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Making Retail Accessible: Custom ADA-Compliant Sales Counters That Serve

Though it might be hard to imagine a time when public and private spaces weren’t largely accessible to those with disabilities, this was the norm prior to 1990. That’s why the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law that year. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in a variety of situationsfrom work and school settings to public buildings and, you guessed it, businesses!

So, as a retail business owner, what can you do to make your location more accessible? What’s legally required?

According to, every business “must comply with accessible design standards when constructing or altering facilities.” One of the most important components of your store is the cash wrap, or checkout counter. Mainly, because this is where you make your sales. If your counters aren’t ADA-compliant, you’re not just missing out on sales, you’re in violation of the ADA and could face fines.

In this article, we’ll list the ADA’s requirements for counters, share images of ADA-compliant counters for your reference, and help give you an idea of what might work best for your business (and next steps to take).

Characteristics of Accessible, ADA-Compliant Counters

The rules aren’t complex when it comes to making your counter ADA-compliant. They are:

  • Counters must be no taller than 36”
  • Counters must be at least 36” long
  • You may use an auxiliary counter or folding shelf near the main counter if possible
  • There must be a space that’s at least 38” X 48” wide in front of the counter (parallel or perpendicular to it) that allows those in wheelchairs to move freely

That’s it! If you’re designing your first checkout counter, it’s far easier to start with these rules in mind than to retroactively alter your counter to be ADA-compliant. However, regardless of your location and the maturity of your business, there are a number of ways to combine function and fashion to make your counters better for those with disabilities—while staying true to your brand.

ADA-Compliant Counter Example

Here’s an ADA-compliant counter we designed for City Row, a gym franchise. City Row needed a front desk cash wrap that would be ADA-compliant while fitting their minimal, farmhouse-industrial style. In six weeks, we designed this front desk and manufactured its components for our client to roll-out to new locations.  

City Row

 In this case, the ADA-compliant front desk was designed in two parts so it could be installed as either a right-hand or left-hand unit. The shorter portion of the desk pictured above is detachable and can be affixed to either the right or left of the main, larger desk—making it versatile for City Row in the event they change their layout (or location).

The shorter desk meets ADA height and clearance requirements for both staff and members, without interrupting the flow of the design.

Further, we kept costs down for this client by using plastic laminate for the top that mimics the look of real wood. The front and sides of the cabinet are surfaced with black brushed-look laminate, and the interior is surfaced with plain black melamine. We kept installation very simple: all that City Row had to do was anchor the cabinetry in place and run wiring into it.

Here are a few more features of this ADA-compliant design:

  • Custom, frameless cabinets with drawers and roll-outs
  • High-pressure decorative laminate on medium density fiberboard
  • Adjustable shelf standards and supports
  • Drawer slides
  • Trash bin
  • Pull-out shelves for printer, mixer, and charging station

Getting Started with ADA-Compliant Counters

Ready to design or upgrade your counters for ADA compliance? Book a consultation with IDD and learn more about how we can help you build a custom ADA-compliant checkout counter that represents your brand perfectly.

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