Continuous enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 has added new requirements with a 2010 update which affects fitness and sport facilities. March 15, 2012, marks the date that all fitness facilities with or without a pool/whirlpool must comply. This does not include any pre-existing facilities not performing any new construction or alterations. This now concerns more than 50 million Americans — approximately 18% of our population.

The major portion of the facilities in this topic fall under the Title 111 Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities. The requirements are all-encompassing. Let us look at just the walkway widths, railings and floor choices, to make these facilities more accessible to people with disabilities.


Like most of the compliance requirements, walkways involve minimum space allotment. Starting from the parking lot going into the building, proper slip-resistant surfaces must be established in an easily accessible manner into the building. Additional information is discussed later in the article regarding slip resistance. Once inside, the doorway widths must have a minimum of 32" clearance. In a walkway deemed as an “accessible pathway,” widths must be at least 36. All buildings must have an accessible pathway throughout the building and allow people with physical handicaps access to all available equipment or floors.

clear width of ADA accessible route
Clear Width of an Accessible Route

Above is a picture showing accessible 36" minimum walkways, and the resting areas (used for turn around) in a typical layout of 48" minimum. While most facilities have compliance with an ADA “path of accessible travel,” many do not allow access to the equipment which is critical for complete compliance.


Railings must be available on any incline or decline whether ramp or stairway. Here are a few of the key ADA requirements shown for easy illustration:

rail heights

Notice the double rail heights for wheelchair and various walking handicap persons use.

rail thickness and clearance from wall

Note the 1-1/2" clearance from wall and the 1-1/4" to 1-1/2" thickness of the rail compliance. This allows for the walker and/or wheelchaired person to have a hand rail.

railings extending over walkway access

Railings must also extend out over the walkway access.


The stairs’ rise must be consistent, and although the rise can be less than 7.0", the run or tread portion of the stair must be at least 11" minimum in depth. Angled risers must not be greater than 30 degrees of the angle as shown above, while stair nosing may not extend over 1-1/2". The trend on stair nosing is being reduced to ½" in other parts of the world. Notably, Canada has begun policy compliance for a ½" maximum over hang on stair nosing for public buildings.


Height Discrepancies (transitions)

The maximum vertical edge direct height variance is ¼". The maximum beveled edge height variance is ½" but must have a 1:2 ratio for the beveled rise. (see below)

LEFT: 1/2" max height, 1:2 max beveled edge.
RIGHT: Changes in level 1/4" max high permitted vertical edge.

Exposed edges must have trim on the entire length of the exposed edge and be fastened to the floor to prevent curling. Trim must meet specifications for changes in level, including requirements for beveled edges when the height exceeds ¼ inch. The maximum height is ½ inch.

For most of the height change transitions, including T-molding, Square Nosing, Thresholds—of which many are overlapping— they remain ADA compliant provided they follow and comply with the above listed requirements.

Slip Resistance

rubber tile
ADA compliant rubber tile floor

A final comment on the term “slip resistance,” mentioned throughout the fitness and sports facility world. The standards require ground and floor surfaces to be slip resistant, but they do not specify a minimum level of slip resistance or coefficient of friction. This value varies according to the measurement method and protocols used. Some products are labeled with a rated level, but in the absence of a consensus test procedure, the standards do not set a minimum value. Standard methods to prevent or minimize slipperiness in the specification of floor materials, textures, applications, and finishes may be sufficient for compliance with the standards.

A few floors considered compliant for fitness and sports facilities include rubber tiles and plank, cork engineered floating planks and glue down tile, carpet tiles, WPC, SPC, Rigid Vinyl Flooring, tile, wood and laminate. The actual finished slip resistance level is critical depending on the application for use. Be careful to note the slip resistance standard on your next job or project.