ADA/Universal Design: Accessible, Easy-Open Windows

Home modifications by occupational therapist (OT) based on principles of universal design and accessibility.

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.
 I am often asked what kind of window is most accessible.  The standard answer are windows with cranks either casement windows or awning windows, but I find there is MUCH more to ensuring windows are accessible, easy to open and manageable.

Homes that have universal design features installed to overcome a disability, plan for aging in place or my favorite universal design for the sake of luxury, comfort and functional ease of use.  Following are guidelines for accessible, universal design, easy open windows.  

These guidelines are meant to be helpful in selecting windows, the best way to be certain of the most accessible window for you is try the different styles to see which suits your needs best.

Casement Window

Sliding Window

Awning Window
There a three different styles of windows recommended as universal design/handicap accessible, because they are easy to open with limited hand dexterity and strength.  They are in order of popularity; casement style windows, awning style windows and sliding windows.

Casement Windows 
Casement windows are the most popularly recommended window for universal/handicap accessible home windows.  Casement windows open utilize a crank to open the window and the window itself opens from the side.

Casement windows come in a variety of sizes, when buying a casement window make sure the crank and locking hardware have large handles and are easy manipulate.

Casement windows:
  • Easier to open because casement windows do not require large movements of the body to move as double hung windows.  Making casement windows easier to utilize for someone with postural or mobility limitations.
  • Difficult for people with fine motor/dexterity issues to hold onto crank and to move the crank in a rotary manner.
  • Oddly enough I have stumbled upon one little glitch with casement windows that was a bit surprising.  Birds tend to run into casement windows more than other types of windows, most likely because they open out.
 Awning Windows:
Awning windows usually have cranks as do casement windows but instead of opening to the side they are hinged at the top and open from the bottom.
Both Awning Windows and Casement Windows usually have crank systems for open/close.

Awning windows have the same accessibility benefits as casement windows, do not require large motor movements and can be difficult for people with fine motor or motor planning issues.  Awning windows are not, according to my research, as hazardous to birds as casement windows.
Awning Window
 Sliding Windows
Sliding Window
Sliding Windows:
  • Require larger body movements.  Good for people who are ambulatory but have difficulty with fine motor movements and motor planning.
  • Hardware can be installed such as levers to assist in alleviating any fine motor requirements to open/close windows.
The ultimate in accessible windows is the motorized window.
Motorized Casement Style Window
 Motorized windows.
  • Available in either a casement or an awning window style.
  • Usually have remote controls and can be part of a home environmental control system.
  • Are very pricey.

Motorized Awning Style Window
After figuring out which type of window will be easiest to utilize based on hardware, function and abilities. The next important step is to ensure the window and the window hardware is mounted in a functional position/place.

Considerations in mounting/positioning windows for accessibility:
  • The window should be mounted low enough for the person to see out of the window.
  • The hardware for opening the window should be mounted within reach.  If the window hardware/crank will be utilize from a seated position the hardware should be mounted approximately 32" off the floor to reduce the amount of bending/reaching and to allow good leverage for utilizing a window crank or pushing a sliding window.
  • The locks for a window should also be mounted in a place that is at the right height for the user.  Again window locks with large, easy-to-use handles are most desirable.
What windows do you recommend using or avoiding?  Any interesting window experiences?  Please share.


Unknown said...

Currently dealing with this exact issue on a new cosntruction building.

Reading through ANSI A117.1 Section 506 on windows requires compliance Section 309.

Have you had anyone argue casement windows do not meet Section 309.4? (Operable parts shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinchingm or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5.0 lbs max.)

How should a manfacture test for and document compliance?

Karen Koch said...

I'm writing a new post regarding this issue. But basically the manufacturers don't have to document or test for ADA accessibility unless they advertise ADA windows, which it doesn't look like anyone does. When it comes down to it there is no documentation it's based on opinion. My opinion is that casement windows can be difficult to utilize for people with motor control issues.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed that the major window manufacturers are not addressing this issue. It is clear in the ADA and ANSI A117.1. As an architect I cannot "design" a window or its hardware. Nor should we have to resort to more costly solutions like electronic openers. This should be addressed at their level, but my research is coming up with them ignoring it.

What has your experience been with double hung windows? I have a project where we wish to keep the historic look of double hung windows, but since it falls under the commercial code, accessibility is a requirement. I am having much difficulty in being in compliance.

Anonymous said...

Also currently dealing with this issue. While single hung operators are commonly within reach range requirements when closed, when opened the operators are too high AFF. Casement cranks do not work well for seniors with dexterity issues, and sliders don't provide the weathertightness or durability often desired in multifamily projects. I agree that window manufacturers have simply chosen to avoid addressing accessibility requirements.

Sketch44 said...

Looking at the Window Ease design I think it would be possible to take a casement and simple add a larger handle to it and basically accomplish the same thing.

It looks like Kolbe and Milgard have done this and says their design meets ADA which on this topic is the same as ANSI.

Anonymous said...

We use sliders and french windows in ADA compliant remodeling. Casement windows, requiring a crank, do not, in the opinion of our ergonomics expert, meet ADA criteria.

French windows, for those of you that don't know about them, are probably the standard European window. They unlatch and pull in, not out like a casement. Easy to operate at just about all levels of ability.

Jim Edgar
Managing Partner

Karen Koch said...

Great information, I was not aware of French windows maybe research for another post.

I do agree that casement windows are usually not a good choice for universal design/ADA purposes. That said when designing for a specific disability they need to be considered because in some applications they work albeit limited.

Thank you again for your feedback, keep it coming.

ada bathroom said...

Thanks for your information!!!keep on blog with this many person will come to some idea about this

Karen Koch said...


Anonymous said...

I'm looking for someone who specializes in replacing windows. I have an elaborate house with 25 windows of varying sizes to be replaced with ADA windows. I need a company who can assist me. with this project. I'm in the Atlanta, GA area. I will check back here for a response.

Karen Koch said...

Sorry, I don't have any connections in Georgia. I wish I could be of more help.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this with me. I've been looking into getting an awning window. This really showed me how they work.

GRAYZONE said...

Providing and update, as of September 2016, this is still an issue. I just finished a discussion with Milgard windows and their sliders do not automatically comply with the following ADA requirement

"308.2.2 Obstructed High Reach. Where a high forward reach is over an obstruction, the clear floor space shall extend beneath the element for a distance not less than the required reach depth over the obstruction. The high forward reach shall be 48 inches (1220 mm) maximum where the reach depth is 20 inches (510 mm) maximum."

As the guardrail height requirement of 42" height provides a maximum height for window controls at 6" above sill, this places the controls too low for a standard egress window and Milgard is not providing an alternate control location detail for ANY of their windows. In short, Milgard windows currently do NOT have an ADA compliant egress slider.

I am currently looking for an alternate window manufacturer that can comply with this requirement; any suggestions are very much welcomed.

Stella said...

We bought a new House which have Awning windows and not in good condition, we anyways don't like Awnings so would like to replace them with Sliding Windows. Any ideas how much it would cost roughly per window? We are in LA.

Karen Koch said...

Hello Stella,

Sorry I don't know about costs, hopefully the replacement sliding windows will fit in the space you have for the awning windows. Please let me know how it goes.