Article: Doors and Doorways
  

The purpose of doors

The traditional front door step is an obstacle for familites with young children and for wheelchair users

'Keep Out!' is the first message conveyed by a closed door. A door is necessarily a barrier, its primary purpose being to exclude people and animals, wind and rain, smells or smoke and fire.

As a general principle 'less is more': less doors mean more accessibility.


 

The needs of people

Doors are among the most frequent and varied obstacles encountered in a building by people with disabilities. The problems presented by doors include the following:
   • Most people can apply a force of up to 2-3 kilos (about 20 - 30 Newtons) but people who are frail may lack the strength to open a door. Doors designed to stay shut against the wind may require a force of more than 6 kilos (about 60 Newtons) to open and therefore be impassable to people who are frail
This front door to an infants' school, with a step up and a raised sill, was almost impossible to negotiate with a wheelchair

• People in wheelchairs need doors to have level access, a clear opening width of at least 750mm for internal doors (more for external doors), space to manoeuvre if they have to turn to enter the doorway and space at the leading edge to enable the door to be opened.

Patterns on walls and doors can be very confusing for people with impaired vision

• People who are blind or partially sighted, relying on touch or on contrasts of tone and colour, need to be able to find the door and the handle. For people who are blind or partially sighted, doors and door handles are among the most important features of a building because the feel of the door conveys much information about the quality of the building itself.

• People with impaired hearing need to be able to know when their own doorbell rings and to be able to communicate if arriving at a door with an entryphone

• People with arthritis or limited manual dexterity need to be able to turn doorhandles and to lock or unlock doors to WCs

The handrails to the steps and ramp of this cafe are clearly visible but may be cold to the touch. The vertical door handle can be used by people of all heights. • Everyone needs to be able to find the routes to entrance and exit doors and, in most cases, this requires appropriate signage.

 

Designing for accessibility

Since 1987, all new non-domestic buildings have been required, wherever practical, to have level thresholds to facilitate access for people with disabilities. Since 1999, the requirement for level access has applied equally to all new dwellings.

Creative designs which challenge conventional dogma can be successful provided that the door can be easily located, is easily distinguished from its surroundings by contrasts of tone and colour and is easy to open.

Doors have to move and therefore require careful construction and maintenance if they are to serve their function throughout the life of a building.

Modern technology can greatly complicate the considerations for the design of a successful door. With this in mind, let us examine the issues related to the doors themselves.

Vision panels, to see and be seen, can be designed with many shapes and sizes. The red rails prevent people from tripping on the magnetic door holders

• Doors which are heavy to push or pull may be made easier to open with semi-automatic openers, operated via a push pad, or fully automatic systems which open the doors as someone approaches. In both cases, it is important to ensure that people are not struck by the doors opening towards them and that the doors do not close so fast as to cause injury

• Pairs of double doors frequently have a total opening width of about 1200-1400mm, with each leaf giving an opening of only 600-700mm. The possible solutions to this problem include:

1. magnetic door holders which are very effective for making fire doors unobtrusive because they are held out of the way and released only when the fire alarm operates

'Hospital doors' with one leaf opening at least 750mm and an adjacent panel to be opened when required can provide greater accessibility than two doors of equal width.

2. 'hospital doors' in which one leaf has a clear opening width of at least 750mm and the other narrower leaf is opened only when the full width of the doorway is required

This semi-automatic door is operated via a push pad on the steel post in the foreground

3. semi-automatic or fully automatic swing doors

• At doors which are used frequently, vision panels allow people to see and to be seen. They can have a wide range of shapes and sizes but should extend from a height of not more than 500mm for wheelchair users

Glass doors and screens can be very elegant but need adequate manifestation of the glass

• Frameless glass doors can be almost invisible and a hazard for many people. The solution is to provide a visible manifestation of the glass. This need not be a continuous strip as is often recommended but could be an attractive stick-on or engraved feature.

 

Door furniture

If not properly designed and maintained, door furniture can cause many problems, including the following:

Automatic sliding doors can provide convenient and safe access in buildings. The white sign provides good manifestation of the glass when the building is closed

• Round door handles may be difficult to turn whereas lever handles, with a diameter of about 20-25mm, are generally easy to use. Metal door handles can be cold, and problematic for those with arthritis, whereas nylon covered handles are warmer to the touch

• WC locks with small rotating knobs or sliding bolts often require strong fingers whereas a latch with a lever handle is easier to operate

• Doors can be damaged if used by people in wheelchairs, who tend to push doors open with the footrest of the chair. A plastic or metal push plate can eliminate this problem

Stainless steel lift doors show up clearly among the bright colours at The Lowry, Salford Quays

 

 

• Lifts and lift doors can present difficulties for everyone if the buttons to operate the lift are difficult to read. Engraved numbers are not satisfactory, but embossed numbers and arrows can be made visible and easy to feel. Lift doors should have appropriate safety devices and, in multi-storey buildings, have visible and audible announcements of the floor levels.
Lift doors and controls should be designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Here, the reflections on the glass and stainless steel are very confusing

Revolving doors

Revolving doors are useful because they reduce draughts at entrance halls and reception areas. Conventional revolving doors are too small for wheelchairs and should always be adjacent to an alternative door.

