March 30, 2020

A Guide to ADA Handrails

March 30, 2020

A Guide to ADA Handrails

March 30, 2020

When it comes time to design hallways and corridors for medical and healthcare buildings it’s easy to forget the specific ADA requirements for handrails. So we wanted to create a concise guide to provide the ADA requirements and answer frequently asked questions regarding handrails that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A full description of ADA regulations can be found at

Do I Need a Handrail? Where Are They Required?

Handrails are required for two areas: stairs and walking surfaces with a running slope of greater than 5% or 1:20, such as a ramp. This article will explain the requirements for handrails on walking surfaces.

Handrails are not required for walking surfaces with a running slope of less than 5% or 1:20, such as in a fairly level hallway. Although not required, there are a few considerations when determining whether to specify a handrail. 

You want a handrail if the occupants of the building might be at risk of falling, such as medical and senior living facilities. We always want to design for the highest level of safety for the occupants and handrails reduce falls, provide weight assistance, and comfort for patients. Even if they don’t use the handrail it is psychologically comforting to know that assistance is available. Also, we want to protect the owners from safety liabilities. 

If you do install a handrail in an area where it is not technically required, it must still comply with the ADA regulations listed below. 

What are the Dimensional Requirements for an ADA Handrail?

The ADA requires handrails to meet requirements in height, clearance, gripping surface, and cross section.

Height – How High Should a Handrail be?

The height of an ADA handrail must be between 34 in. (865 mm) and 38 in. (965 mm). This is measured from the walking surface to the top of the gripping surface.

A handrail attached to a wall with a vertical line measuring 34 to 38 inches beside it
ADA Handrail Height Requirements

Clearance – How Much Clearance does an ADA Handrail Need?

The distance between the grip on the handrail and the wall or the adjacent surface must be 1 ½ in. (38 mm) minimum.

A handrail attached to a wall with a line measuring the 1.5 inch minimum clearance between it and the wall
ADA Handrail Clearance Requirements

Gripping Surface

Handrails must not be obstructed along the tops or sides. On walking surfaces with a slope of less than 5%, the bottom of gripping surfaces are allowed to be obstructed along their entire length when they are essential for crash rails and bumper guards.

If installing a handrail that is not obstructed along the entire length, the bottoms must not be obstructed for more than 20% of the length. Horizontal projections, such as mounting brackets, should occur 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) minimum below the bottom of the handrail gripping surface.

Cross Section

Handrails with circular cross sections must have a diameter of 1 ¼ in. (32 mm) minimum and 2 in. (51 mm) maximum.

Handrails with non-circular cross sections must have a perimeter dimension of 4 in. (100 mm) minimum and 6¼ in. (160 mm) maximum. They must also have a cross section dimension of 2 ¼ in. (57 mm) maximum.

Horizontal lines across a circular handrail grip and non-circular grip showing the correct ADA cross section diameters
ADA Handrail Cross Section Diameter Requirements
Lines around a circular handrail grip and non-circular grip showing the correct ADA cross section perimeters
ADA Handrail Cross Section Perimeter Requirements