Outdoor Cafes and Americans with Disabilities Act Requirements

January 18, 2023

Outdoor Café permit holders are responsible for complying with requirements for public accommodations and services as described in Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12181-89, and all other federal and state accessibility design standards. This information is intended to supplement and illustrate these regulations as they apply to outdoor café permits to support you in meeting these requirements. This information does not replace any requirements identified in the ADA and is for guidance purposes only to help café permit holders in meeting their independent obligations for the café space under the ADA. 

Businesses that serve the public are obligated to offer accommodations that provide equal accessibility to individuals with disabilities, so that they can enjoy the goods and services offered to everyone. Our Public Space Management team reviews outdoor café permit applications to determine that the sidewalk and public space around the café is accessible and usable for all members of the public, including those living with disabilities, in accordance with Title II of the ADA. The café permittee has independent obligations to ensure accessibility within the café is provided under Title III of the ADA. Compliance with Title III of the ADA is a “Condition of Use” listed on all Street Use Outdoor Café permits. This means that if you are not compliant with the ADA, you are not compliant with the Conditions of Use on your permit, and therefore your permit is at risk of being revoked and the café removed from the public right-of-way. Additional information on Title III and places of public accommodation can be found in the resources listed at the end of this document.  

Accessible Route 

Pedestrian Access Route and Accessible Route 

When planning and setting up outdoor seating and other furniture in the public right-of-way, consideration needs to be given to people traveling through as well as within the space. The pedestrian access route (“PAR”) is the public sidewalk space at least 4-feet wide (5-feet+ is preferred), sloped no greater than 5% (or matching the street slope), and clear of any obstructions or protruding objects, including chairs when in use (not measured when tucked beneath tables).   

Also, consider how people will navigate to the accessible seating area. Accessible routes are ADA-compliant pathways leading people from the accessible entrance to other accessible elements such as seating or restroom facilities. You will need to provide an accessible route from the café entrance to the accessible table. The route from the café entrance to the accessible café seating should be 36 inches in width (wider is preferable where possible) without any obstructions of protruding objects such as chairs in use, and should be a stable, firm, and slip-resistant surface.  

Curb space cafes that are not level with the adjacent sidewalk will need to provide a ramp or meet accessible seating requirements in an alternative outdoor location. Ramps require significant space to meet the slope and landing requirements, so they may not fit in many curbspace café locations. You should consider your site and determine if a ramp is a feasible option based on available space, curb height, and other factors. 

If using a ramp, the route from the sidewalk clear zone to the ramp must be unobstructed. If required, an access ramp must meet the following criteria:  

  • Minimum 4-feet wide ramp made of a firm, stable, and slip-resistant material; 
  • Edge protection is required on each side of the ramp along the direction of travel. This may be a continuous curb/barrier or side flares that do not exceed 10% (1:10) slope;
  • 8.3% (1:12) maximum slope (measured along the direction of travel); and
  • Clear, unobstructed, and level landing at top and bottom of ramp (4-foot by 4-foot minimum). 

Tables must be placed so that there is adequate clearance for circulation around them. This includes having a total clear floor space of 30 inches by 48 inches. You should also make sure there are no obstructions within 4 feet of the table.  

Our Outdoor Café program requires that the outdoor café permit holder will ensure the sidewalk remains open and available for all people walking and rolling past the café. The café may not encroach on the “pedestrian clear zone,” the sidewalk space required for people to walk past the café. As part of our review, we will also make sure that fencing and diverters are cane detectable for those who are visually impaired.  

Cane detectable fencing has either a toe rail or a firm and continuous barrier at 27 inches or less above the ground. This assists people navigating sidewalks with a cane to detect the fence. More details on the specifics of fencing can be found in our SDOT Director’s Rule Section 6.4

It’s important to make sure that any protruding objects, such as planters, etc., are cane detectable. If an object is over 27 inches above the sidewalk grade, it cannot stick out from the fence more than 4 inches. If the object is under 27 inches from the sidewalk, then it may protrude out further as people navigating with a cane will be able to detect it. See Figure 1 for a depiction of these standards. 

This figure shows two example fences. The example on the left has protruding objects affixed to the fence that are above 27 inches from the ground surface and extend the maximum of 4 inches off the fence. The example on the right has protruding objects affixed to the fence that are under 27 inches from the ground surface, and therefore may be greater than 4 inches. This is illustrating the text in the paragraph above.

Figure 1. Café railing with protruding object, clearance requirements. 

If you use planters in lieu of fencing, you will need to make sure they are placed so there is no more than 24 inches in between the planters. They will also need to be designed so they do not protrude more than 4 inches from the base. See Figure 2 for a depiction of these standards. 

This figure shows planters and illustrated siting standards, including 24-inch maximum spacing in between planters, 30-inch minimum height, and maximum 4-inch protrusion from base to top of planter.

Figure 2. Planters used in place of cafe fencing. 

Accessible Seating 

Permit holders must provide equal access for customers with disabilities to be able to dine at your establishment. If you have multiple outdoor seating areas, you may be able to meet this requirement in another part of your restaurant if it is equivalent, that is both areas should have similar features and amenities. At least 5% of your total outdoor seating must be accessible for wheelchair users; a minimum of one wheelchair accessible table is required.   

Accessible Furniture 

Accessible furniture must have adequate clearances to be usable. Here are some tips for selecting tables, also illustrated in Figure 3 below:

  • Be between 28-34 inches high to the table surface;
  • Have at least 27 inches of space from the floor to the bottom of the table;
  • Provide knee clearance that extends at least 19 inches under the table; and
  • Have a label displaying it is ADA accessible.  

This figure shows a wheelchair positioned at a table and depicts the clearances listed in the bulleted list of the text above.

Figure 3. Wheelchair accessible table clearances. 

Additional Resources: 


Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.