How Wide Do Doorways Need To Be For Wheelchairs

In the context of inclusive design and universal accessibility, doorway width is a critical element to consider. Making spaces accessible for everyone, especially those using wheelchairs, is not just a gesture of goodwill—it’s a vital part of modern architecture and design.

Below, we’ll delve into doorway width requirements for wheelchair access, including international standards and best practices.

The Basics of Doorway Width for Wheelchair Access

To establish a foundational understanding, the primary guideline is that doorways should be wide enough to accommodate the widest wheelchairs. The minimum width generally accepted worldwide is 32 inches (81 cm). This width allows most wheelchairs to pass through comfortably without touching the door frame.

The Ideal Doorway Width for Wheelchairs

The ideal doorway width for wheelchairs is 36 inches. This allows for a wheelchair to pass through the doorway with plenty of clearance and allows the wheelchair user to turn their chair around without having to back up.

Considerations Beyond the Basics

However, while 32 inches is the minimum, numerous considerations may necessitate wider doorways:

  • Turning Angles: Additional width might be required to ensure smooth passage if the doorway is located immediately after a turn or bend.
  • Type of Wheelchair: Electric wheelchairs and some specialized manual wheelchairs may be broader than the standard measurements.
  • Presence of Handles or Controls: Some wheelchairs have protruding handles or controls that could necessitate more clearance.
  • Door Hardware: The presence of door handles and knobs can reduce the functional width of the doorway. Recessed or low-profile handles are recommended in such cases.

International Standards and Guidelines

Across the globe, standards vary slightly but revolve around the foundational minimum:

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

This U.S. standard prescribes a minimum width of 32 inches with the door open 90 degrees.

BS 8300 (British Standard)

In the UK, doorways in new public buildings must have a clear opening width of 800mm (about 31.5 inches), with a recommended width of 1000mm (about 39.4 inches) for wheelchair-accessible homes.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization)

This body suggests a minimum of 80 cm (about 31.5 inches) with an ideal width of 90 cm (about 35.4 inches) for more effortless movement.

The Importance of Clear Space

Beyond the width of the doorway itself, the surrounding area plays a critical role in accessibility:

  • Approach Area: Clear space should be in front of and behind the door. This ensures wheelchair users can align themselves correctly for smooth entry and exit.
  • Thresholds: These should be as minimal and flat as possible. Raised thresholds can be a barrier, even if the doorway width is compliant.
  • Swing Area: If a door opens inward, there should be adequate space inside the room for a wheelchair user to close the door behind them without having to reverse out again.

Adapting Existing Doorways

In older buildings or homes not built with wheelchair accessibility in mind, doorways may be narrower than modern standards. However, there are solutions:

  1. Expand the Doorway: This involves restructuring the wall to increase the width. It’s the most effective but also the most invasive and expensive option.
  2. Offset Hinges: These can increase the open width of a doorway by allowing the door to swing clear of the frame.
  3. Sliding or Pocket Doors: Replacing swing doors with sliding variants can make a tight space more navigable.

Making Your Home Accessible to Wheelchair Users

Creating an accessible and inclusive home environment for wheelchair users involves more than just widening doorways. Every detail, from the driveway to the bedroom, should be rethought to ensure ease, safety, and comfort. Here’s how to transform your home into a wheelchair-friendly space.

1. Entrance and Exits

  • Ramps: Replace steps with gently sloping ramps. Ensure they have non-slip surfaces and handrails on both sides.
  • Thresholds: Minimize or eliminate door thresholds. If they’re present, consider installing threshold ramps for smoother transitions.

2. Doorways and Corridors

  • Width: As previously mentioned, aim for a width of at least 32 inches to accommodate wheelchairs.
  • Handles: Replace doorknobs with lever handles, which are easier to operate.
  • Corridors: Ensure corridors are wide enough and free of obstructions.

3. Flooring

  • Material: Opt for smooth, non-slip flooring like vinyl, laminate, or low-pile carpet. Avoid high-pile carpets and rugs as they can obstruct wheelchair movement.
  • Transitions: If there are transitions between different flooring materials, ensure they are level to prevent tripping hazards or wheel obstructions.

4. Kitchen

  • Counters: Lowered countertops or adjustable height counters make food preparation more accessible.
  • Appliances: Front-controlled stoves and side-opening ovens are ideal. Also, consider drawer dishwashers and refrigerators with bottom freezers.
  • Cabinets: Pull-out shelves and lazy Susans improve accessibility. Installing lower cabinets or open shelving can also be beneficial.

5. Bathroom

  • Shower: Install curbless showers with grab bars and a seat. Consider non-slip flooring and handheld showerheads for added convenience.
  • Toilet: Raised toilets or toilet seat extenders can assist in transfers. Installing grab bars on both sides enhances safety.
  • Sink: Pedestal sinks or wall-mounted versions provide room underneath for a wheelchair.

6. Living and Bedroom Spaces

  • Furniture: Ensure there’s ample circulation space around furniture. Opt for adjustable beds and consider the height of tables and dressers for easier access.
  • Controls: Position light switches, thermostats, and other controls at a height of about 48 inches from the floor, making them reachable from a wheelchair.

7. Outdoor Areas

  • Pathways: Ensure pathways are wide, smooth, and free from obstacles. Concrete or smooth stone are ideal materials.
  • Gardening: Raised garden beds or tabletop gardens allow those in wheelchairs to enjoy gardening activities.

8. Additional Features

  • Elevators and Lifts: Consider installing a residential elevator or a stairlift for multi-story homes.
  • Emergency Exits: Always ensure there’s an accessible route for emergencies. Consider installing an alert system for added security.

Transforming a home into an accessible space for wheelchair users requires a detailed and empathetic approach. It’s not just about compliance with standards but ensuring daily living is seamless and enjoyable.

With thoughtful modifications, your home can become a haven of comfort and accessibility for all its inhabitants.


Ensuring doorways are adequately wide for wheelchair access is a blend of adhering to guidelines and applying practical design considerations. While a minimum of 32 inches (81 cm) is the accepted norm, optimal design involves taking into account the unique requirements of each space and its users. 

By focusing on inclusivity and user-friendly designs, architects, builders, and homeowners can create spaces that are welcoming and accessible to all.

Jose Alpuerto

Written by

Jose Alpuerto

With a heart that beats for the young and young-at-heart alike, Jose dives headfirst into the world of tech wizardry and safety gadgets, all with the mission of turning aging at home into an adventure. Armed with a keyboard and an unquenchable enthusiasm, he spins tales of gadgets that bring laughter and ease to the lives of the elderly, proving that growing older doesn’t mean you can’t keep the spirit of play alive.