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October 2003

The Accessible Gift Shop Advantage

Shopping at your gift shop extends the museum experience for visitors. They can find a variety of items for all ages and interests, including a toy, a game, a poster, a video, and lots more. The more accessible your gift shop, the more likely shoppers with disabilities will spend their money, tell their friends, and come again.

What helps make a gift shop accessible for people with disabilities? Photographs of two shoppers taken in the same museum gift shop help explain key architectural elements. The first shopper uses a wheelchair; the second uses a cane.

Shopper in wheelchair between two display racks.The first photograph shows Beth Ziebarth maneuvering her wheelchair between two free-standing racks. The rack on her left holds books; the rack on her right is filled with CDs. Beth must pass between these racks to get to items displayed along the far wall, but the space between the two racks is just 27 inches wide. The minimum aisle width required by the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) is 36 inches with 48 inches recommended.

Aisle widths are one thing to check out, reach ranges are another. Can shoppers reach items displayed on your racks, shelves, and counters? Try various arrangements to insure that Beth and other wheelchair users can browse on their own. The ADAAG gives a range of acceptable reach heights. For example, Beth can reach even the books on the lowest shelf of the book rack shown in this photograph. While staff should be available to assist, when merchandise is placed between 15 inches and 48 inches above the floor, most wheelchair users can reach items on their own.

Shopper with cane between two display racksReturn now to the gift shop pictured in the first photograph. This time the shopper is Aziza Baccouche; she uses a cane to detect obstacles in her path. The side of the rack displaying the CDs has two bars. The lower bar is less than 27 inches above the floor. Aziza's sweeping motion with her cane will detect this bar, and she will avoid a collision.

Aziza shops alone and with friends. When with friends, she can ask them any questions she may have, but she relies on assistance from gift shop staff if she is on her own. She says she appreciates a general overview of what's for sale and then being able to ask for more details.

The information in the chart that follows is taken from the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.

  • Print out the chart and with clip board and measuring tape check out your gift shop.
  • Make a sketch of the layout so you can pinpoint where improvements or changes may need to be made.
  • As for solutions, involve accessibility advisors and other staff or volunteers in problem-solving.
  • Take "before" and "after" photos to show at a staff meeting and to give to your marketing department for newsletters and the annual report.

Areas to survey

Minimum requirements


Threshold edge inch high or less.
Beveled edge no more than inches high.


32 inches clear opening.
18 inches of clear floor space next to pull side of the door.
Door hardware no higher than 48 inches.
Door hardware operable without grasping or twisting.
Maximum of 5 lbf needed to open door.
If has closer, must take at least 3 seconds to close.

Protruding objects

If 4 inches or more from the wall, must be at or below 27 inches above the floor.
Must be 80 inches or above the floor to allow for clear headroom.

Tripping hazards

Make routine checks to clear floor of objects.

Aisles and pathways

36 inches wide (48 inches recommended).

Turn around spaces

5-foot circle or a T-shaped space for wheelchair users to turn around and/or reverse direction.

Floor surface

Even, stable, firm, and slip resistant.


Low-pile (1/2 inches high or less), tightly woven, and securely attached along edges.

Display cases

Recommended placement of items is between 48 and 15 inches above the floor (Tip: Display items vertically rather than horizontally).

Counters and cash register

At least one section of your counter should be no more than 36 inches high and at least 36 inches long.


If provided, must have both flashing lights and audible signal.

Shopper looking at items in glass display case.Glass display cases. The height of display cases means the difference whether a wheelchair user sees all or very little of the merchandise inside. As in this photo, often what makes the difference is not so much the height of the counter as the rim across the top edge. That, plus glare, can make what's on display difficult to see. And, of course, small price tags only add to the mystery.

Signage. Often gift shops are divided into different sections with signs directing customers to books, posters, and new arrivals. Large, high-contrast, low-glare signage works best for most people. Avoid fancy fonts and text over images and remember as a rule of thumb, the higher the placement of the sign, the larger the text should be.

Checkout counter. This illustration from Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook shows how portions of the checkout counter are no more than 36 inches high. But no matter the counter height, stockpiling it with items and displays makes for less room to transact business. Additionally, keep a clip board handy. It may make signing checks and credit card slips easier for shoppers. But be sure to ask first: Would you like to use a clipboard? Unlike what is shown here, the preferred cash register is one where the amount is clearly visible to customers.

Checkout counter with portion lowered.

Staff. In many museums, staff wear colorful T-shirts or vests as well as nametags so customers can easily recognize them should they have a question or want assistance. When a customer asks where an item is located, you may or may not know how much he or she can see or hear. It follows that pointing in the direction of the item is not helpful to most people. It is best then to respond to all queries with verbal directions that include highly visible landmarks. And as you know, look at each customer as you speak and talk in your usual voice.

Gifts shops are not only integral to the economy of the science center or museum, they build visitor satisfaction. Accessible gift shops are good for business.

Read Others' Experiences for more ideas and please Share Your Own.

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National Science Foundation LogoAccessible Practices EXCHANGE is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. ESI-9814917 and HRD 9906095. Opinions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and presenters and not necessarily those of the National Science Foundation.
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ASTC is not responsible for the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The information presented here is intended solely as informal guidance, and is neither a determination of your legal rights or responsibilities under the ADA, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. You should refer specific questions to an attorney, and/or national, state, and local ADA authorities.
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