A lot of folks are still curious about what is required of an ADA handrail. This explains it pretty well. The photos above are a railing that was designed, built and installed real quick like for the Monterey Presidio.
Handrail Accessibility Standards and Information -- Updated July 2010
There are two references that are used throughout the US in relation to accessibility: ICC/ANSI A117.1, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities and The Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA requires that all new places of public accommodation and commercial facilities be designed and constructed so as to be readily accessible and useable by persons with disabilities. ADAAG has been updated and the new ADAAG published on July 23, 2004.
Though completed in 2004, the new ADA was not approved by the Department of Justice until July 23, 2010 -- the 20th anniversary of the ADA. It was published in The Federal Register on Sept. 15, 2010 and will take effect on March 15, 2010. Compliance with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design is permitted as of Sept. 15, 2010 but not required until March 15, 2012.
The new ADAAG and ANSI A117.1 now clearly state that handrail can be between 1-1/4" and 2" in diameter with a minimum distance between the wall and handrail of 1-1/2".
The ADA is a civil rights law – it is not a building code. The ADAAG though has been incorporated into many state and local building codes.
NOTE: Some jurisdictions are still referring to the 1992 ADA and are misapplying a limitation of handrail dimension between 1-1/4" and 1-1/2" diameter. This was intended to refer to nominal pipe size (actual diameter of 1.66" and 1.90"). In July 1998, The Access Board published this clarification in their "ADAAG Manual, a guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines". On page 44 of this document it states: Click here to download the ADAAG Manual page 44.
. . . ADAAG shows a diameter of of 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inch for handrails. A standard IPS pipe designated as 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inch is acceptable.
Text from ADAAG 2004 relating to handrails
505.1 General. Handrails provided along walking surfaces complying with 403, required at ramps complying with 405, and required at stairs complying with 504 shall comply with 505.
Advisory 505.1 General. Handrails are required on ramp runs with a rise greater than 6 inches (150 mm) (see 405.8) and on certain stairways (see 504). Handrails are not required on walking surfaces with running slopes less than 1:20. However, handrails are required to comply with 505 when they are provided on walking surfaces with running slopes less than 1:20 (see 403.6). Sections 505.2, 505.3, and 505.10 do not apply to handrails provided on walking surfaces with running slopes less than 1:20 as these sections only reference requirements for ramps and stairs.
505.2 Where Required. Handrails shall be provided on both sides of stairs and ramps.
EXCEPTION: In assembly areas, handrails shall not be required on both sides of aisle ramps where a handrail is provided at either side or within the aisle width.
505.3 Continuity. Handrails shall be continuous within the full length of each stair flight or ramp run. Inside handrails on switchback or dogleg stairs and ramps shall be continuous between flights or runs.
EXCEPTION: In assembly areas, handrails on ramps shall not be required to be continuous in aisles serving seating.
505.4 Height. Top of gripping surfaces of handrails shall be 34 inches (865 mm) minimum and 38 inches (965 mm) maximum vertically above walking surfaces, stair nosings, and ramp surfaces. Handrails shall be at a consistent height above walking surfaces, stair nosings, and ramp surfaces.
Advisory 505.4 Height. The requirements for stair and ramp handrails in this document are for adults. When children are the principle users in a building or facility (e.g., elementary schools), a second set of handrails at an appropriate height can assist them and aid in preventing accidents. A maximum height of 28 inches (710 mm) measured to the top of the gripping surface from the ramp surface or stair nosing is recommended for handrails designed for children. Sufficient vertical clearance between upper and lower handrails, 9 inches (230 mm) minimum, should be provided to help prevent entrapment.
Figure (a) shows stairs with the top gripping surface of a handrail 34 to 38 inches (865 to 965 mm) above stair nosings. Figures (b) and (c) show ramps and walking surfaces, respectively. The top gripping surface of a handrail is 34 to 38 inches (865 to 965 mm) above the surface.
505.5 Clearance. Clearance between handrail gripping surfaces and adjacent surfaces shall be 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) minimum.
The clearance between the handrail and wall is shown to be 1 1/ 2 inches (38 mm) minimum.
