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Overcoming ADA Design Hiccups


During our 30 years in business, we've had several projects where space planning, ADA accessible furniture and equipment integration did not always play nicely. As ADA-friendly spaces increase, the ubiquitous, all-in-one solution to presentation furniture becomes all but obsolete.

An articulating lectern inside a small space sometimes just doesn't work. The ways in which it articulates could change based on available space, budget or specific user disability. With so many aspects to keep in mind, the ability to personalize is invaluable to ensuring each variable is met and every space is accommodated accordingly.

As a rule of thumb, there are three essential guidelines to ADA furniture: adequate knee space, equal access to controls and a work surface at proper wheelchair height. Although a desk or table is the most obvious answer, it does not always work for every application. Not every space has room for a desk, especially one that includes racked equipment. Tables are simple and can be added to most spaces but they don't always afford much storage space. A more common and compact solution is to specify a lectern or workstation. They are capable of holding a decent amount of rack units, have the ability to be machined for various cut outs and can be customized to match different architecture in each room. For us, to satisfy the important aspects of ADA in a smaller unit, we include a hydraulic lift to take the lectern from sitting to standing height as well as a pullout surface to create a knee space and pull all components toward the seated presenter. This seemingly simple solution is not a fail-safe for everyone, however.

So, what do you do when you've got little to no room behind the lectern? What if your presenter has a disability that prevents them from accessing the moving parts? One set-up may work for a large percentage of our customers but not every space, application or need is the same. The above mentioned issues present new challenges that showcase why custom furniture is important to consider.

To address a situation without adequate furniture space, it's important to first note what will and will not fit inside a lectern at its maximum size. After that, the ADA accommodations may need to be re-designed to allow proper articulation. For example, if the space between a wall and the lectern will not allow a pullout surface to function properly, an alternate consideration would be to have the surface pull out to the side instead.


Original lectern with pullout surface on the front


Revised lectern with side pullout surface

Not only does this alternate design still satisfy the key components of ADA, it offers users a more inclusive solution than simply adding a side shelf.

Although there exists a general precedence for each ADA set-up, it's important to remember that not every user is the same. To ensure equal access, aspects of the general ADA set-up may need to be re-evaluated to ensure every presenter has a fully-accessible unit. For example, including a knee space on a lectern or work station via the pullout surface option simply won't work if accessing the pullout mechanism isn't possible due to a physical disability. Typically, to unlock and allow movement of our pullout work surface option, users would need to pull on a t-handle that is located below the surface.

Pullout work surface with t-handle

However, the ability to grasp and pull may be hindered by a variety of physical disabilities. An alternate option that does not require as much movement on the part of the presenter would be a rocker switch connected to a piston that would activate work surface movement electronically.

Rocker switch to activate work surface movement

Putting slight pressure on the left or right side of the switch will engage the mechanism. This option is also located right on the front of the podium next to the seated presenter for ease of use. Although a bit more costly, specifying an electronic work surface in place of a manual one solves a variety of issues and provides users with a personalized unit for their direct needs.

The amount of available options and design specifics can vary from project to project but one thing is for sure: specifying custom furniture is one sure fire way to ensure that every customer has a unit that is entirely built around their specific needs. Accompanying height restrictions, matching aesthetics and accommodating integrated equipment are all important parts of what we do at Marshall Furniture. However, our ability to provide an accessible piece of ADA furniture is what sets us apart. We've got years of experience and knowledge behind this subject and we pride ourselves on being able to design around or come up with alternate solutions to any number of design or space issues. We want to ensure that every project and its unique qualities have a voice in the ultimate furniture design.

If you have any questions for us or need an ADA unit for your space, please send us an email at or call us at 847-395-9350 to speak with one of our knowledgeable designers.

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