We often receive questions about whether a particular product is “ADA-compliant.”  Most buildings are required to comply with one or more sets of accessibility standards, because of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and because of codes or standards adopted by a state or jurisdiction.*  There is currently no “certification” to ensure that a product meets these standards, but the following criteria are included in the accessibility standards to help determine whether operable hardware is compliant.

Operation: Operable parts of door and gate hardware must not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate.  In most cases, lever handles meet this requirement.  Thumbturns may also be acceptable – many code officials use the side of their palm or the tip of a pencil to test the operation of the thumbturn.  Keypads that accept access-control codes are not specifically addressed by the standards, but they are typically acceptable because they do not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate.

Mounting Height: Operable hardware must be mounted 34 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum above the floor or ground, or as required by more stringent state or local codes.  The codes and standards include some exceptions for the mounting height of existing locks, and for locking/latching hardware on swimming pool access doors.  Hardware that is operated only by security personnel such as prison guards or bailiffs is also exempt from some requirements.

Operable Force: The force to retract the latch for door hardware is limited by the ADA standards to 5 pounds, maximum.  The International Building Code (IBC) references an accessibility standard called ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.  ICC A117.1 limits the operable force for door hardware to 15 pounds in a forward, pushing/pulling motion (ex. panic hardware), or 28 inch-pounds of rotational motion.

Keys and Electronic Credentials:  The accessibility standards address “operable parts” of door hardware such as thumbturns, keypads, turn-buttons, and of course, knobs and levers, but keys and electronic credentials used to operate locks are not covered by the standards.  Keys and credentials which require physical dexterity are not prohibited, however, accommodations may need to be made for employees who are unable to operate hardware using these methods.

Sliding Doors: Hardware for sliding doors must be exposed and usable from both sides when the door is in the fully-open position.  Typically, this means that door pulls must be surface-mounted on the face of the door, and there should be at least 1 1/2 inches of clearance behind the pull and on each side between the pull and the jamb in the open and closed positions.

State Modifications:  Some states have adopted more stringent code requirements.  For example, the California Building Code requires lever handles to return back to within 1/2-inch of the face of the door, and requires operable hardware to be mounted between 34 inches and 44 inches above the floor.  The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is responsible for determining compliance with the applicable codes and standards.

Egress and Fire Protection:  Although not specifically noted in the accessibility standards, most doors are required to unlatch with one releasing operation.  The model codes allow entrance doors to most residential dwelling units and sleeping units to have an additional nightlatch, deadbolt, or security chain which requires a second releasing operation.  Hardware installed as part of a fire door assembly must be listed for that purpose.

Other door-related requirements:

Opening Force:  To manually open a non-fire-rated swinging door, the opening force for pushing or pulling the door is limited to 5 pounds. This is consistent across the model codes and accessibility standards, although the IBC applies the 5-pound maximum force regardless of whether the door has a door closer, and NFPA 101 applies it only to doors without closers.  For “other” manually-operated swinging doors – including exterior doors and fire doors, the 2021 editions of the IBC and NFPA 101 allow a maximum of 30 pounds to set the door in motion, and 15 pounds to move the door to the fully-open position.

Closing Speed: To facilitate the safe movement of people through swinging door openings, the accessibility standards mandate a minimum closing speed for doors.  A door equipped with a door closer must move from the 90-degree open position to 12 degrees in no less than 5 seconds.  A door with spring hinges must take at least 1.5 seconds to move from the 70-degree open position to the closed position.  Door closers are recommended where greater door control is needed.

Thresholds and Changes in Level: Changes in level at the floor surface can make it more difficult for a person using a wheelchair to maneuver through a door opening. To help mitigate these challenges, the ADA standards and ICC A117.1 contain similar requirements regarding thresholds and changes in level within an accessible route. While door openings are not required by the standards to have thresholds, if a threshold is provided, Chapter 4 limits the height to 1/2-inch, maximum. The threshold requirements apply to both manually-operated doors and automatic doors, in swinging, sliding, or folding configurations.

Clear Opening Size: For most doors, the minimum clear opening width is 32 inches (there are some exceptions).  For single doors, this is measured from the face of the door – open to 90 degrees –  to the stop on the strike side of the frame.  For pairs of doors, at least one door has to provide a minimum of 32 inches of clear opening width.  Again, this is measured with the door open to 90 degrees, and the measurement is taken from the face of the open door to the edge of the other door in the closed position or to the side of the mullion, if present.

Maneuvering Clearance: The area around a manually-operated door is required to be kept clear of obstructions, in order to allow a person using a wheelchair, walker, or crutches sufficient space to maneuver when opening the door. This area is called the maneuvering clearance, and the size of the required clear space can vary depending on whether it is on the push side or pull side of the door, and if the approach to the door is from the front, the latch side, or the hinge side.

10-Inch Flush Surface: With a few exceptions, manually-operated doors are required to have a flush, smooth surface on the push side of the door, measured 10 inches up from the floor.  The purpose is to avoid creating a projection that could catch a cane, crutch, walker, or wheelchair and inhibit passage through the door opening. The 10-inch measurement is taken from the floor or ground to the top of the horizontal bottom rail, extending the full width of the door.

Vision Light Location:  A vision light is not required in each door opening on an accessible route, but if vision lights are provided for viewing purposes in doors or sidelights, the bottom of at least one of these lights must be located no more than 43 inches above the floor. Additional vision lights may be provided at other installation heights, as long as at least one light is mounted at the required height. This ensures that the light permits viewing for all building occupants – including occupants using wheelchairs.

Automatic Operators: The accessibility standards do not currently require doors to have automatic operators, although doors are sometimes automated when they do not meet the requirements for manually-operated doors.  For example, if a door does not have the proper maneuvering clearance for access, adding an automatic operator may help to overcome the problem.  The 2021 edition of the International Building Code will require automatic operators for accessible public entrances in some buildings (read more about this change here).

To learn more, check out the video, Decoded: Accessibility Requirements for Door Openings

The United States Access Board has published the Guide to the ADA Standards, which is available at access-board.gov.  The complete ADA Standards for Accessible Design can be downloaded by visiting ADA.gov. ICC A117.1 is available for purchase from ICCSafe.org.

*In most jurisdictions, 1- and 2-family homes are not required to comply with the accessibility standards, however, multi-family residential buildings must comply with the adopted codes and standards and with the Fair Housing Act.


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