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Access Control Systems

Disabled people need to be able to enter freely, move around and leave public buildings unaided.

Picture of a woman in a wheelchair wheeling herself through an open automatic door.Under the revisions of The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Part III, which was amended in 2005, hotels, leisure and tourist facilities and other similar areas must be designed and built, or modified, to remove any physical barriers that may impede easy access.

Access control provides the ability to control, monitor and restrict the movement of people in, out and around a building. Added benefits include visitor monitoring.

Any system that limits entrance and exit to those who have been authorised may be called an access control system.

The basic components of an access control system consist of:

The physical barrier

This is typically a door with a magnetic release that opens when a person is authorised. Turnstiles or speedgates are used to provide a higher level of security than a door.

Picture of a magnetics door release.

The door controller and reader

The physical barrier is electronically controlled by the combination of a door controller and a badge/token reader. Door controllers may be ‘stand-alone’ or connected to a controlling computer network. PC-based systems are able to upload to the details of the individual door controller badges quickly from a single source. An audit transaction of who went where, when and how can then be downloaded. The reader may include a keypad or biometric device to increase the level of security.

Picture of a keypad.

The badge or token

Simple keypad systems are one option, pre-set with a personal identification
number (PIN) which unlocks the door. However, most systems use badges/tokens so that visitors can gain entry. The badge/token is presented to a reader that is connected to the door controller, which in turn activates the physical barrier. Historically, badges were swipe based, consisting of bar-codes or magnetic stripes. Modern systems incorporate a silicon chip into the badge/token and use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or smart card technology. These are particularly suitable for high-volume entrances.

Picture of a man holdaing a swipe card in front of a reader and passing through an open door.


Section 21.2 of the DDA relates to Access Control Systems, it states: "Where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to make use of a service or building, it is the duty of the provider of that service to take steps that are reasonable to remedy the situation, i.e.: remove the feature, alter it so that it no longer has the effect, or provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service in question available to a disabled person."

A physical feature will include anything arising from the design or construction of a building or to an approach to exit from, or access to, a building. Physical features of premises will also include fixtures, fittings, furniture, equipment and or materials in, or on the premises, whether temporary or permanent.

Current building regulations, such as Building Regulation Part 'M', Access to and use of buildings, have also helped to promote improvements in access for disabled people, stating ways in which accessibility can be tackled at the design and build stage of a public area.

Points to be considered

Guidance from The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) includes:

The physical barrier


Picture of a door intercom.Access doors should be designed to permit operation by one person in a single motion with little effort.

Power-operated doors are the best for people with disabilities. The activator system should be automatic or placed within easy reach.

An accessible door should have the following features:

  • Secure side - a sign, a door handle, an extra pull handle, glazing and a kick plate
  • Un-secure side - a sign, user-friendly access control reader, glazing and a kick plate

Automatic doors can be of the sliding or swinging type. In general, sliding doors are preferable to swinging doors. They should have an adequate opening interval.

Revolving doors are not suitable for use by disabled people. Wherever there are revolving doors, an adjacent accessible sliding or swinging door should be provided.

Pivoted doors should swing away from the direction of travel wherever possible.

Door opening:

  • For exterior doors, the minimum opening is 0.90m when the door is open
  • For interior doors, the minimum opening is 0.80m when the door is open
  • The minimum door opening can be 0.75m if the access is straight or if the door can stay open by itself
  • The minimum door width of rest rooms should be 0.75m
  • For doors installed in an opening more than 0.60m in depth, the clear door opening should be at least 0.90m
  • For double-leaf doors, at least one leaf should have a minimum clear width of 0.80m

Consideration should also be given to thresholds; exit doors landing; glazing and glazed doors; kick plates; signage and colour.


Optical turnstiles utilize infrared beams between pedestals to remove the need for the physical barrier. Lane widths can be adjusted to accommodate wheelchairs without the need for a separate passgate; therefore all system users utilise the same technology with no discrimination. Most models also feature audible and visual feedback.

Picture of an optical turnstile and a half height fixed arm turnstile.Half height fixed arm turnstiles is not compliant with the DDA in its own right. It may be compliant if a "reasonable adjustment" is made i.e. a separate passgate is installed.

Speedgates combine features of optical and physical turnstiles. Most manufacturers make DDA compliant versions. However, for some units, this can mean a significantly wider pedestal is needed to accommodate the longer barriers. Most models also feature audible and visual feedback.

