Farewell the Round doorknob: Is Vancouver’s ban a sign of things to come for Australia?

As the Canadian city legislates the classic round doorknob out of existence, might Australia follow suit?

Vancouver’s decision to phase out the classic round door knob may spell the death knell to a mechanical device that is as old as the door itself. The first references to doors and door handles can be found in ancient literature including the bible and ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian history.

However, recent laws totally banning round door knobs on all new buildings, argue that the elderly, infirm and disabled can struggle to grip and operate them. Is this the upholding of basic human rights or a perverse erosion of our free choice?

The jury is still out but there are compelling arguments in favour of the ban despite the groaning’s of traditional purists and the wails of antique lovers.

The anti-doorknob movement is spreading globally with many door knob protesters calling for a door knob purge, similarly citing the needs of the elderly and disabled. Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK, told the Independent “We need to look at why doorknobs are not suitable for disabled people,”

There can be no argument with the fact that a door lever is far easier to operate than a traditional round door knob, especially for someone with arthritis or little movement of their hands. The question could be asked though, where will this line of reasoning stop? Will door levers finally be banned in favour of electronic automatic doors? And will a future door, open automatically upon sensing your presence, using your iris as security? Well, why not?

Some elderly support groups, their sense of history threatened, are still holding out and have spoken in favour of the age-old doorknob, suggesting reinvention not removal.  Over in Vancouver, doorknob prohibition is surely a sign of things to come nationwide. The Vancouver Sun observes that the city’s independent building code often sees it at the forefront of building design – pioneering the exclusive use of low-flush toilets, and energy-saving fluorescent light-bulbs. In Australia, the cynics are signalling that the end of citizens’ rights are nigh! Really?

Amongst other things, detractors of the new laws say that lever handles are a danger to kids. Others argue that door levers are an open ticket to large bears who are apparently adept at the use of lever handles but not at the use of knobs. They warn that to vanquish the trusty door knob will put folks in imminent danger of invasion by the animals! Yikes!

Back in Australia the Human Rights Commission has weighed into the debate and there are now very clear guidelines as to disabled compliance, and rightly so. However there is not as yet a totalitarian banning of our right to use our friend the door knob on buildings where disabled compliance is not required, for example your own home where it suits the architecture!

It is quite incredible that such a seemingly harmless inanimate piece of history (the knob) could become the focal point of such lofty international debate! The British Standards Institution and The UK Design Council, both champions of “inclusive design”, hold that buildings should be designed for access to everybody[i]

This is incontrovertible of course and so it seems, just as we are saying goodbye to cars that need a driver, planes that need a pilot and bricks and mortar stores, so we could also be saying goodbye to a mainstay of our security that has served us so well for the past 4000 years or thereabouts![ii]


[i] Obviously not bear bodies though!

[ii] It is not known exactly when door knobs first were used other than the reference to them in ancient literature. The first US patent for a knob was filed in 1878 by Osbourn Dorsey.