Accessible Picnic Tables

Requirements and Recommendations

June 4, 2013

National Center on Accessibility
National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington

Families and friends often venture to outdoor recreation areas with the specific intent to picnic. Accessible picnic elements facilitate the inclusion and socialization of park visitors. The provision of accessible picnic areas should be a consideration for facility operators. Providing accessible picnic elements such as tables can be an easy process especially since accessible picnic tables come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The U.S. Access Board is in the final stages of developing accessibility guidelines for outdoor recreation environments for incorporation into the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and soon after, the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). The guidance set forth in this monograph is derived from the U.S. Access Board's Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas (October 19, 2009). The Outdoor Developed Areas Guidelines (Final) will be incorporated into the combined ADA-ABA standards.

Technical Provisions for Accessible Picnic Tables

Consider the following scoping and technical provisions for accessible picnic tables:

  • Number of Accessible Tables
  • Dispersion of Accessible Tables
  • Wheelchair Seating Spaces
  • Clear Ground Space (Firmness, Stability and Slope)
  • Connection to Outdoor Recreation Access Route (ORAR)

The U.S. Access Board’s Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas addresses picnic tables, grills, trash receptacles, and other outdoor features under the umbrella term, outdoor constructed features (OCF). Each individual outdoor constructed feature has technical specifications that pertain to ensuring the feature is constructed and installed to meet accessibility guidelines. The technical specifications for picnic facilities are found in section 1011 of the Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas within the outdoor constructed features section.

Number of Accessible Picnic Tables

The Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas (Draft Final – Outdoor) states that in newly constructed picnic facilities that contain two or fewer picnic tables, each picnic table shall be accessible (Draft Final – Outdoor F245.2.1.1). Where picnic facilities contain more than two picnic tables, at least 20 percent but not less than two of the picnic tables shall be accessible (Draft Final – Outdoor F245.2.1.2). Where picnic tables are altered or added, the requirements shall apply only to the picnic tables that are altered or added until the number of accessible picnic tables complies with the minimum number required for new construction. For example if you have only two picnic tables within a picnic facility, both picnic tables must be accessible; if you have four picnic tables within a picnic facility, two must be accessible, and if you have 24 units within a picnic facility, five must be accessible.

Dispersion of Accessible Picnic Tables

According to the Draft Final - Outdoor guidelines, accessible picnic tables shall be dispersed throughout the picnic facility appropriately, based on the experience provided at each picnic table location (Draft Final – Outdoor F245.2.3). For example, if there are picnic tables near a lake and picnic tables near a playground, accessible picnic tables must be located within the area of each different picnic experience. It is important to note that this provision for dispersion of the accessible picnic tables does not require an increase in the total number of required accessible tables.

Wheelchair Seating Spaces

Provisions for wheelchair seating spaces include a minimum clear ground space, clear width and depth, knee and toe clearance, and firmness and stability.

  • Knee clearance should allow a minimum of the following: 27 inches in height, 30 inches in width, and 11 inches in depth (ABAAS 306);
  • Toe clearance should allow a minimum of the following: 9 inches in height, 30 inches in width and 17 inches in depth (ABAAS 306);
  • Clear ground space for wheelchair seating is a minimum of 30 x 48 inches, with one full-unobstructed side connected to an outdoor recreation access route (ABAS 306);
  • Clear ground space requires a minimum of 36 inches along all useable sides of the table, measured from the back edge of the benches. One full-unobstructed side of the clear ground space shall adjoin or overlap an outdoor recreation access route (Draft Final – Outdoor Table 1011.2.1);
  • Floor and ground spaces shall be stable, firm and slip resistant (ABAAS 302).

Clear Ground Space (Firmness, Stability and Slope)

The surface of the clear ground space (the clear area a person using a wheelchair utilizes to approach, and sit at the picnic table) at and around the usable sides of picnic tables must be firm and stable. A stable surface remains unchanged by applied force so that when the force is removed, the surface returns to its original condition. A firm surface resists deformation by indentations (Draft Final – Outdoor Advisory 1011.2.2). There are two exceptions noted in the Draft Final – Outdoor guidelines to providing clear ground space at a picnic table. The first is where an individual picnic table is altered and the ground surface is not altered, the clear ground space shall not be required to comply (Draft Final – Outdoor 1011.2 Exception 1). The second is in alterations where one of the conditions for exceptions does not permit full compliance (Draft Final – Outdoor 1019.2). The slope of clear ground space should not be steeper than 2.08 percent (1:48) in any direction. When the surface is other than asphalt, concrete, or boards, slopes not steeper than 3.03 percent (1:33) are permitted where necessary for drainage (Draft Final – Outdoor 1011.2.3).

Connection to Outdoor Recreation Access Route

An outdoor recreation access route (ORAR) is an accessible route used to connect accessible elements in the outdoor recreation environment. For instance, an ORAR may connect the accessible picnic unit to an accessible restroom, or accessible parking to the accessible picnic unit or even the accessible picnic table to an accessible grill. An ORAR connecting these features helps people to gain access to all available features.

  • The surface must be firm and stable (Draft Final- Outdoor 1016.2);
  • The clear width should be 35 inches minimum (Draft Final- Outdoor 1016.3);
  • If the outdoor access route has a clear width of less then 60 inches, passing spaces must be provided at intervals of 200 feet maximum (passing spaces and resting intervals are allowed to overlap) (Draft Final- Outdoor 1016.4);
  • Resting intervals should be 60 inches long and they must be at least as wide as the widest segment of the accessible route leading to the resting interval (Draft Final- Outdoor 1016.8).