505.6 Gripping Surface. Handrail gripping surfaces shall be continuous along their length and shall not be obstructed along their tops or sides. The bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall not be obstructed for more than 20 percent of their length. Where provided, horizontal projections shall occur 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) minimum below the bottom of the handrail gripping surface.
EXCEPTIONS: 1. Where handrails are provided along walking surfaces with slopes not steeper than 1:20, the bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall be permitted to be obstructed along their entire length where they are integral to crash rails or bumper guards.
2. The distance between horizontal projections and the bottom of the gripping surface shall be permitted to be reduced by 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) for each 1/2 inch (13 mm) of additional handrail perimeter dimension that exceeds 4 inches (100 mm).
Advisory 505.6 Gripping Surface. People with disabilities, older people, and others benefit from continuous gripping surfaces that permit users to reach the fingers outward or downward to grasp the handrail, particularly as the user senses a loss of equilibrium or begins to fall.
A handrail with brackets attached to the bottom surface is shown in cross section. The horizontal projection of the bracket from the wall is 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) below the bottom of the handrail.
Horizontal Projections Below Gripping Surface
505.7 Cross Section. Handrail gripping surfaces shall have a cross section complying with 505.7.1 or 505.7.2.
505.7.1 Circular Cross Section. Handrail gripping surfaces with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of 1 1/4 inches (32 mm) minimum and 2 inches (51 mm) maximum.
505.7.2 Non-Circular Cross Sections. Handrail gripping surfaces with a non-circular cross section shall have a perimeter dimension of 4 inches (100 mm) minimum and 6 1/4 inches (160 mm) maximum, and a cross-section dimension of 2 1/4 inches (57 mm) maximum.
Figure (a) shows a handrail with an approximately square cross section and figure (c) shows an elliptical cross section. The largest cross section dimension is 2 1/4 inches (57 mm) maximum. The perimeter dimension must be 4 to 6 1/4 inches (100 to 160 mm).
Handrail Non-Circular Cross Section
505.8 Surfaces. Handrail gripping surfaces and any surfaces adjacent to them shall be free of sharp or abrasive elements and shall have rounded edges.
505.9 Fittings. Handrails shall not rotate within their fittings.
505.10 Handrail Extensions. Handrail gripping surfaces shall extend beyond and in the same direction of stair flights and ramp runs in accordance with 505.10.
EXCEPTIONS: 1. Extensions shall not be required for continuous handrails at the inside turn of switchback or dogleg stairs and ramps.
2. In assembly areas, extensions shall not be required for ramp handrails in aisles serving seating where the handrails are discontinuous to provide access to seating and to permit crossovers within aisles.
3. In alterations, full extensions of handrails shall not be required where such extensions would be hazardous due to plan configuration.
505.10.1 Top and Bottom Extension at Ramps. Ramp handrails shall extend horizontally above the landing for 12 inches (305 mm) minimum beyond the top and bottom of ramp runs. Extensions shall return to a wall, guard, or the landing surface, or shall be continuous to the handrail of an adjacent ramp run.
Ramp handrails at the top and bottom are shown to extend horizontally above the landing 12 inches (305 mm) minimum from the ramp run. The extensions return to posts.
Top and Bottom Handrail Extension at Ramps
505.10.2 Top Extension at Stairs. At the top of a stair flight, handrails shall extend horizontally above the landing for 12 inches (305 mm) minimum beginning directly above the first riser nosing. Extensions shall return to a wall, guard, or the landing surface, or shall be continuous to the handrail of an adjacent stair flight.
The handrail extends horizontally above the landing for 12 inches (305 mm) minimum beginning directly above the first riser nosing.
Top Handrail Extension at Stairs
505.10.3 Bottom Extension at Stairs. At the bottom of a stair flight, handrails shall extend at the slope of the stair flight for a horizontal distance at least equal to one tread depth beyond the last riser nosing. Extension shall return to a wall, guard, or the landing surface, or shall be continuous to the handrail of an adjacent stair flight.
Bottom Handrail Extension at Stairs