Why ADA Stair Handrail Guidelines Are Not as Bad as You Think

By definition, handrails are in place to provide guidance. They are required on stairs with two or more risers and ADA ramps with a rise greater than 6 inches.

Handrails are required on both sides of stairs and ramps. They are placed between 34 inches and 38 inches above the leading edge of a stair tread, the ramp surface, or the walking surface. Where children are the primary users of a facility, the ADA recommends a second handrail for children. This handrail would have a maximum height of 28 inches with a minimum 9 inches of clearance between the child’s rail and the adult handrail.

handrail height

Handrail must be continuous within the full length of each stair flight or ramp run. Inside handrails on switchback or dogleg stairs and ramps shall be continuous between flights or runs. Handrails shall not be obstructed along their tops or sides. The bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall not be obstructed for more than 20 percent of their length.


Handrail must be between 1-¼ inch to 2-inch diameter. Shapes, other than round, are permissible if they meet the ADA’s definition of Equivalent graspability.

GraspabilityEquivalent graspability is defined as a handrail with a perimeter dimension between 4-inches and 6-1/4 inches. The maximum cross section must be less than 2-1/4 inches.

Be aware that the cross-section limitation refers to the widest point in the handrail. A 2-1/4-inch cross-section will only give you about 1-1/2-inch square.



Bracket Clearance

Bracket ClearanceThe clearance between the wall and handrail is 1-1/2-inch minimum. This 1-1/2-inch clearance also applies to the underside of the handrail and the horizontal bracket arm.

The vertical clearance has some flexibility. Based on the size of the handrail, a reduction can be applied. It may be decrease by 1/8 -inch for each ½ inch of perimeter over 4″.



Handrail needs to extend on stairs and ramps.

Railing Extensions - ADA Stair Handrail

Ramp Extensions: handrails extend horizontally above the landing for 12 inches minimum beyond the top and bottom of the ramp runs.

Stairs, Top Extension: handrails extend horizontally above the landing for 12 inches minimum beginning directly above first riser nosing.

Top Rail Extension - ADA Stair Handrail

Stairs, Bottom Extension: handrails extend at the slope of the stair flight for a horizontal distance equal to one tread depth beyond the last riser nosing.

Extensions shall return to a wall, guard, surface or continue to another stair run.

Be aware that some jurisdictions still require an additional 12-inch extension at the bottom of a stair. Confirm with your local authorities.

Railing Return to Wall ExtensionsThere remains some confusion as to whether it is acceptable for the extension to not be in the direction of travel. I often find extensions that bend left or right at the end of a ramp. To get a definitive answer, I contacted the Access Board – the federal agency which oversees the ADA — for their interpretation.

The Access Board confirmed that extensions are to be in the direction of travel. Deviation from this is only acceptable for existing construction where the extension would create a hazard. They are not permitted on new construction.

As always, confirm with your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to confirm their interpretations and requirements. For more information contact the code experts at Wagner. Or view are code compliance section in our knowledgebase.

Railing Return








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