Question: Is there a requirement for the location of a glass lite in a door or sidelite?
Answer: Yes! For many years there has been a requirement in ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, which is referenced by the International Building Code and other publications. If a door has a vision lite or a sidelite, at least one lite has to be installed with the bottom of the lite no more than 43″ above the floor. This does not mean that every door is required to have a vision lite or sidelite, but if there is a lite, it must be located where someone using a wheelchair can see through it.
There is an exception in A117.1 for doors that have a lite with the bottom edge more than 66″ above the floor. An example of this would be the 6-panel residential entrance doors with lites in the top two panel locations. Because these lites are too high to look through and are there for aesthetics or light transmission, doors with this configuration are not required to comply with the 43″ height requirement.
The 2010 edition of the 2010 ADA-ABA Accessibility Guidelines (effective 3/15/12) includes the same requirement as A117.1. This requirement was not in the previous edition of the ADAAG.
Here is the text from the 2009 edition of A117.1:
2009 A117.1: 404.2.10 Vision Lites. Doors and sidelites adjacent to doors containing one or more glazing panels that permit viewing through the panels shall have the bottom of at least one panel on either the door or an adjacent sidelite 43 inches (1090 mm) maximum above the floor.
EXCEPTION: Vision lites with the lowest part more than 66 inches (1675 mm) above the floor shall not be required to comply with Section 404.2.10.
And from the 2010 ADA-ABA standard:
404.2.11 Vision Lights. Doors, gates, and side lights adjacent to doors or gates, containing one or more glazing panels that permit viewing through the panels shall have the bottom of at least one glazed panel located 43 inches (1090 mm) maximum above the finish floor.
EXCEPTION: Vision lights with the lowest part more than 66 inches (1675 mm) from the finish floor or ground shall not be required to comply with 404.2.11.
The door on the left below would not comply with the lite height requirement (it may not have been mandated depending on when the door was installed and what code was used). The photo on the right shows how a compliant door might look. As you can see, you need to watch out for lite/lock conflicts when the 43″ height is used.