Physical Barriers

Eliminating physical barriers to access benefits everyone. These are examples of how to address issues and barriers that individuals with mobility and sensory impairments face.

On this page:

Wheelchair Maneuvering

Hallways, passageways and other routes must allow for wheelchair access. 

  • Hallways and passageways must be an appropriate width to allow for passage. For newer construction, this is generally a minimum of 36 inches. 
  • Where routes turn around an obstruction, additional clear space may be required to allow navigation around the obstruction.
  • Sufficient passing space—at least 60 inches at a minimum of 200 foot intervals for newer construction—must allow for maneuvering past another person.
  • Toilet rooms and other areas must allow for sufficient space for a wheelchair user to turn around.
  • Surfaces must be firm, stable and slip-resistant. Carpeting that is thick, soft or loose can make wheelchair maneuvering difficult. Carpeting must be firmly secured, and of appropriate pile height and texture.
  • Changes in level must be appropriately ramped.
  • Opening in grates can be a hazard for someone using a wheelchair or a cane. These openings cannot exceed half an inch, and must be perpendicular to the direction of travel.
  • Drinking fountains, sinks, dining tables and work areas should provide sufficient space for knee and leg clearance underneath.

Maneuvering at Doors

Individuals with mobility impairments, including those using wheelchairs, require sufficient space to approach and open doors. Additionally, doors with significant resistance will be difficult to open for individuals with mobility impairments.

  • Clearance space is required beyond the latch side of doors to provide for optimum maneuverability. Latch-side space of at least 18 inches is required for forward approaches, and the clearance space in front of the door must be at least 60 inches deep for the pull side of doors.
  • For the push side of doors, clearance space of at least 48 inches is required in front of the door, with at least 12 inches of latch-side space.
  • Fixed objects, such as shelves, cannot protrude into the clearance space in front of doors.
  • Thresholds can pose challenges for maneuverability. Thresholds cannot exceed a half inch. Thresholds greater than a quarter inch must be beveled at the edges.
  • Heavy doors, or doors with strong closers, will be difficult for individuals with mobility impairments to open. The force to open interior doors cannot exceed five pounds.  

Toilet Rooms

Toilet areas must allow for sufficient space to enter, navigate doorways, and maneuver within the room. Fixtures must be placed with accessibility in mind.

  • Toilets must be located with sufficient clear space to allow for an approach by wheelchair. 
  • Grab bars near toilets are critical to allow transfer.
  • Flush controls must be located on the open side of the toilet to be reachable.
  • Clearances are required at sinks, soap dispensers, towel dispensers and hand dryers. These should be located at a height accessible to a wheelchair user.
  • There should be sufficient clearance space in a single-user restroom to allow an occupant to turn around.
  • In multi-user restrooms, at least one lavatory should be accessible.
  • A stall with dual grab bars will assist individuals with ambulatory disabilities.

Protruding Objects

Objects that protrude into passageways can impede individuals with motor impairments, and can be hazardous to individuals with visual impairments. Examples include shelves, drinking fountains, and sculptures. People who are blind or low vision sometimes travel along walls for orientation.

  • The placement of objects must still allow for sufficient navigation around the object by a wheelchair user.
  • Protruding objects that are sufficiently high—above 80 inches—do not present a hazard. Similarly, protruding objects that can be detected by a cane are allowable. These objects are detectable at heights less than 27 inches.
  • Protruding objects located between 27 and 80 inches can pose a hazard. These should not protrude more than four inches from a wall unless they are appropriately treated.
  • Objects such as fire extinguishers and shelves may be recessed in a way to avoid a protrusion of greater than four inches.
  • In the case of a fixed sculpture with protrusions, a platform or railing can alert people to maintain sufficient distance to avoid contact.

Parking and Passenger Loading Zones

Accessible parking areas must be dispersed to enable people to park near as many accessible entrances as possible.

  • In parking lots, accessible parking spaces must have sufficient space and access aisles. Two spaces may share an access aisle.
  • Access aisles are necessary to allow sufficient room to maneuver to and from the vehicle.
  • The number of required accessible spaces depends upon the size of the parking facility.
  • Accessible parking spaces must be designated by appropriate signage.


Classrooms should be inclusive spaces that allow for access and participation.

  • Arrangements may need to be made for a table, alternative chair or other equipment.
  • Seating must allow for a clear line of sight to the instructor and allow for equivalent participation.
  • Labs and fieldwork sites must also allow for usability and access.

Audio/Visual Equipment

Many classrooms and group meeting spaces are technology-equipped. It is important to ensure that classroom AV system components like touchscreen/button user interfaces, projection screen switches, and laptop input ports that are mounted on lecterns, teaching stations, and walls should be reachable by a wide range of users, including individuals who use wheelchairs. 

  • AV equipment should be placed on work surfaces between 28 and 34 inches above the floor. Consider purchasing adjustable lecterns to meet this requirement while accommodating standing users.
  • AV controls that are not on work surfaces—for example, that are wall-mounted—should be between 15 and 48 inches above the floor. 
  • For AV controls on work surfaces that protrude, ensure that the reach needed to access the equipment does not exceed 24 inches.
  • Ensure that the AV system includes an assistive listening system for individuals with hearing impairments.

Questions about the accessibility of physical facilities may be directed to Facilities Design and Construction. Campus accessible parking permits can be obtained through Accessibility Resources, and questions about accessible parking may be directed to Parking and Transportation.