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Wider doors do not help the disabled

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In aj 14.5.98 is a review of the new Accessible Housing Guidelines by the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

These new guidelines seem to require a 900mm clear opening internal door for wheelchair housing, and 875mm clear opening door for mobility housing.

I would suggest this advice is wrong. A 900mm clear opening requires a door 951mm wide, when a 40mm door thickness and 13mm rebate on one side less a 2mm allowance for closure clearance are taken into account.

Such a large door is necessarily heavier than smaller standard-size doors and more unwieldy for a wheelchair user to operate, particularly as such a non-standard door will probably have to be purpose-made and will be far heavier than a standard hollow-core or similar door.

It has long been established that a clear opening of 775mm, which is achievable with an 826mm door, is appropriate for most wheelchair users, provided that there is adequate width of circulation space outside the door. Selwyn Goldsmith in his book Designing for the Disabled established that a minimum clear opening width of 750mm was adequate for wheelchair users, although the preferred minimum is 770mm. I have found this to be an appropriate dimension in almost all cases.

When designing for disabled people it is always crucial to keep in mind all relevant factors. It is a mistake to think that increasing a door's width significantly beyond the preferred minimum will make life easier for the wheelchair user. It will not. The effect of the increasing weight of the door, the amount of movement required to open and close a wide door, the amount of circulation space sterilised by the swing of the door, and the probable need to manoeuvre the wheelchair out of the way of the door's swing, are all factors of overriding importance that demand the door is kept as small as possible.

Balance these factors against the minimum opening width of 750mm to allow reasonable passage of a 'standard' wheelchair, and the weight (and cost) implications of using non-standard doors and it quickly becomes obvious that an 826mm standard-width door becomes the optimum solution in most cases.

Obviously there are exceptions to the norm. There are some individuals with specially made wheelchairs who could not pass through such an opening. However, in my own experience, such individuals form no more than 1 to 2 per cent of the wheelchair-using population, and need special consideration in any case.

It is interesting to note that an 826mm door fits a 900mm doorset, and I cannot but wonder if the Waltham Forest guidelines were intended to refer to 900mm doorsets rather than 900mm clear door openings as referred to in the review.

ROBIN HILL

Altrincham Manchester

Erratum

The photograph of Studio E (People, aj 21.5.98) was taken by Janey Napier.

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