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Handrail Rules

The U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 established the legal right of handicapped people to accessible public and commercial facilities, expanding on the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, which covered only facilities built with federal funds. Since 1990, the U.S. Access Board has reviewed and updated the requirements several times.

Handrails, whether for ramps, stairways, bathrooms or elevators, are an important part of accessibility. Besides being required under the law, they add an extra measure of safety and convenience for anyone using a space. Many companies offer ADA-compliant handrail kits.
  1. General Rules

    • Handrails are required on both sides of ramp runs with a rise greater than 6 inches and on most stairways. Handrails are not required on walking surfaces with running slopes less than 1:20 scale (one inch of elevation for every 20 feet), but if provided must comply with these standards. They must be continuous within the full length of each stair flight or ramp run, including switchbacks or doglegs.


    • The top of a handrail's gripping surface must be between 34 inches (865 mm) and 38 inches (965 mm) above walking surfaces, stair nosings and ramp surfaces. The height must be consistent. For buildings such as schools, used mostly by children, a second set of handrails with a maximum height of 28 inches and at least 9 inches of clearance from the upper handrail is recommended.

    Gripping surfaces

    • Handrail gripping surfaces must be 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) away from all adjacent surfaces, continuous and unobstructed along the top and sides. The bottom of the gripping surface must not be obstructed for more than 20 percent of its length. Gripping surfaces and any adjacent surfaces must have rounded edges and be free of sharp or abrasive elements.