Costa Rica Law 7600, Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, became effective on May 29, 1996, and like some laws and regulations in Costa Rica that affect businesses, the enforcement of the laws can be lax if government officials are persuaded to look the other way.
For new construction, Law 7600 regulations are to be applied during the design and permitting processes at the College of Architects and Engineers (CFIA), the Ministry of Health and the local Municipality where the property is located.
Older facilities that were constructed before Law 7600 was in force, are supposed to be upgraded, but many times they are not a priority for government officials unless a customer or employee were injured, or an official complaint was made at the Ministry of Health.
Minor construction upgrades to facilities, such as; roof repairs, painting, asbestos removal, or changes to electrical and mechanical systems are not required to adhere to Law 7600, unless they affect a buildings primary function areas.
Primary function areas are defined as all areas where employees and customers carry out one or more of the major activities for which a facility was designed.
The following are considered primary function areas;
- Offices where employees work
- Dining rooms in a restaurants
- Guest rooms in a hotel or bed & breakfast
- Meeting rooms in a conference center
- Cashier counter in a gift shop
- Examination rooms in a doctor’s office
- Classrooms in schools
- All areas where the public is served
If a hospitality facility is aligned with the Costa Rica Tourism Institute (ICT), there are additional regulations. Such as pathways at touristic sites, as well as the number of handicap accessible hotel rooms in hospitality facilities. If a hotel has 1 to 25 sleeping rooms, one handicapped accessible room is required. If there are 26 to 50 sleeping rooms, two handicapped accessible rooms are required. If there are 51 to 75 sleeping rooms, three handicapped accessible rooms are required. If there are 76 to 100 sleeping rooms, four handicapped accessible rooms are required. And so on, up to hotels with 1000 or more sleeping rooms, where 2% of the total number of rooms must be handicapped accessible.
Furthermore, a commission formed by the Ministry of Justice and Peace and the National Council of People with Disabilities (CONAPDIS), provides advice and monitoring in relation to the application and compliance with the provisions of Law 7600, and this commission submits a detailed report every year concerning the application of this law to the Committee on Disability and Elderly Affairs of the National Legislative Assembly.
Supervision of Installations – All businesses that offer products or services to the public, must renew their business licenses once per year with the Ministry of Health. Part of the annual license renewal process is supposed to include an on-site inspection by the Ministry of Health officials, to make sure that all construction installations comply with Law 7600. However, some health officials do not inspect businesses, if they are persuaded to look the other way. This is how some older facilities are able to continue to do business without compliance to the law.
International Access Signage – signs with the international access symbol must be installed to indicate access to the services used by people with disabilities. All indoor signs are to be 15 x 15 centimeters and 20 x 20 centimeters for outdoor use.
Housing Locations – for persons with disabilities should be located on flat terrain with minimal slope, and on the ground floor, accessible from the street or entrance without requiring steps or ramps. A location close to public services and transportation is recommended.
Housing Design – interior and exterior spaces must consider the needs of persons with disabilities that will inhabit the spaces and specific accommodations for accessibility must be installed.
Access to Public Sites – flat platforms must be installed at the entrances of buildings to allow for maneuvering of wheelchairs, and they must have a protective cover or roof. At least one entrance must have a flat floor surface and any differences of floor height should have an elevator or ramp to compensate for the height difference.
Elevators – should stop on all floors, including mezzanines and basements and they must have a minimum door width of 90 centimeters and a gap between the elevator cab and the floor of the building of no more than 2 centimeters. The minimum interior dimensions should be 1.10 meters wide by 1.40 meters deep and they must have Braille and auditory signage. Exterior and interior service buttons should be 1.20 meters high and the closing speed of the doors must allow for entry and exit without risk to the users.
The Ministry of Health will inspect elevators for building code compliance, first on the construction plans and then on-site for commercial buildings. In residential buildings, there is no Ministry of Health on-site inspection and the architect or engineer who obtained the building permit is responsible for the proper installation according to the building code.
Counters and Customer Service Windows – counters for writing or eating should have a height of 80 centimeters, and customer service windows should have a height of 90 centimeters above the finished floor. They should also have a minimum space of 30 centimeters above the floor to allow the footrest of wheelchairs to fit underneath.
Doors – minimum width of all doors and openings will be 90 centimeters. All doors should have a free space to open of at least 90 centimeters, adjacent to the door on the opposite side of the hinges. The doors of bathrooms and closets should open outwards. Door knobs and handles to open doors should be installed at a height of 90 centimeters so that disabled persons in wheelchairs can easily open them. Exterior doors must have light indicators, and contrasting colors on doors, frames, and accessories for people with disabilities. Large and heavy doors should have an electronic opening device.
Thresholds – differences in the height of floor surfaces from hallways into rooms with thresholds of 2 centimeters or higher should have smooth ramps with non-slip surfaces.
Lighting – bright lights of least 60 watts should be installed to sufficiently illuminate corridors and stairs.
Windows – should be located at an appropriate height to take advantage of the available light, and should be at a maximum height of 83 centimeters. Controls to open them should be accessible and easy to operate for disabled persons sitting in wheelchairs.
Overhanging Eaves and Covered Walkways – for the protection of pedestrians these structures should be at a minimum height of 2.20 meters.
