ADA Door Clearances and Why It Matters in Your Home

The best design for humans means creating spaces both in public and private buildings that can accommodate anyone, regardless if they have a disability or not. Great decor ideas are copied, why wouldn’t we copy great ADA accessibility ideas for our homes and apartments?

What is ADA design?

First of all let’s define accessibility. The Merriam-Weber Dictionary defines accessibility as “easily used or accessed by people with disabilities adapted for use by people with disabilities.”

In layman’s terms, ADA design is the official U.S. government act that mandates the inclusion of accessibility design in all government buildings, or leased buildings for government use.

ADA design refers to the American With Disabilities Act of 1990. To get more specifics on ADA design, the U.S. Access Board provides guidance. They are an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards. The Board coordinates several federal agencies and directly represents the public, particularly people with disabilities. 

Of importance are two resources:

  • ADA Accessibility Standards – Accessibility standards issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities in new construction, alterations, and additions. 
  • ABA Accessibility Standards – Standards issued under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) apply to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with federal funds.

man in wheelchair typing at desk ideal for accessibility..

Designing for people with handicaps and disabilities improves design for everyone.

Why ADA design matters in homes

We might not be able to always include the “Cadillac” model of perfect design clearances in our homes. This is especially true if we are remodeling, have limited space to begin with, or are working within a tiny budget.

However, I can give excellent reasons why adopting ADA design into homes, apartments, and other living spaces matters. These scenarios come to mind:

Below I cover these points more in detail, but best practice is to design a home to the best of your ability that contains the most inclusive design for all mobility and age situations.

We don’t have to adhere to strict government building guidelines in our homes, but we should meet a compromise of a flexible design that can accommodate mobility challenges when we need them to.

ADA Door Clearances

I had the huge benefit of taking an accessibility design class at Iowa State University (back in the day!). The wise words of my professor have been imprinted on my mind ever since.

To quote Iowa State University professor, Dr. Mary Pickett, from her class Designing for Disabilities“When you design for those with disabilities, everyone can use the space.”

You may think that a 32″ wide opening is just a standard door opening. It’s more than that. That width was defined by the ADA Compliance website as an inclusive width that allows someone to pass through with a wheelchair. See how we all benefit from that?

I can’t imagine trying to fight my way into the house with both arms full of groceries in anything less wide!

ADA door width compliances

When it comes to doors and openings, there are many vastly different applications that ADA Compliance takes into account. Revolving doors and ticket gates are very different from doors in our homes.

  • ADA door width compliance: Doorways shall have a minimum clear opening of 32 in (815 mm) with the door open 90 degrees, measured between the face of the door and the opposite stop.
  • Clear width is 32 inches (815 mm) minimum measured from the face of the door (open 90 degrees) to the face of the doorstop. In addition, 32 inches must be retained in the event the door is a sliding pocket door.
  • Maximum Doorway Depth. Clear width is 32 inches (815 mm) minimum measured from the one side wall to the face of the opposite side wall. The maximum depth of the opening shown is 24 inches (810 mm).
  • EXCEPTION: Doors not requiring full user passage, such as shallow closets, may have the clear opening reduced to 20 in (510 mm) minimum.

For additional maneuvering clearances of doors, visit the ADA Compliance website that offers detailed drawings and more specific situations.

Aging at home accessibility

When it comes to “aging in place” the home sector looks towards government design standards, especially those set forth in the American With Disabilities Act.

Aging in place means designing a home that you can stay in as long as you can, despite mobility challenges and age. Years ago, most homeowners and builders never considered such things as adding aging in place grab bars into aging in place bathroom designs, or wheel-chair height counters for aging in place kitchen design.

Thankfully, there are many accessibility products that can be added into a home to assist seniors who want to stay in their homes. If you are lucky enough to have a friend or family who can make these updates, that’s great!

Other options include aging in place remodelers who offer their experience, sensitivity, and common sense to your home plan. Bottom line, the goal is to improve the home design for seniors staying in their own homes.

New home designs offer a chance to incorporate accessibility right from the start. Who wouldn’t? I recall my college professor saying how much cheaper it was to make a design handicap accessible from the start, rather than trying to adopt a design later.

When you’re calling the shots on a new home design, you can plan for accessibility design. Your kitchen, aging-in-place bedroom, bath, entry, and other spaces, will look much more beautiful and integrated when planned from the start.

Seniors enjoying playing cards and taking a selfie.

Outpatient recovery, home rehab, or disability accessibility

Times have certainly changed regarding hospital stays. Patients are sent home to recover – sometimes after surprisingly short stays in the hospital. Studies show that people would prefer the comfort of their own home to convalesce in. Making a home accessible for this in mind holds great value.

It may seem silly to design a home just for some future events that you may never, ever have. Think about this – it’s not just about outpatient surgery, it could be an accident that left you with a broken leg, or you just sprained your ankle.

Wouldn’t it be so much more pleasant for your recovery or home rehab to live in a well-designed home space? I never could understand house plans with all the bedrooms on the second floor. Do you think that you will always be in perfect health and can climb stairs?

We all want to believe that we will never have health challenges.  Unfortunately, our health status can change at any time. An unexpected injury may leave us with a temporary or permanent disability. Let’s hope that we all maintain optimal health, but if and when we need it, we can do our best to make sure our homes serve us well.

Loans for home improvements

Worth mentioning, there are home loans and repair grants for those with disabilities, or in financial need. If the loan or grant is for those who are disabled or have a handicap, but you can bet that there will be ADH building rules to comply with, or at least certain expectations in the build or remodeling that must be met.

Below are loans and grants that comply to different situations. This is not an exhaustive list. Seek out other help that may apply to your unique situation.

Note: If you qualify for Medicare Part B, you can use your benefits to cover the costs of “durable medical equipment” for your home, such as hospital beds, patient lifts, toilet chairs, and more. Your city’s agency on aging may also be a good place to go for help with accessibility home improvements. There may also be special grants and programs for improving housing through your state.

remodeling home for handicap accessibility and home rehab

Accessibility remodeling is a good idea for home rehab, aging in place, handicap accessibility, using a wheelchair in the house, and other mobility challenges.

House guests with disability needing accessibility

How about guests? I have family who have struggled with health challenges, and some of them have had time spent in wheelchairs. Sadly, my home could not welcome them because of non wheelchair-friendly access. Things like family celebrations have to be held elsewhere if you want to include everyone.

I suggest you consider the future challenges that current obstacles present in your home. Family members, neighbors, relatives, or friends with have disabilities may not get into your home because of design challenges.

Accessibility remodeling for older homes

Older homes always seem too small in many aspects to me. Most homes prior to the 1980s were not designed for anything other than mobile (and perhaps youthful) people living in them. Homes built prior to the turn of the century were built for smaller-framed humans.

These days, many U.S. people are of taller height than one hundred years ago. A great many of today’s humans are also less fit and more overweight. Moving around in old homes today can be… unpleasant. Having wider clearances (or at least more realistic) in some situations, helps.

Whether you have an eye on ADA-compliant home remodeling, are trying to make room for a wheelchair for house use, or working with a remodel on a mobile home, split level house, or two-story, there are opportunities to make access better.

Once someone has experienced the joy of a well-designed space, they won’t want to go back to the old space. Planning for adequate range of motion activities and clearances greatly improves the quality of life for everyone.

In conclusion

When the day comes that we require better mobility in our homes, we can either be prepared, or we will need to take action and get there. Personally, I would at least like to be halfway there.

Good luck in your journey to getting there!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is an Iowa farmwife with a background as a former kitchen designer. Supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life. Read more about this farmwife on her about page.

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