Full height turnstiles are designed to stop people jumping over the units. They are generally not compliant. They cannot accommodate wheelchairs. Alternative measures need to be provided. Additionally, turnstiles do not normally feature audible and visual feedback so this should be considered as well.

Tailgate detection devices uniquely answer the problem of tailgating at access controlled doors by creating an infrared field across the door opening to monitor the passage of every individual entering and leaving through that door. Detectors can operate at up to 2.5 metres apart (subject to door widths) to accommodate wheelchairs; therefore all system users utilise the same technology with minimal supervision and no discrimination. They can be used across wide corridors and double doors; however, people should be restricted to passing through single-file i.e. one door leaf should be secured for normal application. Most models also feature some form of audible and visual feedback.

The badge or token reader

Readers on entrance doors should be mounted at a comfortable height between 0.90m and 1.00m from the floor. Readers should be easy to operate; hands-free readers being recommended.

The badge or token

Contact technologies require the card or tag to make positive contact with the reader. This could be a problem for a person with a disability as the contact must be made in exactly the required manner and position. Examples of contact technology devices are magnetic stripe readers and card insertion readers. Because the user must make a positive contact between their card and the reader it may be necessary to provide a second reader at a lower level to provide ready access to a disabled person. Consider also the effectiveness of indicator LEDs and beepers to assist sight and hearing impaired users.

Picture of a card reader.Short range technologies require the card or tag to be placed within approximately 100mm of the reader. To all intents, the card or tag must touch the reader. The orientation of the card or tag is not usually critical however a card placed “edge-on” against the reader may not be read properly. Examples of short-range technologies are smartcard proximity (13.56MHz) and standard proximity (125kHz). Short-range cards and tags are usually powered from the reader so the cards do not require internal battery power. Again, a second reader should be considered for use by disabled persons.

Long range technologies allow cards to be read several metres away from the reader. These technologies tend to be more costly. A version of long range technology allows a short or medium range card or tag to be placed in a special holder, which then transmits the data to the reader. This effectively extends the range of the short or medium range technology.

Long-range cards and tags typically have a battery built into them to provide the long range coverage, however there are products available that do not require batteries. Any long-range device that has a battery may have a limited “life” as the battery will discharge in time. Battery life should be checked with the manufacturer.

Long-range technologies are less sensitive to the way in which the card or tag is presented at the reader so generally a single reader will accommodate all users at an entrance. The provision of LED and beeper to indicate access granted or denied should still be considered to accommodate sight and hearing impaired users.

Picture of a wireless doorbell.

Biometric technologies “read” an aspect of the user’s body. The data is translated into a unique code, which is read by the access control system. The process of reading and comparing data in biometric recognition systems are all similar. Once enrolled in an access control system, when a user requires access, the biometric scan is compared with the information stored in the system. If the match is recognised, access is allowed. There are two main data storage formats in use, one stores the biometric template in a central database, the other stores the information on an access card (eliminating centrally stored personal information). Note that in the case of the latter system, the user must present their card as well as allow the biometric scan.

Examples of biometric technologies include: finger; palm/hand; iris recognition and facial recognition.

Picture of a finger biometric device.With biometric technologies, the need for a positive link between the reader and the person varies, depending on the technology. As a general statement, biometric technologies require “contact” between the person and the reader but as the technologies advance, iris and facial recognition systems in particular are becoming less sensitive to the position of the users relative to the reader. A second reader should be considered where necessary.

One should not discount the use of “assisted access” for disabled entry in place of an access reader. If access is required for a disabled person on a casual basis only, then the provision of a call switch or an intercom station may be adequate for the person to summon assistance and then the assistant manages the access requirements. Note that the position of the door intercom unit needs to be considered in terms of the DDA requirements.

The means of exiting through a door must also be considered. If reader exit is required, then the recommendations listed above will also apply. When using a reader for exit, then also consider the position of the override emergency exit button. This should be installed in accordance with fire egress requirements. Push button request to exit switches should be positioned to suit both able and disabled users.

Suppliers of access control systems


The above information was collected from the following sources:

  • British Security Industry Association (BSIA) (n.d.) Access Control - Designing, manufacturing and installing quality access control systems. [accessed 30/10/08].
  • British Security Industry Association (BSIA) (2008) Compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act - An Access Control Guide. [accessed 30/10/08].

Further information:

Other information:

Picture acknowledgements