ADA Accessible Site Plan Spot Elevation

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Accessible design and compliance with California state laws, statutes, and regulations and the Americans wi

th Disabilities Act (ADA) is a major area in the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for landscape architects. There are many items and notes required on site plans in order to get a project permitted.  Today, we will discuss spot elevations and where to use them on a site plan.

Accessible Path of Travel

As you already know, site plans require an accessible route of travel onto a site from the public right-of-way or parking area to the entrance of site’s buildings and facilities. One way that landscape archtitects can prove that their design complies with California and federal accessibility laws is to use spot elevations to show that the accessible route of travel is in compliance with laws and regulations.

While reviewing DSA Access Compliance Official Comments (Checklists), I came across a plan check requirement for grading that requires certain spot elevations to be included on the site plan used for permitting. Let’s review some important locations to include spot elevations on a site plan.

Spot Elevations

Some places to show spot elevations  to demonstrate that a site plant meets accessibly guidelines include:

  • Interior finished floors (a.k.a finished floor elevation or FFE)
  • Exterior entrance door landings
  • Along sloped walks
  • Site entry points
  • Ramp landings
  • Curb Ramps
  • Accessible parking spots and passenger drop-off areas
  • Drinking fountains
  • Exterior counters
Let’s examine each place where spot elevations are require and discuss what each elevation conveys to the plan checker:

Interior finished floor of buildings

Show the elevation of the finished floor and the elevation outside the building at an accessible entry. This will demonstrate that a significant, non-accessible barrier does not exist and that the entry to the building meets accessibility guidelines.

Exterior entrance door landings

Show a spot elevation at the door landings so the plan checker can review the two elevations and determine if the elevation change complies with state and federal accessibility guidelines.

Along sloped walks in intervals of 100 ft max

Spot elevations along sloped walks demonstrates that the accessible path of travel does not exceed the grade permitted by the ADA and state statute and regulation. You may place spot elevations more frequently, but state regulation requires a spot elevation for every 100 feet of walk.

Site entry points

Place spot elevations where the accessible path of travel enters the site from a public right-of-way (i.e. sidewalk or road). This establishes the starting elevation on the accessible path of travel and overall grades for walks and sidewalks can be calculated from this elevation.

Ramp landings

Ramps are an important and frequently used tool to address changes in elevation and create safe accessible paths of travel on sites. Show spot elevations at the top and bottom of short ramps. Longer ramps require an intermediate elevation. By showing these elevations, the plan checker can determine that the ramp design complies with ADA and state standards.

Curb ramps

Curb ramps are a way that landscape architects safely move people on the accessible path of travel up from parking lots or other paved drives to sidewalks and across curbs. Show spot elevations at the top and bottom of all curb ramps to demonstrate that the grade meets accessibility guidelines.

Elevator landings

Show spot elevation at elevator landings (if you have on on your site) to demonstrate that the slope of the landing pad does not exceed 2% and that the paving design complies with accessibility standards.

Accessible parking and passenger drop-off zones

Parking design and accessible design where passengers are dropped of at a site are important areas where the judicious use of spot elevations can clarify the designer’s intent and demonstrate that the project’s site design creates an accessible path of travel. Show spot elevations at accessible parking spots to demonstrate that the gradient from the parking area or passenger drop-off area meets accessible grading standards and that there are no boundaries (like curbs without accessible ramps) that impede an accessible path of travel to the facilities and structures on site.

Drinking fountains

Drinking fountains are another site amenity that is regulated by federal, state, and local authorities. Label the type of drinking fountain and the elevation at the base of the fountain. Use spot elevations to demonstrate that the paving around the fountain meets accessible access standards.

Exterior side of counters

Use spot elevations to show that counter heights meet state standards and are accessible for people in wheelchairs.

Grading and Accessibility

Grading a site is critical to ensuring that all of the site’s users can safely move around the site and travel from parking areas to building entrances without encountering barriers that impede their mobility. Proper site design enhances the usability of a project, creates an environment where protected classes of disabled people are not discriminated against, and complies with federal, state, and local regulations and laws. Spot elevations are just one tool landscape architects use to communicate with contractors and plan checkers and communicate the grading intent of a project.

The content of this post was inspired by Checklist 2 in the DSA Access Compliance Official Comments. You can download a free copy of the checklist from the state of California here.


John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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