Barrier-free windows creating accessibility

Graham Hurrell, Head of Specification Sales at WICONA takes a look at the importance of accessibility when choosing aluminium windows for multi-occupancy residential developments.

Accessibility is crucial in the design and construction of new homes. NHS figures show there are currently around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK and two thirds of those use a wheelchair on a regular basis. The Office of National Statistics also projects that the proportion of people aged 85 and over will almost double by 2043 (2018 - 2043 projections) - from 1.6 million to over 3 million. As part of its National Disability Strategy, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) launched a consultation on 'Raising accessibility standards for new homes'.

Whilst the outcomes are as yet unknown and there is limited scope to retrofit older properties, it is essential to ensure new homes meet Building Regulations accessibility standards to increase the percentage of new homes that are accessible or adaptable. This will help to support people with disabilities as well as the needs of older people so they can remain in their homes.

The Approved Document M - Access to and Use of Buildings covers accessibility for various dwelling types:

  • M4(1) Category 1: Visitable dwellings (the minimum required)
  • M4(2) Category 2: Accessible and adaptable dwellings (the minimum standard under the London Plan)
  • M4(3) Category 3: Wheelchair user dwellings


  • M4(2) and M4(3) are optional standards that local authority departments can ask for when granting planning permission. Taking this into account when specifying windows can contribute to meetng the standards and creating a barrier-free environment.

Low-level glazing and handles for easy reach

For people with reduced reach, a Category 2 home should ensure all services and controls comply with the handle height no more than 1200mm from the floor and the bottom of the window or transom below 800mm, unless the window is fitted with a remote opening device within this height range.

Easy Operation

For people with low strength, low range of movement or finger dexterity, window controls and handles should have a low operating force and be easy to use. Tilt and turn windows can often provide challenges in achieving this, due to their nature. Side hung open-in windows with one handle and control point is therefore recommended for ease of operation. The benefit of having two opening modes also helps with ventilation and cleaning. Lever handles are preferable.

Create a safe and secure window barrier

Ensure the system specification meets respective safety functions, such as fall guarding and fire safety, as well as security functions and requirements like Secured by Design and Document Q: Security in Dwellings.

Easy Maintenance

Side hung configurations also support maintenance strategies, which can be challenging in high-rise residential developments. It's worth seeking a window system that also conforms to BS8213:2004 Part 1 - Design for safety in use and during cleaning of windows.

Flagship Example of occupant focused design

Nicely illustrating this angle is the flagship example of a truly modern development - designed with occupants' needs at the centre - is the multi-phase Elephant Park development, the largest regeneration scheme in Central London. 

Led by Lendlease in partnership with Southwark Council, it will deliver close to 3,000 homes in Elephant and Castle by 2025. On a recent phase of work at the development, the 30-storey Highwood Gardens and the 18-storey Orchard Gardens, WICONA supplied its window and door systems. The systems had to adhere to the requirements of Approved Document M for accessibility, achieve high standards of thermal efficiency and adhere to the guidance of the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology. The doors and windows also needed to be Secured by Design compliant.

WICONA provided its WICLINE 75 windows, WICSTYLE 75 doors and WICSLIDE 160 lifting-sliding doors. The products helped meet the accessibility requirements and ensured compliance with Approved Document M of the Building Regulations. The design of the WICLINE 75 window allows the handle to be located anywhere around the perimeter of the frame and positioned below 1200mm from the floor. It features a side-hung, open-in mechanism and a single handle for easy ventilation operation, including those with reduced mobility or muscle strength. Simply by using the accessible locking handle and without needing to reach any other hardware, the user can then open the window further for cleaning. Closing the window returns it automatically to the safe ventilation mode.

In Summary...

When specifying windows and doors for any project - and particularly multi-occupancy developments, you cannot underestimate the importance of inclusive design and accessibility for all. With the many considerations facing installers in order to comply with Approved Document M, it's a good idea to partner with a manufacturer that has the experience and technical know-how to advise on the best products to ensure all-round inclusivity.

Contact the team