Making an entrance with barrier free doors

Published: 22 Mar 2021

Ron KoormHow many doors would you consider in a typical building are accessible and inclusive for everyone? According to CAE Associate Consultant, Ron Koorm, there’s not that many. While many people think that accessibility of doors equates to door width and turning circles, below, Ron discusses the many other features that aid accessibility.

Torque, testing & technical guides

As access professionals, we may sometimes test door opening pressures with various devices, such as torque gauges, an instrument used to measure opening or pull-force near the door handle or door edge. Like with all testing and measuring equipment, we need to take care where, and how, we use and apply it. Otherwise, results can be incorrect or misleading.

We’ve found that doors can, in practice, have door pressures in excess of 50 Newtons force. That’s the equivalent to pushing an average weight of a bowling ball an some auditors have even broken their gauges due to excessive door force.

However, doors should be around half this value in building regulations and in best practice access technical guides, such as in BS 8300-2:2018. The reader should refer to clause 8.4.2, in the British Standard, which also has a useful and practical commentary under the heading of ‘controlled door closing devices’.

The downside to a heavy door is that anyone with limited upper body strength will struggle to open it. It may also close too quickly not allowing enough time for those with mobility aids to pass through.

Building accessibility

Man pushing a woman in a wheelchair through open door into an arts centre

Luckily there is a quick fix for this as most doors in buildings have controlled door – closers to adjust the pressure and opening time. These need to be regularly checked to ensure they are in line with technical requirements and best practice, as if you get this right, you increase the proportion of people who can pass through independently.

Prior to specifying products such as door-closers, the designer or specifier should read the manufacturer’s technical literature regarding adjustment, to ensure it can be easily adjusted by the installer, and made accessible within accepted tolerances.

Access professionals who audit buildings and give advice, should generally know those requirements. But what about a tradesperson fitting a door-closer on a door as regards adjustment? Are door-closers regularly checked by facilities teams and adjusted? Not always.

The relevant British Standard, BS8300-2:2018, recognises that not all disabled people will be able to negotiate doors and door closing devices in the same way. A variety of techniques may be used by different people, for example, people in wheelchairs or mobility chairs.

It’s not always a simple process. Blind people and those with a vision-impairment may also have particular difficulty if the door pressure is heavy. Where possible, automated doors should be used at entrances, etc. This assists everyone, not just disabled people, and is a step towards greater inclusion.

Colour contrast & access controls

Blue wooden french doors with silver knobsFor visually-impaired people and many others, contrasting the colour of doors to their surroundings can make a huge difference.

As you approach a door, if you have good vision, you’ll quickly assess your environment for navigation and wayfinding, but if someone’s visually impaired, having a strong visual contrast will help them to work out their bearings as they move around.

If there’s glazing on, or beside the door, we would hope to see a visual manifestation on the glass to make it better contrasted to the background, and more apparent for reasons of safety and wayfinding. Door access controls can also be inaccessible for many people if placed in the wrong position, while door signage can be too high, too small, or confusing.

In essence, access and inclusion is as much about awareness of users of the environment, as are technical aspects.

To find out more about CAE inclusive design and access audits consultancy services, training and publications please visit www.cae.org.uk.