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IWF Education: The Color of Handrails

21. April 2020 14:25

By: Stephanie Bagnall, Georgia Attorney: Accessibility Specialist

Several years ago, my family and I were visiting my grandfather in San Antonio. While exploring the Riverwalk we came to stairs with a handrail. I have cerebral palsy and need to use the handrail to safely navigate stairs. Because this black handrail had been sitting in the sun all morning it was extremely hot and by the time, I got to the bottom of the stairs my hands were burned. All around me others were using the staircase but simply avoiding contact with the handrails.


Unfortunately, the same problem exists in Savannah where I currently live. Especially in the downtown area most buildings must comply with historical guidelines as to how the exterior of a building looks. This often includes brass or iron handrails for exterior stairways. These quickly absorb the heat of the sun and become unusable during the summer months, a busy season for tourists.

This is not the first time I’ve had this problem. I grew up in New England which can have very harsh winters. In contrast to the San Antonio and Savannah examples these handrails are so cold that they are hard maintain hold of. Due to my disability the use of mittens or gloves make it difficult getting in and out of buildings during the winter months

This is not just a problem that impacts people with disabilities, but also children and the elderly, who make up a considerable percentage of the tourist population in many cities. All visitors benefit from being able to use the handrails on stairways particularly during inclement weather.

There are a couple of simple fixes for this problem regardless of whether the handrails are hot or cold. One lies in the color of the handrail. White or lightly colored paint reflects heat while dark or black paint absorbs it. Regardless of the color of the handrail clear plastic covers can be placed over the handrail to protect people’s hands from temperature.  Taking this and the building’s climate into consideration when designing and constructing can help ensure the handrails are usable all year.

Learn more about universal design and how to be in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, register for the "Beyond the ADA - Creating Spaces that Everyone Can Live With" session at the IWF 2020 Education Conference.