Devices and Accessories – electrical switches should be at a maximum height of 90 centimeters, and they must be accessible to users in wheelchairs, with appropriate Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), to prevent accidents. Security system touchpads, HVAC controls, and door bells should have an installation height between 90 and 120 centimeters. Towel bars, paper holders, cabinet handles and grab bars should be installed at a maximum height of 90 centimeters.
Bathrooms – the distribution of bathrooms should provide a maneuver-free space of at least 1.50 meters. Opening doors or sliding doors should be used in all bathrooms. The floors of the bathrooms should be made of non-slip material.
Halls, Sidewalks and Pathways – must be a minimum width of 1.20 meters, with a non-slip finish, without steps, and in case of slopes, there should be a ramp. All ramps must have a height (grade) of between 15 and 25 centimeters, measured from the parking areas to the entrance to the facility. In case the height of the terrain is greater than desired, there must be a maximum grade of 3%. All access facilities must have handrails, as well as visual, auditory and tactile signs in order to ensure that they are used without risk by persons with disabilities.
Showers – the minimum size of a wheelchair shower is 1.20 x 1.20 meters, including a minimum access opening of 1.00 meter. The floors of the showers should be made of non-slip material.
Sinks and Counters – must be installed at a maximum height of 80 centimeters, and lever type faucet controls are recommended. The water supply tubes and the grey water drains must be insulated and with enough clearance to allow wheelchairs o enter underneath.
Bedrooms – the main bedrooms and hotel sleeping rooms must have at least one maneuver-free space with a minimum diameter of 1.50 meters. Ideally, this area should be located in front of the bedroom closet. A free space with a minimum width of 90 centimeters must be provided on at least one side of the bed. A passage of 1.20 meters wide should be provided between the foot of the bed and the opposite wall.
Laundry Facilities and Sinks – must allow the user to work in a sitting position, at a comfortable reach and provide a minimum space of 68 centimeters for knees and legs below the installations. The sink must have a maximum height of 85 centimeters, the controls must be located at a distance of no more than 60 centimeters from the edge of the counter and be lever type. The sink must have a depth of no more than 12.5 centimeters. and provide a smooth counter area as support for arms of 7.5 centimeters. All water heaters must be covered by a thermal insulator.
Kitchens – must have a minimum clearance of 1.50 x 1.50 meters for mobilization towards all its components. The kitchen shelves will be placed at the height between 30 and 40 centimeters from the floor for wheel chair mobility.
Ramps for Halls, Sidewalks and Pathways – all corners of halls, sidewalks and pathways should have a ramp with a maximum grade of 10% to bridge the gap between the surface of the hall, or sidewalk and the parking area or public street. All ramps should be a minimum of 1.20 meters wide and must be free of water drainage, and have a non-slip surface. If the differences in grade are greater or less that the distance between surfaces, the distance between the entrance to the facility and the parking area or public street is less than 3 meters the grade should be 10 to 12%. If the distance is between 3 and 10 meters, the grade should be 8 to 10%, and if the distance is greater than 10 meters, the grade should be 6 to 8%.
Handrails – handrails must be at a height of 90 centimeters, and inn no case shall the handrails be obstructed by objects, such as plants, ornaments, accessories or other objects.
Stairs – stair treads must be 30 centimeters deep and the risers must be 14 centimeters high. The floors of the stairs should have non-slip surfaces, as well as all landings and corridors leading to and from stairs.
Security Railings on Balconies and Terraces – second floor or higher balconies and terraces that overhang the floor below by a minimum of 40 centimeters, must be protected by safety railings. The upper handrail bar of the railing should not be more than 90 centimeters from the floor level, and the middle bar at 60 centimeters, and a lower bar less than 10 centimeters from the floor.
Fire Alarms – should have permanently installed audible and visible alarms with a sound level of no more than 110 dB at the minimum hearing distance from the audible appliance. In addition, alarms in hotel sleeping rooms are required to provide communication features.
Basements – the difference between the lower and main levels in buildings must be accessed by an appropriate elevator or via a pedestrian ramp with the proper grade and a non-slip surface.
Parking – public and private facilities which have parking, must offer 5% of the total spaces expressly destined to park vehicles driven by persons with disabilities or those transporting them. But in no case may less than two spaces be reserved for that purpose. These spaces must be located near the main entrance of the buildings. Handicapped parking spaces should be 3.30 meters wide by at least 5.00 meters long, with non-slip ramps that allow access to the sidewalk that leads to the main entrance of the building.
Pools and Spas – should have a wheelchair transfer area for entering, with a ramp that is not steeper than 1:48. The height of any steps should be 20 centimeters and the surface of the bottom tread shall extend to a water depth of 45 centimeters below the pool/spa water level. At least one grab bar or a continuous handrail serving the ramps, steps and the transfer area should be installed at a maximum height of 90 centimeters.
If you have read the information above, you can understand that there are many construction installations that must be installed to comply with Law 7600, and this work can be costly.
It is wise to hire an experienced construction inspector, who is familiar with all the Costa Rican laws and handicap accessibility regulations before purchasing housing, commercial buildings, or hospitality facilities here.
The writer, Tom Rosenberger has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1992 and from his travels throughout the country inspecting housing, hotel’s and bed & breakfasts, he has acquired a wealth of knowledge about construction in Costa Rica. If you would like to schedule a construction inspection, or need additional information, click here.