Inclusive Design Should Never Exclude Style

Products that are ADA compliant are typically well-engineered, but frequently bulky, poorly styled, and visually dispiriting — and millwork pulls are no exception. Wire pulls that attach to door and drawer fronts can be a safe go-to from an accessibility standpoint, but designers of commercial interiors often prefer edge-mounted tab pulls for the custom cabinetry they specify in pantries, washrooms, meeting rooms, and storage areas; the thin profile competes less with the appearance of the cabinet facings. The problem is that many edge-mounted pulls can contradict interpretations of the current ADA standards, confounding the selection process.

To help disambiguate edge pull use, the Gensler Inclusion Hub designed Everyone Millwork Pulls, a collection of six stainless steel and wood options — three of which are edge-mounted for minimal appearance while conforming to the intent expressed in the current ADA accessibility guidelines. All pulls have a minimum opening width of 4” and a minimum opening depth of 1” (based on typical door/drawer dimensions), allowing them to be operated with one hand and without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. And the three edge-mounted options function as conventional, front-mounted wire pulls, but attach to the sides of doors and drawers to preserve the visual integrity of the cabinetry.

The design process started by assembling a team of top Gensler technical directors and interior and industrial designers. After identifying the ten most popular pull styles, the team proceeded to evaluate each against seven relevant requirements in the current ADA standards:

  • One Hand Operation
  • Closed Fist or Loose Grip Operation
  • No Tight Grasping
  • No Pinching
  • No Wrist Twisting
  • ≤ 5lbs. Activation Force
  • No Simultaneous Hand and Finger Operation

Several pull styles (knobs, for example) were immediately eliminated from consideration since they require grasping and pinching to operate. The remaining styles were short listed for further examination, with the understanding that their sculpting and dimensioning would have to be carefully considered.

The design team created over twenty options across the greenlighted styles that were subsequently vetted by our technical directors against the seven relevant requirements. Approved designs were 3D modeled for visual and ergonomic analysis, and the best were submitted to the manufacturer for confirmation of engineering feasibility, cost, and a range of other performance issues. Prototypes were prepared by the manufacturer in the intended production materials and returned to the project team for final review.

The result is a collection of pulls that offers easier operation by more people than other edge-mounted options. The openings are spacious, allowing for engagement from multiple directions and responding to the limitations associated with disability, injury, or age. Pulls can be specified in 1” increments, ranging from 5” to 12” in width to create the right balance for doors and drawers of different sizes, and have carefully polished edges to help ensure a friction-free encounter time after time.

Disability is frequently equated with an inability to experience the built environment to its fullest, and one of the most physically and emotionally frustrating experiences any person can face is not being able to “get in.” By following a rigorous and conservative interpretation of the ADA standards, the Gensler Inclusion Hub has made the act of opening and closing doors and drawers easier for more people — all while demonstrating that elegant design can integrate seamlessly into accessible spaces. Our new pulls support inclusion beautifully.

Click here for more information on Everyone Millwork Pulls

NOTE: All pulls in the collection were designed to comply with the ADA and similar accessibility requirements, however final interpretation of accessibility compliance is the responsibility of the specifier and should be determined relative to specific project conditions and local codes.

Scott Star
Scott is a global leader of Gensler’s Product Development practice and Director of Product Development for its Northeast region. Located in New York, he and his cross-functional project teams partner with manufacturers on the design, development, and introduction of new products for the built environment — from furniture and lighting to flooring and wall systems. Contact him at .