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Architectural ADA Compliance Best Practices for Hospitality

By Stanley Tang, AIA
May 2011

More than 50 million Americans, 18 percent of the population, have some form of disability, meaning there is a large population of potential hotel guests that need special accommodation.  Earlier this year, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was updated with new requirements and regulations to clarify and expand upon previous iterations and address issues that have come to light in recent years.  Many hotel owners and operators have faced challenges updating and renovating hotel public spaces and guestrooms to comply with these regulations.  With careful consideration and thoughtful design, it is possible to efficiently and effectively design a fully compliant facility that achieves a level of comfort for all guests while maintaining the hotel’s unique character.

Be Creative with Space

When renovating a hotel to be ADA compliant, hoteliers want to maintain their key count.  Many times designers will designate guestrooms near adjacent available space that can be consolidated into the guestroom to make it spatially compliant.  This solution, while seemingly obvious, may not be the most efficient and cost-effective one.  It may require removal of demising partitions and movement of infrastructure like piping and wiring.  Older hotels that have a variety of different room sizes and layouts may afford a different approach.  It may be easier to find a room where the existing bathroom wall can be moved out with minimal impact to meet the requirements for doorway width and accommodate grab bar rails.  While there would be a slight sacrifice in the main space of the guestroom, it would be much easier and cheaper than annexing another space.

Think Vertically

In many hotel common public spaces, there may be level differences between the lobby and other functional spaces or sidewalk access.  These often pose problems in the context of ADA regulations.  There are many possible solutions, including mechanical lifts, elevators and ramps, all of which require additional space.  While a wheelchair lift might seem the simplest method, it poses aesthetic and maintenance problems.  A short, discrete ramp could instead be installed to replace a step or two.  For greater level differences ramps need to be incorporated into the inherent circulation paths rather than be a redundant or an accessory space.   It may be necessary to think of these ramps as a layered spatial articulation of the spaces it serves, with its own defining wall planes, ceiling and lighting.


Most successful ADA compliant designs and renovations give little hint that they are ADA compliant.  Many modern designs feature clean, simple lines that foster openness.  This can be achieved in even older spaces if a renovation takes into account all the various demands of the space, including ADA.  There should be careful consideration of how spaces flow into each other and more importantly, how people move through them.  All components should work together to make sure that all guests, able and disabled alike, are comfortable and have a unique experience.  Also, the hotel owner and operator should work with all agency reviewers along the way to ensure that designs for the renovation are consistent with their interpretation of required codes and regulations so there are no surprises or lost investment in the long run.

While ADA regulations may continue to evolve over the coming years, the simple truth is that they can significantly benefit both hotel guests and hotel owners and operators if considered and integrated carefully early in the design process.

For more information about Stanley Tang, his experience and details about these and other practice areas, please visit or

Stanley Tang has been engaged in the professional practice of architecture for more than 30 years. In that time, he has worked on a broad range of project types including corporate, health care, institutional, commercial, and residential. While this range is varied and diverse, he draws upon their underlying spatial, formal, and functional essence, and synergistically integrates those qualities into the creative development of each new project. Mr. Tang brings a well-thought-out approach to problem solving, acting as a crucial liaison between clients, consultants, construction managers, and contractors.

Mr. Tang’s best-known projects include Virginia Tech Chiller, Septa City Hall Project, and Smeal College of Business at PSU. He earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degrees from The University of Pennsylvania. He was also awarded a Dales Architectural Traveling Fellowship.


Cass Oryl
T: 202.309.2263 .

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