ADA Integration

Sept. 1, 2001
Security and ADA-compliant doors

Premises security has always been a balancing act between erecting barriers to access and interfering as little as possible with authorized personnel. When the tenant or visitor is a person with disabilities, that balancing act becomes all the more tricky for building owners, integrators, and facilities managers.

In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became law, combating discrimination with respect to employment, public transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. In the decade since the law's inception, a number of factors have caused great changes in the commercial construction industry, including access control systems installation.

The ADA is enforced through civil litigation initiated by private individuals or the Department of Justice (DOJ). While local authorities that have jurisdiction over building codes do not have direct enforcement responsibilities for the ADA, they often enforce local law with respect to accessibility provisions that duplicate or are at least roughly similar to the federal requirements. There are no provisions in the ADA, however, for pre-construction reviews of building plans. It is up to the owner and designer to make plans they can defend in court if the need arises.

Early in the building process, a security and integrated systems designer must first determine the access control perimeters and where entries will be for persons with ADA requirements. This includes coordination with the building owner, local building inspector, architect, general contractor, and hardware suppliers. To avoid problems with ADA compliance, accessibility of each door must be addressed, as well as standards for each access control system device's height and functionality. Premises security door hardware may include electromagnetic locks, pushbutton locks, cardreader-operated locks, keypads, and more. These devices need to take disabilities such as visual or auditory impairment into account, not depending on solely visual or audio cues for successful operation.

Because a person with disabilities might not be able to operate traditional doors, one answer may be to consider low-energy automatic door openers, known informally as "ADA door operators." With this product, after a person is authorized to enter, the door will automatically open to allow for entry, wait a number of seconds, and then automatically close.

ADA-compliant door operator systems need to be carefully integrated into access control systems or problems may occur. For instance, many times the interface between the door operator and the access control system's door release functions are overlooked. In these cases, the lock and unlock functions operate independently of the door operator. An end-user will attempt to open the door with the ADA operator while the door hardware is still in a locked condition. This action causes the operator to apply force against the locked hardware. As a result, the operator will then need to be replaced much earlier than is necessary from normal use. If both systems are integrated, the door operator will not function unless the access control system first releases the door hardware.

Once the access control systems are installed, a testing and end-user instruction session can be held to ensure the devices are being used properly. Ron McPherson, CPP is the director of the Security Systems Division at Troy, MI-based GSI LLC (

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