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Why This City Has Outlawed Doorknobs

The Sun Is Setting on the Humble Doorknob. That's the Vancouver Sun headline describing the city's new building code, which will soon outlaw twisty doorknobs  - and traditional faucet handles, too - in new construction. The paper takes the positive view that, far from being banished, doorknobs are being "legislatively upgraded to levers more conducive to the arthritic, gnarled or weakened hands we earn with age."

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That sounds like a promising development. AARP has long backed the concept of universal design, in which homes are constructed to accommodate people of all ages and abilities. From removing steps to installing grab bars in bathrooms, the principles of livability and inclusivity are being incorporated into building standards more than ever before - with one goal being to help more people to " age in place."

But Vancouver, the only Canadian city with its own building codes, seems to be the first place in North America to ban doorknobs.

Tim Stainton, a professor and director of the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, told the Sun why this is a big step:

"Basically, the idea is that you try to make environments that are as universally usable by any part of the population. The old model was adaptation, or adapted design. You took a space and you adapted for use of the person with a disability. What universal design says is, 'Let's turn it around and let's just build everything so it is as usable by the largest segments of the population as possible.'

"A really simple version is the cut curbs on every corner. That helps elderly people, people with visual impairments, moms with strollers. It makes a sidewalk that could otherwise be difficult for parts of the population universally accessible."

As with any government decree, there's been a modest backlash. This, for example, from Alan Joslyn, the president of the Antique Door Knob Collectors of America: "I can understand if you have a public building where everybody wants to have free access and that is a problem. But to say that when I build my private home and nobody is disabled that I have to put levers on, strikes me as overreach."

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But antique doorknobs are not endangered, and there will be no doorknob police in Vancouver. Instead, any structure built after March 2014 will have to comply with the new regulations as Vancouver opens the door on a new era in universal design.

Photo: Terminator1/iStockphoto 

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