The plan of a two-wing revolving door show how through access can be provided without draughts for people with wheelchairs

A two-wing revolving door with a diameter of 3.7 metres showing the through route for a wheelchair

In many large buildings, with high flows of pedestrian traffic, automatic sliding doors have been installed. The problem is that, even with a lobby, the doors can be open for much of the time causing draughts and heat loss in the entrance hall and reception areas. An alternative solution is the two-wing revolving door which has perimeter flanges to prevent draughts (see drawing). These doors, with a diameter from about 3.5 to 5.0 metres, can enable a wheelchair to pass through in a straight line and have sensors to ensure that the door stops safely if anyone stops on their way through. An alternative door should always be provided for those who cannot or do not wish to use the revolving door.

Security doors

Special security doors may be required, instead of doors with keys, in particular circumstances. For example, people with dementia can be prevented from wandering by doors with two sets of handles, because they lack the co-ordination to turn two handles at once.

Sliding folding doors are among the many possible options for automatic doors
Security doors with digital locks are often difficult to use for people with disabilities and it is likely that they will be largely superseded by smart cards when these are affordable. These can be programmed to provide access through specific doors and at specified times and the use of the system is monitored by computers. Smart cards present few problems and many opportunities for people with disabilities.

Historic buildings

Heavy historic front doors can be fixed open when required, with newer inner doors which are easier to open. At the Dulwich Picture Gallery, an alternative route is available for people with wheelchairs

Ingenuity is often required to overcome the barriers presented by doors and doorways in historic buildings. Alterations to improve accessibility should, preferably, be reversible so that no damage is caused to the historic fabric. Sometimes historic entrance doors can be left unchanged and held open when the building is in use, with new inner doors to serve the functions of security and weather protection.

At a narrow stepped entrance to a listed building, a demountable ramp whith steps can be fitted without alteration to the historic fabric. In thsi drawing, the colours are exaggerated to clarify the design options
Where old doorways have steps, it may be possible to provide new removable external ramps and steps so as to enable everyone to enter by the original front door (see illustration).

 

Fire doors and fire escape routes

  If people with disabilities enter a building, they must be able to leave safely in an emergency. Access auditors and consultants should draw attention to potential hazards and risks on fire escape routes, to ensure that these are properly considered by property managers, but they should beware of giving advice on a subject as specialised as fire protection.

Conclusions

Two-wing revolving doors, with a diameter of about 4.8 metres, provide draught-free access to a hospital for large numbers of people, including those with wheelchairs or
children's buggies
The design and specification of doors and door furniture is becoming increasingly complicated as new construction technologies, control mechanisms and security systems become available. There can be no standard solutions because the appropriate doors for any situation will depend on the characteristics of the users, the nature of the building, the frequencies of pedestrian movement, cost constraints and safety considerations. If these requirements are not resolved satisfactorily, the doors are more likely to say 'Keep Out', rather than 'Welcome'.

References

The following are particularly useful because they describe the reasons for recommending good practice:

Access for Disabled People to School Buildings, Building Bulletin 91, DfEE, 1999
Barrier-free Design, by James Holmes-Siedle, Architectural Press, 1996
Building Sight, by Peter Barker, Jon Barrick and Rod Wilson, RNIB, 1995

Captions:

The needs of people

The traditional front door step is an obstacle for families with young children and for wheelchair users

This front door to an infants' school, with a step up and a raised sill, was almost impossible to negotiate with a wheelchair

The handrails to the steps and ramp of this cafe are clearly visible but may be cold to the touch. The vertical door handle can be used by people of all heights

Patterns on walls and doors can be very confusing for people with impaired vision


Design for accessibility

Vision panels, to enable people to see and be seen, can be designed with many shapes and sizes. The red rails prevent people from tripping on the magnetic door holders

'Hospital doors' with one leaf opening at least 750mm and an adjacent panel to be opened when required can provide greater accessibility than two doors of equal width

Glass doors and screens can be very elegant but need adequate manifestation of the glass

This semi-automatic door is operated via a push pad on the steel post in the foreground


 

Historic buildings

Heavy historic front doors can be fixed open when required, with newer inner doors which are easier to open. At the Dulwich Picture Gallery, an alternative route is available for people with wheelchairs

Automatic sliding doors can provide convenient and safe access in buildings. The white sign provides good manifestation of the glass when the building is closed

Sliding folding doors are among the many possible options for automatic doors

At a narrow stepped entrance to a listed building, a de-mountable ramp with steps can be fitted without alteration to the historic fabric. In this drawing, the colours are exaggerated to clarify the design options


 

Lifts

Stainless steel lift doors show up clearly among the bright colours at The Lowry, Salford Quays

Lift doors and controls should be designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Here, the reflections on the glass and stainless steel are very confusing

The plan of a two-wing revolving door shows how through access can be provided without draughts for people with wheelchairs

A two-wing revolving door with a diameter of 3.7 metres showing the through route for a wheelchair

Two-wing revolving doors, with a diameter of about 4.8 metres, provide draught-free access to a hospital for large numbers of people, including those with wheelchairs or children's buggies.


   
 
Adrian Cave Associates

"access with elegance"

Architects and Access Consultants