The ADA requires that all public areas of the courtroom (public seating, witness stand, attorney tables, jury box, court reporter stations, and bailiff location) must be located on an accessible route and accommodate a wheelchair. Areas that are accessed by ramps or platform lifts shall provide unobstructed turning space. Vertical access to a raised judge’s bench or courtroom Clerks’ workstation need not be installed immediately, provided that the areas maneuvering spaces, and, if appropriate, electrical service are installed at the time of initial construction to permit future installation of either ramps or lifts without requiring substantial reconstruction of the space.
While the Access Board generally discourages the use of platform lifts, they are allowed in courtrooms and have become a common means of providing access to witness stands and judges’ benches. Common issues, however, include platform deflection and downward settlement, interlock malfunctions, and operation requiring assistance such as the removal of steps, platforms or millwork.
Ramps often are preferred for a number of reasons:
- They generally cost less than lifts.
- They are easily constructed and require minimal maintenance.
- No power source or mechanical parts are required.
- Ramps permit all users, including people who use wheelchairs, to use the element independently, with no disruption to court proceedings.
- Ramps are always useable in case of emergency evacuation, and require no assistance.
The following are the minimum requirements for ramps that are utilized as part of an accessible route:
- Ramps must be permanent, not pull-out, flip-down or removable.
- Ramps must provide a minimum clear width of 36 inches between handrails.
- Landings where ramps change directions must have a minimum dimension of 60 inches x 60 inches.
- If a door is located at the top or bottom of a ramp, the landing must be large enough for adequate maneuvering clearances at the door. If the door swings back over the landing, there must be adequate landing space to back up to clear the door swing.
- Raised platforms accessed by ramps must have a turning space to allow an individual to turn around to go down the ramp.
- Ramps must have a maximum slope of 1:12.
- Ramp runs and landings with drop-offs must have edge protection, such as a curb, barrier, or extended surface as specified in the guidelines.
- Ramps with a rise of greater than 6 inches need handrails. Handrails must be located along both sides of a ramp at a height above the ramp surface of 34 inches to 38 inches measured to the top of the handrail.
- Most model building codes require a guard where there is a drop-off of more than 30 inches. If the ramp or landing has such a drop-off along any side, it must also have a guard at that location in addition to handrails. The minimum height of a guard is 42 inches with maximum openings of 4 inches.
Though not required, the following are best practices for the use of ramps:
- Ramps should not be located where they will be a tripping hazard for other circulation routes through the space.
- Ramps should not be located where they will block the means of egress, including maneuvering clearances at doors.
- Ramps should be located along the same path of travel as provided for the general population.
- When ramps are exterior, they should be located or designed to limit the accumulation of water, ice and snow.
- When ramps lead to doors that may be locked, a turning space should be provided at the door to allow someone to turn around if he or she cannot enter. This is also advisable at exterior doors because the force to open the door may be too high for some people with disabilities to operate.
- Handrails to provide stability for people with ambulatory impairments are recommended for all ramps, although they are not required if the ramp's rise is 6 inches or less.