The Importance of ADA Compliance in Temporary Applications

BY: Shane Weaver

By now, over twenty five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it's likely that most people are at least somewhat familiar with the non-discrimination standards and necessary public accommodations required by the law. Basically, with regards to public places and commercial facilities, it states that no individual can be discriminated against due to disability, which means they need to have full and equal access to any goods, services or places that everyone else has. There are many common things that address these issues that are so prevalent you probably don't even notice them, like accessible bathrooms, or wheelchair ramps.

That's all well and good for permanent facilities. But what about temporary events? Street festivals, fairs, concerts, trade shows and other events that involve impermanent structures are still subject to the ADA, and will need to be brought into compliance. This means that those with disabilities must be able to access the same amenities and areas that everyone can, including parking and transportation, information, performances and exhibits, food and drink, and use of facilities including restrooms. This applies not just to individuals with mobility issues, but also those with visual, hearing, or cognitive disabilities as well.

Guidelines for accessible parking spaces


Accessible parking spaces should be located as close as possible to the nearest accessible entrance, and as described by the ADA, a minimum of 1 accessible parking space is required for every 25 spots you have in your parking area. Accessible spaces must be marked with proper signage (which includes a vertical placard on a signpost), and should also feature a level access aisle to allow easy ingress and egress (two spots can share an aisle between them). Additionally, one of every six accessible spots must be a van accessible, which means it's required to be wider than a normal spot (a minimum of 132 inches).

Dimensions for accessible pathways and ramp slopes

Navigating the Event

Those with wheelchairs, canes, walkers or other devices that aid in walking will need to be able to travel through your event and be able to access all activities and amenities. You'll need to create a route that accommodates them, and it’s highly preferable that whenever possible this route is the same used by everyone at your event. The path needs to be smooth, as wide as you can reasonably allow, free of obstructions and hazards, and not force anyone to use stairs.

Pathways must be 36 inches wide at minimum (32 inches for doorways or short passages that are 24 inches long or less), with 80 inches of height clearance and a 60 inch by 60 inch area every 200 feet allowing wheelchairs to pass side by side. Elevation changes greater than a quarter of an inch must have a beveled slope, and changes greater than a half-inch require a ramp, lift or elevator.

Ramps should be 36 inches wide at minimum, with a one inch vertical grade for every 12 inches of distance. In temporary applications, elevations should be no more than 30 inches high, as this would require a ramp longer than 30 feet long which would likely be unfeasible with a temporary solution.

Protrusions and other hazards should be avoided entirely if possible, or covered in such a way that the path remains as easily navigable as possible. For cords, cables and hoses that must pass across a traveled route, for example, there are low profile covers and ADA compliant ramps that allow a shallow grade that can be easily surmounted by those in wheelchairs or using walking aids. Objects protruding from the wall should not extend more than four inches, unless they can be detected with a walking cane used by the visually impaired, in which case they need to be located 27 inches high or lower from the ground.

AMS Wheelchair Ramp
ADA Compliant Ramp and Rail System

Entryway with stairs and ramp


There must be an accessible entrance to your event, and ideally it should be the same as your main entrance. If your event's entrance is elevated via steps, make sure there is a ramp or lift to facilitate accessibility. Follow the same procedures noted above to determine the grade of your ramp.

While temporary or outdoor events rarely have revolving doors, it's important to note that if they do, you'll need an accessible door nearby as revolving doors are not approved by the ADA for accessible routes. Turnstiles, as well, are not considered accessible, and should feature an accessible route as nearby as possible so as not to disrupt the flow for persons with disabilities seeking entrance.

Right and wrong way to set up accessible portable toilet


Accessible bathrooms are a must at any event, even if you only have portable restrooms. For accessible bathrooms, the entrance must feature a 32 inch wide opening to accommodate wheelchairs and mobility aids. The floor must also have a five foot diameter area to allow wheelchairs to turn freely, or a three foot wide T-shaped area to allow for three-point turns.

Each bathroom must feature at least one accessible stall. The stall should be a minimum of 60 inches wide and extend 56 inches from the rear wall with a wall-mounted toilet (59 inches for a floor-mounted unit).

For portable toilets, you must provide at least one accessible model, and a minimum of 5% of available toilets must be accessible. Those units should be marked with the International Symbol of Accessibility to denote their status, and should be placed on a level area that connects to the main accessible pathway. If there is a ramp leading to the entrance of the unit, it should level off well before reaching the door, otherwise it can be extremely difficult for persons with disabilities to open a door while maintaining their position on a sloped surface.

Further Considerations

We've covered the very basics. There are lots of other considerations to take into account when planning a temporary event, including providing access to shelter and drinking water, ensuring exhibits and displays are positioned to be sufficiently visible to persons with disabilities, checking that openings in grilles or gates along the accessible pathway are small enough to not catch on walking aids or wheels (the magic number is 1/2 inch or less). For further information, be sure to check out these resources:

Our own article about ADA compliance in permanent facilities

A more in-depth guide to making temporary events accessible from the ADA National Network (which provided much of the info for this article)

A checklist to see if your facility is ADA compliant