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Guide to the ADA Standards

Stairways [ADA Standards §210§504]

Stairways and handrails that are part of a means of egress are addressed by the IBC (§1009 (2003), §1003.3.3 (2000)). In addition, interior and exterior stairs that are part of a means of egress must comply with requirements in the ADA Standards (§504).

alterations icon

In alterations, stairs between levels that are connected by an accessible route (e.g., ramp or elevator) are not required to meet the ADA Standards, but handrails must comply when the stairs are altered (§210.1, Ex. 2).

Treads and Riser Specifications in the ADA Standards (§504)

Stairs with treads 11” deep min. and risers 4” – 7” high.  Note:  All steps on a flight must have uniform riser heights and uniform tread depths. Open risers are prohibited.

Nosing Specifications

Nosing details show: tread edge radius ½” max; angled riser nosing 30 degrees max from vertical; and curved or beveled nosing 1 ½” max. projection (IBC: 1 ¼” max).

Stairway Handrails Requirements in the ADA Standards (§504)

Stairway handrail requirements.  Notes: Handrails are required on both sides and must be continuous within the full length of each stair flight. 12” min. linear top extension; 34” - 38” (consistent height) above nosing to top of gripping surface; linear bottom extension 1 tread depth min.; Top and bottom extensions must return to wall, guard, or floor (min. length measured to the start of the return radius);  Inside handrails at switchback/ dogleg stairs must be continuous (extension not required); Top and sides of gripping surface cannot be obstructed; bottom can be obstructed up to 20% of the length; In alterations, full handrail extensions are not required where they would project hazardously into circulation paths (§505.10, Ex. 3).


Protruding Objects

The ADA Standards address hazards posed by protruding objects, such as standpipe valves, along circulation paths, including stairways and inaccessible routes (§204). The standards limit the protrusion of objects with leading edges that are above 27” high and no more than 80” high. Such objects are limited to a 4” protrusion into circulation paths, but a 4 ½” protrusion is allowed for handrails. Protrusions up to 12” are specified for objects mounted on posts or pylons (§307).

Handrails [ADA Standards §504.6, §505]

Specifications in the ADA Standards for handrail surfaces and clearances facilitate a power grip along the handrail length. Handrails can have circular or non-circular cross-sections. The gripping surface and adjacent surfaces must be free of abrasive or sharp elements. Handrails cannot rotate within fittings. The IBC also includes requirements for stairway handrails (§1009 (2003), §1003.3.3 (2000)).

Circular Cross Section and Clearance (§505.5, §505.7)

Handrail circular cross section 1/1/4” to 2” in diameter with a 1 ½” clearance behind and below.  Note:  Specifications for handrails also address the diameter of circular cross sections and required knuckle clearance.

Non-Circular Cross Section and Clearance (§505.5, §505.7)

Handrail non-circular cross section (square with rounded corners) with 2 ¼” max. dimension, rounded edges, 4” to 6 ¼” perimeter dimension, 1 ½” clearance behind, and clearance below that is 1 ½” (less 1/8” for each ½” additional perimeter dimension.  Note:  Non-circular cross sections must have rounded edges and meet perimeter and cross-section dimensions.  Other profiles meeting these criteria are permitted.


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