Skip to main content

Understanding force requirements and ADA accessibility for windows

How to design and test to the law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law July 26, 1990. It’s a comprehensive civil rights law recognizing the challenges that people with disabilities face. It affects many aspects of how buildings are designed today; especially, operable windows and doors.

Designing for ADA

While ADA is an enforceable law, it is not a building code or a test method. Key considerations when designing operable windows include:

  • Height – height and location relative to the finished floor of the hardware required to open or close 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 and requires: “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.

Testing to ADA

AAMA 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 window design is capable of being operated with the forces and motions described 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 is an appendix in AAMA 513 detailing onsite testing.

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 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.”


Mary Avery

Mary Avery

Mary Avery serves as vice president of marketing for Tubelite, Alumicor and Linetec brands. Commercial glazing contractors have depended on Tubelite’s architectural aluminum products for more than 75 years. Learn more at