Since I know you aren’t going to read that, let me give you the highlights.
No railing may be below 34 inches high, and no railing may exceed 38 inches high.
Railings must be placed on both sides of the staircase.
Railings (and grab bars, like in your shower) must be between 1.25 and 1.5 inches in diameter.
Stairs may not be shorter than 11 inches in length.
The slope of stairs may not be less than the ratio of 1:16 and may not exceed 1:20.
Landings must be flat and level.
All railings must extend 12 inches beyond the top tread and bottom tread.
All railings must be fixed in their fittings and may not spin.
Where children are the principle users, secondary railings may be included in the railing design, but may not exceed 28 inches in height.
And last but not least:
All railings must be continuous. (When they cannot be, all railings must extend 12 inches beyond the top and bottom tread).
Now, this is all very interesting, but you might be wondering why it’s being covered here on Second Place.
Well, first of all, it’s because I really like handrails. I’ve always liked handrails and I think they’re one of the most enjoyable aspects of rollerblading. I also think nobody knows much about them. But that’s not the real reason.
The real reason this fits with the aims of Second Place is because the ADA is a prime example of how the larger forces in our world shape our experience, our language, our preferences, and even our hardware.
Let me put it this way, if you scroll back up and reread that list of ADA requirements, what you get is a condensed list of the last 20 years of rollerblading—at least, as far as handrails are concerned.
Let me show you what I mean.
Have you ever felt like a rail was particularly “low” for you or “high” for you? If it was low, it was probably at the minimum 34 inches. If it was high, probably 38.
Do you prefer “mellow” rails, or what some guys call “gradual” rails? Rails like that probably have a slope ratio of 1:16. Like your shit steep? Probably 1:20.
Have you ever heard of a “kinked rail?” Obviously you have. The reason we even had to invent such a term is because the ADA specifies that rails “must be continuous.”
Have you ever been “raped” by the “dick” at the top or bottom of a rail? Wish it wasn’t there? Well, tough shit, because they’re required by law:
Have you ever seen Chris Farmer or somebody else grind “the middle rail?” If so, you can bet your ass that rail is designed to accommodate children.
Now, we should also consider this: we take it for granted that rails don’t spin within their fittings. The ADA, and that specific requirement (for railings NOT to spin) went a long way toward creating the “rails” that we all now know and love. Before that, what you saw were mostly banister-style railings, many of which were joined with fittings that allowed long stretches of pipes (or cloth-covered wooden dowels) to spin—certainly no good for us.
So some things we take for granted, but other things from the ADA have played a significant role in what we do, and what we call what we do.
Here’s another thing.
Remember that one up there that says the diameter of the rail must be between 1.25 and 1.5 inches? Ever heard of a split frame? Ever heard of anti-rocker? Those two things are both specifically designed to provide enough space for the 1.5 inch (maximum) railing.
To be fair, rollerbladers grind many more things than railings. But the point is, if the ADA requirement was only 0.5 inches (say), rollerbladers skating handrails wouldn’t have the same set of problems we currently have. Many more rails would be skateable without a split-frame setup and (I bet) many more people would be riding flat rockered skates.
And all of this eventually goes back to Senator Tom Harkin, whose staff went to great lengths to standardize staircases and railings for the purpose of accommodating disabled Americans.
In several small but very significant ways, Senator Harkin has played a big role in what rollerblading looks like around the world.
As as final note and some food for thought, it might be worth looking into to find out whether the act of “capping” rails violates statute 188.8.131.52 which reads: “Gripping surfaces shall be uninterrupted by newel posts, other construction elements, or obstructions.”
Maybe we can get in touch with the good Senator to find out whether he can do anything about all these pesky caps that are ruining some of our most glorious and treasured handrails—in the name of accessibility, of course.
Thanks for reading.