- Fact Sheets
Entrance doorways are not generally an issue for ambulatory people, but think about how a person using a wheelchair or walker manages to get through a doorway.
A conventional entrance to a house consists of a screen or storm door that opens outward and a solid core exterior door which opens inward. An ambulatory person simply pulls open the screen door, reaches in to the exterior door turns the doorknob, and pushes the door inward. For a person using a wheelchair the process is a bit more difficult.
The wheelchair user approaches the screen door gets close enough to unlatch it, assuming he has the dexterity, pulls the screen door towards him until it hits his wheelchair. He now must move his wheelchair backwards while holding the screen door to prevent it from shutting again. Now that the screen door is open the wheelchair user must propel his wheelchair forward towards the inner door with one hand while holding the screen door open with the other. Once he reaches the inner door again he must unlatch it, but this time shove it forward hoping nothing or no one inside is in the way. At this point he is using the side of his wheelchair to prop open the screen door and is trying to propel his wheelchair over a raised threshold that is common in exterior doorways. Even if there is a threshold ramp in place, he must propel uphill through the doorway while trying not to damage the screen door that is resting on his wheelchair. Once inside, he must propel past the inner door and then roll backward while pushing on the door to close it.
When exiting a house the wheelchair user must unlatch the inner door, roll backwards pulling the door with him, roll forward past the open door to the screen door. He must then unlatch and push forward as he rolls through the doorway while pulling the inner door behind him to close it.
Both of the previous two paragraphs don’t consider the extra steps required if the inner, or screen door are locked. Also, as difficult as this process might seem, imagine doing it while it’s 20 degrees below zero, or it’s pouring rain, and the wind is howling.
In an accessible house it’s probably best just to do away with the screen door all together. If ventilation is needed in the house, exterior doors are available with windows which open or windows can be installed beside the doorway which open. Getting rid of the screen door will ease the process of entering a house for a wheelchair or walker user by about 75%.
Power Door Opener
Issues surrounding the inner door can be addressed by installing a power door opener. Power door openers are motorised units which usually are mounted above the door an push the door open, hold it open for a set period of time and then close the door. Most power door openers also will lock and unlock the door when activated. The door openers can be operated by a remote control from either inside or outside that the user carries with them. In cases where there are multiple users, keyed controls can be mounted on the wall outside to open the door or keypads. Inside, wall switches can be installed to activate the power door opener.
In almost every case, an entrance will have a raised threshold of some type to overcome. They can be anywhere from ½” high to 2” or 3” high and the higher the threshold, the more the need power a threshold ramp which will allow the wheelchair user to roll more easily over the threshold. Threshold ramps come in various sizes for dealing with different heights and widths of doorway thresholds. Most commercially available threshold ramps are made of aluminium and are permanently installed. Anyone who is the least bit handy can usually make a threshold ramp out of wood as long as they make it long enough to not be too steep and thin enough not to interfere with the swing of the door if applicable. While normally being used out side the doorway, thresholds inside the doorway can also be too high to easily traverse and threshold ramps can be installed inside as well.
Doorway width is, of course, the most important aspect of getting into a house by a wheelchair user. If the doorway isn’t wide enough, the wheelchair won’t pass through it. Entrance doors are usually 32”, 34” or 36” wide and in general the wider the doorway the easier it will be for the wheelchair user to get through. Width is especially important if there is a corner to negotiate approaching or leaving a doorway.
Wheelchairs do come in many sizes and styles and required door width will vary from user to user. Most would think that power wheelchairs require more width than manual wheelchairs but in reality, these days most power wheelchairs have their wheels mounted below the seat instead of outside the seat frame which makes them narrower. In addition to wheel placement, the fact that a user with a manual wheelchair must propel by putting their hands on the outside of the wheel rims to propel the wheelchair which in effect means the space require to get through doorways is even larger.