NCA Recommendations

The guidelines in the Draft Final Outdoor Developed Areas are the minimum requirements needed to achieve accessibility. Where possible, going above and beyond the minimum accessibility guidelines is always encouraged to serve a greater number of users. As a result of a research study conducted by the National Center on Accessibility and the University of Minnesota "Functional Aspects of Accessible Picnic Elements," NCA makes the following recommendations:

  1. Allow space for more than one wheelchair. This not only offers a chance for multiple people who use wheelchairs to sit comfortably at the same table, but also offers a choice of where each person may sit. Limiting the table to one available space for a wheelchair user denies people with disabilities the choice of where to sit and sometimes denies them of the opportunity to sit together at the same table.
  2. Position wheelchair spaces for social interaction. A space in the middle of the table places a person who uses a wheelchair closer to their friends and family increasing social interaction rather than always having to sit at the end of the table. In addition, for a parent with more than one child, a seat in the middle of the table enables the parent to care for multiple children by sitting in between them.
  3. Allow for extra leg space and knee clearance. People who use wheelchairs are individuals of varying sizes and abilities. Each person's wheelchair is tailored to his or her specific needs; therefore wheelchairs come in various sizes. The standards reflect minimum guidelines for an average size wheelchair. Allowing additional leg and knee clearance provides comfort for a wider range of people who use wheelchairs.
  4. Increase the amount of firm and stable surface around picnic table. The firm and stable surface surrounding the picnic table can become an issue for visitors when the surface is not properly maintained. Providing a larger surface area requires less frequent maintenance because the inevitable deterioration occurring on the edge of the surface will not immediately effect accessibility requirements.
  5. Increase number of fixed accessible tables to prevent displacement of tables. If accessible tables are moved away from their firm and stable surface, or their accessible route, they are no longer accessible. Fixed tables preserve the accessibility of the picnic site by preventing visitors from moving them to an inaccessible site. Maintaining facilities is key for accessibility.
  6. Place some accessible sites in the shade for participants who may be photosensitive. A crucial aspect of providing a service is to keep in mind the range of needs of individuals. Sitting in the sun may increase the risk of health issues such as overheating, sunburns or other heat related illnesses. Certain medications or impairments may also increase photosensitivity causing greater risk of illness due to heat.
  7. Increase number of curb cuts in various locations near popular attractions. Curb cuts are essential for people who use mobility devices. Without them, people can be forced to travel along the street, which is not only an inconvenience, but can also be dangerous. Frequent curb cuts enable a person using a mobility device to easily enter the sidewalk from various locations, and prevent extended travel that is either out of the way or shared with vehicles.
  8. Provide information containing location of accessible sites. Information such as maps, brochures and signage are preferably placed at the entrance to prevent long searches for the accessible site, and along the path traveled to the accessible destination. Any available maps should provide the appropriate accessibility information. The maps should also be placed in a readily accessible location.
  9. Signage to identify accessible picnic tables. Until all sites are accessible, signage is the best indicator of an accessible site. For a family who has come for a day of fun in the outdoors, driving around searching for the accessible site is generally very frustrating. Posting signs leading to the accessible picnic sites can increase the time visitors have for their intended activity.

Equalizing Opportunities

A misconception regarding accessible picnic tables is that they must be rectangular with an extension on the end. In fact, accessible picnic tables come in many sizes and are fabricated from different materials. The NCA study focused on six different table designs and found each to have advantages. For example, an oval or round tabletop allows the center of the table to be within reach range while seated at any position. It also offers a person who uses a wheelchair a choice of where to sit, and enables everyone to sit together optimizing social interaction.

Another misconception is that the accessible tables have to cost more than standard tables. For accessible tables, prices range from $250 to $2,800 in comparison with standard picnic tables ranging from $300-$2,800. Accessibility does not have to equal excessive costs and labor. Manufacturers often offer discounts or free shipping for bulk orders and could be open to negotiations. Many manufacturers will sell the frame and tabletop separately, therefore facility staff can then make their own accessible tabletops for less cost.

While at the picnic facility, access to any utilities such as water spouts or drinking fountains is often times a necessity. Providing access to utilities and other amenities includes providing an accessible route, ensuring water spouts and drinking fountains are installed to appropriate heights, as well as ensuring they contain accessible operating mechanisms that do not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting.

Some recreation areas may require reservations. If this is the case and there is only one accessible picnic unit (site), a person with a disability may encounter a disparate impact by having to plan further in advance to ensure the availability of the accessible unit (site). Providing all picnic tables as accessible units is a universal approach that will ensure an equally convenient experience for people with disabilities.

Accessible picnic tables and units (sites) provide opportunities for a broader visitor base. If planned properly, access can occur with minimal stress on staff and budgets.

An entity should take care to research various options in an effort to discover what will best suit their facility and available resources. The research process should include contacting other facilities with similar activities, as they are a valuable resource for finding out what has and has not worked in the past.

The citation for this article is:

National Center on Accessibility. (Summer 2002, revised June 2013). Accessible picnic tables: requirements and recommendations. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org.