The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an American Law which was enacted in 1990. The legislation actually deals with the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. The law has imposed several guidelines and requirements on a number of different areas including:
- Government Programs
- Public Accommodation
Architects, designers and contractors are required to abide by all sections of the ADA — the most pertinent requirements being those in the public accommodation sector.
One of the most commonly searched questions regarding this law surrounds the ADA door requirements. This article will cover all of those requirements in detail, including:
- Different Door Types (Entrance, Interior, Gates, etc.)
- Maneuvering Clearance Requirements
- ADA Door Handle Requirements (Height of Hardware, etc.)
- Door Opening and Closing Requirements
NOTE: All of the requirements discussed can be found in the lengthy section 404 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Different Door Types Covered Under the ADA
Size requirements laid out in the Americans with Disabilities legislation are beneficially clear and apply to nearly every door and opening in any accommodation. That said, the hardware and direction (handles, latches and which way the door opens) can get a bit confusing.
In general, the requirements are a minimum of 32” in width and a maximum of 48” and the door must open to 90 degrees.
Section 404 of the ADA states:
“Door openings shall provide a clear width of 32 inches (815 mm) minimum. Clear openings of doorways with swinging doors shall be measured between the face of the door and the stop, with the door open 90 degrees.”
The Clear Width
The width requirements are known as the “clear width” clear width is essentially how wide a clearing/opening is required, measured from between the face of the door and the stop.
Here is a helpful image from the ADA itself:
It is helpful to think about all types of doors and entrances when designing or during construction. Here is a brief list.
- Manual Exterior Doors
- Manual Interior Doors
- Manual Specialty Doors (showers, tubs, closets, etc.)
- Manual Gates
- Manual Double Doors
- Openings without Doors
NOTE: The ADA does mention turnstiles and revolving doors. These are not under ADA guidelines, but must not be the only way to pass through in any accommodation.
Clear Width and ADA Maneuvering Clearances
Once you understand the ADA door width requirements, it’s time to discuss the maneuvering clearances. When considering the challenges of certain equipment used by individuals with disabilities — it’s easy to understand the need for universal clearances.
While this section of the ADA has quite a bit more information, it is still clearly laid out. Here are the maneuvering clearance requirements from the legislation:
Here are a few examples to help understand the language used in the above diagram:
Example One: If you approach a gate from the front and push the gate to open it, there needs to be a minimum of 48 inches of clearance on the side an individual would be opening the door. (The clearance would be where a person is standing or sitting — about to open the door.
Example Two: If you approach a door from the latch side and will need to pull the door open, the minimum clearance on the opening side, perpendicular to the doorway, is 48 inches to allow for the door to open, leaving room for a disabled individual to move. On the parallel side, beyond the latch, is 24 inches (should the door need to swing open wide).
ADA Door Handle Requirements
Clearance and maneuvering width is vital to the structural layout of a building, but the ADA doesn’t stop there. In addition to the components we’ve covered, there are also extensive ADA door handle requirements laid out in the legislation.
These rules are in section 404.2.7 of the ADA itself. Handle and other hardware also falls under the “operable parts” (section 309.4).
Section 309.4 says, “Operable parts shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.”
The maximum force required is 5 pounds, but less than this would be ideal for those who either can’t grip well or are in a position prohibiting good leverage to open a door. In fact, there is a special section of the ADA for extra guidelines. These aren’t part of the law, but fall under and “advisory”.
Here it is from the ADA, “Door hardware that can be operated with a closed fist or a loose grip accommodates the greatest range of users. Hardware that requires simultaneous hand and finger movements require greater dexterity and coordination, and is not recommended.”
This advice should ring true to most, especially for those designing structures and accommodations for the disabled and elderly. Structures who may want to heed to this advisory most would be:
- Hospitals and medical facilities
- Assisted living facilities
- Nursing homes
- Retirement communities
Note: The Ultralatch is designed to require less force than traditionally ADA approved handles. Here’s a quick look at how it works in the video below:
ADA Door Handle Height Requirement
The height of the door handle must be between a minimum of 34” and a maximum of 48”. A few exceptions are included in the bill. Things like:
- Pre-existing locks (most likely not applicable to new builds)
- Gates protecting pools, spas and hot tubs are allowed to be a bit higher (up to 54”)
Door Opening and Closing Requirements
Door and Gate Opening Force
In addition to section 309.4, another section speaks of the amount of force when opening doors and gates. Section 404.2.9 covers two types of doors. The ADA says,
“1. Interior hinged doors and gates: 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.
- Sliding or folding doors: 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.”
There is also another advisory in this section of the bill:
“The maximum force pertains to the continuous application of force necessary to fully open a door, not the initial force needed to overcome the inertia of the door. It does not apply to the force required to retract bolts or to disengage other devices used to keep the door in a closed position.”
Door Closing Speed
Again, the door-closing speed is separated into two categories:
- Door and Gate Closers in General
- Spring Hinges
All of the closers are required to go from 90 degrees opened to 12 degrees open in no less than 5 seconds. Spring hinges are required to go from 70 degrees to completed closed in no less than 1.5 seconds.
Creating a structure that abides by the law is important. However, the law serves a more important purpose — to allow those with disabilities to successfully perform common functions. Providing those who have disabilities with doors, handles, and other hardware which will help them enter and pass through buildings is the right thing to do.
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This article is for educational and information purposes only. Due to variables such as door weight, size, and hardware used it is important that you seek professional architectural or engineering advice for every building project you are performing. This article doesn’t substitute for professional guidance when planning or implementing an ADA-compliant project.