A Matter of Inches

By Edward N. Film, A.I.A., LEED AP

Recently, CBI was awarded a project to upgrade a public housing development to meet the current Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS).  The design process of this project revealed the complexity of such an undertaking and the variations that can exist between two similar, but distinct codes.

While there are many issues that need to be considered when designing a handicap accessible apartment, the first determination should be exactly which code requirements you need to meet.  For instance, if you must meet the MAAB (Massachusetts Architectural Access Board) 521 requirements, which apply only if the cost of the project is over a certain amount, or if there are other requirements you need to comply with.  This project was required to meet the UFAS requirements which are slightly different that the MAAB’s and also slightly different from the Federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

In order to best explain these important variations between codes, I will focus on the three major areas of the kitchen which need to be considered in an accessibility upgrade project:

1.  The Stove:  UFAS allows a cook top over a base cabinet or conventional stove but the MAAB requires a cook top with
 knee space and 15″ of counter space next to it.  Where a cook top is used there should be a 30″ wide knee space underneath.  When using a wall oven the MAAB requires an accessible counter space next to the oven or a pull out shelf under the door to the oven.  Both the MAAB and UFAS codes require the oven be self-cleaning.  The UFAS code allows for either a bottom hinged oven door or a side hinged door, but if the side hinged door is used, a pull out breadboard-type shelf underneath is required.

2.  Kitchen Sink:  In both codes, the kitchen sink is required to be 30″ wide and a maximum 6″ deep.  This allows for the required 30″ wide knee space underneath.  The MAAB required 15″ of counter space on one side of the sink but the UFAS requirements do not.  Also, both codes require the sink must have paddle type faucets that can be operated without having to grasp the handle.

3.  Refrigerator:  In both codes, the fridge is required to have a door that opens 180 degrees.  It can be divided as side by side or top and bottom.  If it is divided top to bottom the freezer has to be on top and the controls have to be below 54″.  The freezer also has to be within a vertical dimension so care has to be taken to choose a refrigerator that is not too tall.

Other considerations that go into the design of an accessible kitchen are that there needs to be a minimum of 30″ of counter space with knee space for general kitchen work.  Storage in the kitchen can be in base cabinets or upper cabinets.  If there are base cabinets the floor of the cabinet has to be within accessible reach range for someone in a wheelchair which means 9″ off the floor.  The bottom shelf of the upper cabinets must be within the upper reach range from a wheelchair which is 48″ above the floor.  That is also the maximum height of the cabinet handle for both codes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, you can see that the requirements are very particular within any one code and can vary greatly from another.  Be sure to provide the exact requirements to avoid expensive change orders.

When working on an accessibility project, make sure to pay careful attention to which set of requirements you are required to meet and check shop drawings and submittals carefully.  Remember, code compliance is all a matter of inches.

The Massachusetts Architectural Access Board requirements are available online here:

The UFAS standards are available here: