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Designing Automatic Pedestrian Entryways to Exceed ADA Standards


Many building projects today accommodate an increasingly diverse user population, with older occupants and a diversity of physical and intellectual challenges. The growing trend of service animals adds yet another dimension.

In all cases, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) provides a baseline for user accommodation, but many architects are going beyond the bare minimum to consider the preferences of the physically challenged user community to differentiate their buildings by being truly accessible, comfortable and open to all.

Many automatic door products play a key role in addressing ADA compliance as well as innovation in universal design. While in the past some have called this barrier-free or even “special needs” design, today the term universal design is seen as best practice – a sign of smart, high-quality architecture.

For architects focused on supporting universal design and exceeding ADA standards, there are key questions related to entryway and doorway design to examine, such as: What is considered a barrier? And what’s readily achievable for compliance? How is the ADA enforced? And how do you select the best ADA -compliant door solution for your particular application?

Many of these questions are addressed in the ADA itself (1990) and its Amendments (2008). The goal of this article, however, is to focus on this last question: what are the key considerations for designing the right entryways for your ADA challenges?


Preliminary Design Criteria for Optimal Entryway Design

So how do architects determine the range of accessibility challenges facing their user universe and, in this way, zero in on an optimal entryway design? There are several groups of criteria that must be assimilated before door selection can begin.

1) Consider the client’s needs.

The owner/operator will have concerns and preferences for building entries that initially might be in conflict with the ADA . Managing these client expectations against a backdrop of project parameters, ADA standards and building codes is a delicate balancing act that taps into your skills as both a creative visionary and a project manager.

2) Consider the architectural objectives.

The building operations and performance objectives of the enclosure must be characterized and quantified, and then measured against the building codes and standards.

3) Take stock of all prevailing codes and guidelines.

ADA compliance measures must correspond with all local building and safety codes. To ensure project success, special care must be taken to address key ADA requirements for:

  • Entry and egress
  • Number and size of openings
  • Floor space requirements
  • Quality of floor plane
  • Doorway specifications (closing speed, visibility)

Note: Further discussion of these and other ADA standards are included in the Designing to Exceed ADA Standards Whitepaper.

4) Maintain aesthetics and universal design objectives.

Achieving or surpassing compliance should not be at the expense of aesthetics. The resulting integrated design should seamlessly express both function and a worldview that welcomes an appropriately diverse user universe.


New automatic door systems include auto-slide and auto-swing doors that open paths to smart design solutions, as well as a new generation of large-diameter automatic revolving doors.

Key Design Variables

Understanding the capabilities and intricacies of automatic and power-operated door systems helps provide needed insight for meeting all project objectives and exceeding mere compliance. Architects and specifiers must consider a number of product types, configurations and options. This 6-point checklist will assist in determining the optimal solution:

Door type.

What type of door best serves the unique needs of the user population accessing your enclosure? Is the best door solution a revolving, swing, slide or folding type? Questions architects must ask themselves include:

  • Is the automatic opening best served with a single, pair or double-egress swing door operation or perhaps by a sliding door?
  • Does a compliant revolving door suit the needs of the entryway?
  • Is an auto-slide preferred over an auto-swing door due to the right of way (ROW) requirements or door area layouts and clearances? (Answer: yes, it usually is.)
  • Considering the traffic, layout and clearances, should the doors by in-swing, out-swing or sliding? Is the left- or right-handed operation best, and which way should the sliders move?


Options include power-assist, low-energy or full-power. While some situations need power-assist and low-energy swing doors, which can be opened manually or activated with a “knowing act” such as pressing an actuator push-plate, heavy traffic applications often require full-power swing or sliding doors, which could be routinely motion-sensor actuated.


Which area sensors and actuators will serve most safely and efficiently the expected inbound and outbound traffic, including the widest range of user types? Sensors to consider include:

  • Door reversal sensors: a programmable sensor that reverses direction when the door touches a person. This is important because closing time is adjustable on most door systems and not every speed accommodates all users.
  • Novel sensor systems for door operators include obstruction-sensing technology, which reduces opening speed when the entry is blocked.
  • Hold open sensors maintain the door in the open position as long as there is presence in the threshold area.

Many automatic door products from Horton address ADA compliance as well as innovation in universal design.

Mode of Operation.

The mode of operation – i.e., how the automatic door is to function in various circumstances or dayparts – should be clearly defined in any specification. For example, there may be more than one “mode of operation” such as during secured and non-secured hours. Similar questions must be addressed for power-operated interior doorways, such as those seen in hospital ICUs.


Surface-applied or overhead-concealed systems offer different benefits for the application, aesthetics and architectural integration. In-ground operators may be preferred for certain applications, such as swing door entrances with arches or all-glass curtain wall construction. 

Operator access.

For installation and maintenance of the electric door operators, door headers can have bottom or side access panels, which usually eases accessibility. In-ground operators with top access may be preferred for aesthetics or when there is no headroom above the door frame to mount an operator.



To design for ADA applications using these and other automatic entry door offerings, project teams increasingly deploy controls, operators and configurations that make accessibility safer, more comfortable and efficient.

By asking the right questions and choosing the right products, you are working to do more than just meet the ADA minimum. Exceeding the preferences and needs of diversely abled populations may be exactly what is needed to differentiate great architecture from merely good.

Contact your Horton Regional Business Manager for help in determining the optimal automatic entryway solutions for your unique project challenges or download the Designing to Exceed ADA Standards Whitepaper today.

Most auto-swing and auto-slide systems have adjustable control of the hold-open time as well as adjustable time-delay closing, ranging from 2 seconds up to 30 seconds.

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