The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990 – 33 years ago. It’s considered the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law recognizing the unique challenges that people with disabilities face as they navigate their residences, place of work and public spaces. It affects many aspects of how buildings are designed today; especially, the design of operable windows and doors.

Designing for ADA

It is important to remember, while ADA is an enforceable law, it is not a building code or a test method. Key considerations when designing operable windows to meet accessibility requirements include:

  • Height – height and location relative to the finished floor of the hardware required to perform the operation of opening or closing the window. The operator (hardware) requirement per ADA is a minimum of 15 inches and maximum of 48 inches above the finished floor.
  • Reach – distance of the hardware from the operator who may be using a wheelchair. The path of the operating hardware needs to be unobstructed and located within reach of someone seated in a wheelchair 10 inches from the wall where the unit is installed.
  • Force – effort required to operate the window and type of force required to do so. Operation of an operable window includes any of the following:
    • unlocking or unlatching
    • opening the sash or vent
    • closing the sash or vent
    • locking/latching

In the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, Section 309.4, “Operation” applies to the operation of operable windows: “requires that these actions must be able to be performed with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.” The International Code Council’s 2017 ICC/ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities references this same verbiage.

Please note: Motorized or mechanical operators also need to comply with these requirements. Additionally, windows with roto operators, must have a mechanical advantage (ratio of output force to input force) of 6:1 or better. This is to assist with those with decreased function and/or strength in the hands and wrists. By default, some roto hardware will not comply.

Testing to ADA

Project - Calvary Church - Naperville, IL - Storefront, Curtainwall, Windows - 2006AAMA 513-14, “Standard Laboratory Test Method for Determination of Forces and Motions Required to Activate Operable Parts of Operable Windows and Doors in Accessible Spaces,” published by the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance, sets forth the test conditions to measure if a given window design is capable of being operated with the forces and motions laid out in ICC A117.1.

Large gateway-size operable units are tested across several performance classes in a lab eliminating wind and weather that could affect onsite operating forces. However, there also is an appendix in AAMA 513 that details onsite testing.

Please note: In AAMA/WDMA/CSA 101/I.S.2/A440-22, North American Fenestration Standard/Specification for windows, doors, and skylights (NAFS), “R class” windows are no longer allowed an alternate minimum test size.

Reminders about ADA-capable windows

  • Per ADA Section 229, in spaces where windows are intended to be operable by occupants, at least one unit must be accessible. As a result, not all units in this space must adhere to the force requirements.
  • When testing units using AAMA 513, reductions to air and water infiltration requirements are allowed to account for the more compressible seals that may be needed to reduce operating force.
  • Special compression seals, low-friction hardware, and decreased window sizes and openings may be required as part of ADA-designed windows.
  • Although the ADA is a comprehensive law detailing requirements for operable windows, there is no provision by ADA or AAMA 513 to set a basis for a manufacturer to label or market units as ADA-certified or “ADA-approved.” Currently, these units only may be listed as “capable.”

For assistance in selecting ADA-capable operable windows and entrance systems to meet your next project accessibility needs, please contact your local client development manager or email