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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality
Theme: Accessibility :
Accessibility for the Disabled - A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment
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Unsafe railings.

Hard to grip handrails.

No railings or handrails.


To install adequate railing, wherever needed for the comfort and safety of all people, especially those with mobility problems.


3.1 General

*Safety guards or railings should be installed around hazardous areas, stairs, ramps, accessible roofs, mezzanines, galleries, balconies and raised platforms more than 0.40 m high.

*On stairways, windows positioned less than 1.00 m from the landing should have railings.

*Handrails should be installed to assist disabled persons in bathrooms and toilets (see Rest Rooms).

*Spacing between the vertical and horizontal bars of railings should be narrow for the safety of children.

*Handrails should not obstruct the path of travel.

3.2 Height (fig. 1) (1)

*To facilitate use by ambulant disabled and elderly people, handrails should be mounted between 0.85 m and 0.95 m above the finished floor level.

*For the benefit of wheelchair users, a second handrail can be mounted between 0.70 m and 0.75 m from the floor.

*To facilitate use by children and short people, a third handrail can be mounted at a height of 0.60 m.

*To guide sightless people using a long cane, a rail should be mounted at a height between 0.10 m and 0.15 m (fig. 1); or a low curb should be installed at a height between 50 mm and 75 mm (fig. 2). Low curbs also act as wheelstops.

3.3 Mounting

*Railings should be securely attached to the wall or to a supporting structure so as to withstand heavy loads.

*Railings should not end abruptly but extend to the floor or blend into the wall so as not to create a hazard for sightless people.

3.4 Form (fig. 3)

*Handrails should allow a firm and easy grip.

*Circular cross-sections with a diameter of 40 mm are preferable.

*Sharp edges should be avoided.

3.5 Handrails for ramps and stairs

*Handrails should continue uninterrupted (except for doorways) on both sides and around the landing.

*Handrails should extend horizontally for a distance between 0.30 m and 0.45 m at the top and bottom of stairs and ramps, except in places where extensions could obstruct the pedestrian flow (fig.4).

*For stairs or ramps more than 3.00 m wide, a continuous intermediate handrail could be provided (see Ramps; Stairs).

3.6 Wall-mounted handrails

*The space between the handrail and the wall should be between 40 mm and 50 mm for smooth walls and 60 mm for rough textured walls (fig. 5).

*Where handrails are fully recessed into walls, a space of at least 0.15 m should be allowed between the top of the rail and the top of the recess (fig. 6).

3.7 Tactile marking

*For emergency exit stairs or ramps, a contrasting tactile strip at least 0.90 m long should be applied to the top and bottom edges of the handrail to alert the partially sighted.

3.8 Colour

*A contrasting colour is recommended for handrails to alert people with sight problems.


*If existing railings and handrails do not comply with the above requirements, they should be modified or replaced.


(1) Measurements are taken from the front of the tread.

Dimensions for railings for use by different persons with disabilities.
Fig. 1


Low curbs under railings as wheelstops and guides for sightless people.
Fig. 2


Preferred, acceptable and non-recommended cross sections for hand railings.
Fig. 3


Dimensions of handrails for ramps and stairs.
Fig. 4


Space between handrail and a wall at 40 mm to 50 mm for smooth walls and 60 mm for textured walls.
Fig. 5


Dimensions for handrails recessed into walls: at least 0.15 m between top of rail and top of recess.
Fig. 6

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development