are acceptable if they are permanently fixed in the jambs.

4.10.6 - Door Protective and Reopening Device
Elevator doors shall open and close automatically. They shall be provided with a reopening device that will stop and reopen a car door and hoistway door automatically if the door becomes obstructed by an object or person. The device shall be capable of completing these operations without requiring contact for an obstruction passing through the opening at heights of 5" and 29" (125mm and 735mm) above finish floor. Door reopening devices shall remain effective for at least 20 seconds. After such interval, doors may close in accordance with the requirements of ASME 17.1.

4.10.7 - Door and Signal Timing for Hall Calls
The minimum acceptable time from notification that a car is answering a call until the doors of that car start to close shall be calculated from one of the following equations:

T = D / (1.5 ft/s) or T = D / (445mm /s) where T = total time in seconds and D = distance (in feet or millimeters) from a point in the lobby or corridor 60" (1525mm) directly in front of the farthest call button controlling that car to the centerline of its hoistway door. For cars with in-car lanterns, T begins with when the lantern is visible from the vicinity of the hall call buttons and an audible signal is sounded. The minimum acceptable notification time shall be 5 seconds.

4.10.8 - Door Delay for Car Calls
The minimum time for elevator doors to remain fully open in response to a car call shall be 3 seconds.

4.10.9 - Floor Plan of Elevator Cars
The floor area of elevator cars shall provide space for wheelchair users to enter the car, maneuver within reach of the controls, and exit from the car. Acceptable door opening dimensions shall be 36" (915mm) minimum. Cab depth shall be 51" (1291mm) minimum with a 54" (1370mm) minimum from rear of cab to inside face of door. Cab width shall be a minimum of 68" (1730mm) for side opening doors and an 80" (2030mm) minimum for center opening doors. When existing circumstances prevent compliance with cab dimensions it must be noted that no dimensions shall be less than 48" by 48" (1220mm x 1220mm). The clearance between the car platform sill and the edge of any hoistway landing shall be no greater than 1 1/4" (32mm).

NOTE: National Elevator Industries ( NEI ) standards recommend a support rail be provided on the rear wall of the car. The rail shall be smooth and the inside surface at 1 1/2" (38mm) clear of the walls at a nominal height of 32" (813mm) from the floor to the top of the support rail.

4.10.10 - Floor Surfaces
Floor surfaces shall be firm, stable and slip resistant. When carpet is used it shall be firmly attached over a firm pad or backing, have a maximum pile thickness of 1/2" ( level loop, textured loop or level cut pile texture ) and all exposed edges fastened with carpet edge trim.

4.10.11 - Illumination Levels
The level of illumination at the car controls, platform, and car threshold and landing sill shall be at least 5 foot-candles (53.8 lux).

4.10.12 - Car Controls
Car control panels shall have the following features:

  • Buttons. All control buttons shall be at least 3/4" (19mm) in their smallest dimension. They shall be raised or flush.
  • Tactile, Braille and Visual Control Indicators. All control buttons shall be designated by Braille and by raised standard alphabet characters for letters, Arabic characters for numerals or standard figures as required in ASME A17.1.
  • Height. All floor buttons shall be no higher than 54" (1370mm) above the finish floor for side approach and 48" (1220mm) for front approach. Emergency controls, including the emergency alarm and emergency stop, shall be grouped at the bottom of the panel and shall have their centerlines no less that 35" (890mm) above the finish floor.
  • Location. Controls shall be located on a front wall if cars have center opening doors, and at the side wall or at the front wall next to the door if cars have side opening doors.
4.10.13 - Car Position Indicators
In elevator cars, a visual car position indicator shall be provided above the car control panel or over the door to show the position of the elevator in the hoistway. As the car passes or stops at a floor served by the elevators, the corresponding numerals shall illuminate and an audible signal shall sound. Numerals shall be a minimum of 1/2 in (13mm) high. The audible signal shall be no less than 20 decibels with a frequency no higher than 1500 Hz. An automatic verbal announcement of the floor number at which a car stops or which a car passes may be substituted for an audible signal.

4.10.14 - Emergency Communications
Emergency two-way communication systems between the elevator and a point outside the hoistway shall comply with ASME 17.1. The highest operable part of a two-way communication system shall be a maximum of 48" (1220mm) from the floor of the car. It shall be identified by a raised or recessed symbol and approved lettering located adjacent to the device. If the system uses a handset then the length of the cord from the panel to the handset shall be at least 29" (735mm). The emergency intercommunication system shall not require voice communication.


BOMA International
1201 New York Avenue, NW - Suite 300
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 408-2685
Resource: "ADA Compliance Guidebook, A Checklist for Your Building".

The Office of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66118
Washington, DC 20035-6118
Tel: (202) 514-0301
Resource: Contact with questions regarding ADA rules.

U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street, NW - Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
Tel: (800) USA-ABLE
Resource: Contact for technical guidance regarding ADA rules.
Regulatory language from Federal Register Vol. 56, No. 144 & Vol. 56, No. 173.

The U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street SW
Washington, DC 20590
Tel: (202) 366-9035
Resource: Contact with questions regarding ADA public transportation issues.

Sterling Elevator Consultants, LLC
471 Bushy Hill Road
Simsbury, CT 06070
Tel: (800) 209-9909
Resource: Summary paper - "Elevators and the ADA, Itís not that complicated."

Contact for assistance with developing a vertical transportation compliance strategy.

In the event of an elevator related injury, who will be your expert witness?