Doors can be an obstacle or hurdle to safe and easy entrance in a space or allow convenient passage and entry. As aging-in-place professionals, we need to be aware of the challenges that doorways represent to people and be ready to suggest convenient alternatives that allow them to use their living space better.
Doors and doorways clearly represent an entry point into a space, and yet they pose a potential challenge for people trying to do just that. When doorways are too small to allow reasonable access or passage, they defeat their function. They must accommodate the average person. Therefore, no doorway that is designed for someone to pass through it should be less than 36" or 3' wide.
If we use the ADA example of 32" of clear space for a wheelchair to pass through (not allowing for wider, bariatric wheelchairs), a 36" wide is the minimum necessary. In many cases this is not even wide enough so we need to use double doors (two 30" or 2-6 doors for a 5' opening or two 36" or 3-0 doors to create a 6' passageway). There are other possibilities also.
Pocket doors are often shortchanged because of personal experiences with them in the past; however, the mounting hardware is better now than in the past. Also, using a solid core door allows the door to hang straighter, to glide truer, and to be less susceptible to twisting and warping than hollow core doors. With a pocket door there is no stop to reduce the size of the opening. As for the sometimes hard-to-use lock set, don't worry. Just let the door be locked or unlocked as the individual users desire. In fact, an unlocked bathroom door is desirable to a locked one when emergency access is required.
A barn door (a sliding door suspended from a wall-mounted track that is either exposed or encased) is quite popular for covering large door openings. A single door can slide across an opening of as much as 8' or two smaller doors can be used for the opening - coming in from each side. The doors can be solid or have glass panels (clear, patterned, or frosted) in them.
A cased or arched opening is another alternative that can be used - especially when no physical door needs to be present. The opening frames the space and separate one room, area, or use in the home from another (foyer to living room or living room to dining area, for instance). These openings can be 10-12' or even larger.
We just need to remember that doors and doorways are designed and created to allow passage for the people they are serving. When they restrict it they are counterproductive, and we need to find better alternatives.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, C.E.A.C,.is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555.