Vancouver’s recently passed legislation outlawing round doorknobs for new construction, favouring protruding levers instead, seems enlightened and compassionate toward those with limited manual dexterity such as the elderly. Coun. Jennifer Watts promises similar enlightenment for Haligonians.
Perhaps less impressive is the ideological motivation of progress. For some, the thought of being “ahead of their time” is an exhilarating experience: Witness Howard Gerry commenting to the Toronto Star on Vancouver’s move to ban offending knobs:
“This is very progressive of Vancouver,” says the associate professor specializing in universal design at Toronto’s OCAD University. “It makes good sense, even for private houses. Think about an aging population or an individual carrying groceries or small children. Levers make access easier.”
Surprisingly, even though Gerry and many others argue that “easier access” would also benefit “small children,” the move puts children between the ages of six and 10, who are roughly about 125 centimetres tall, at significant risk. Door levers are disastrously dangerous for them, especially boys.
In 2006, the British Journal of Ophthalmology published a study that examined cases from a tertiary eye-care hospital over a 24-month period in which children sustained severe visual loss because of door lever injuries.
The study concentrates on optical nerve avulsion (ONA). In medical terms, avulsion refers to an injury in which a part of the human body is forcibly detached from its normal position by either trauma or surgery.
“In all of our patients, the pointed door handles had entered in the orbital compartment. The mechanism of ONA injury caused by a pointed door handle entering the orbit, medial to the globe, may include creation of a wedge effect in the orbit.” In four of the cases examined, a child’s eye globe ruptured.
While one must concede that not all handle levers are equally pointy or sharp, a quick survey of what is available today shows that the vast majority tend to be quite dangerous to those at risk.
In three of the examined cases, the accidents took place in school, whereas the remaining 11 occurred at home. It is also worth noting that the study examined cases from only one hospital in the United Kingdom. Expectedly, a systematic survey of medical facilities in Canada would yield similar patterns.
Generally, head injury to children from door levers abound and offer various degrees of danger. A 2011 Annals of Pediatric Surgery issue documents a case in which a door lever perforated a child’s oesophagus. Another medical journal has reported levers causing significant injury even to adults. In the absence of comprehensive statistical data, the anecdotal evidence does suggest that if levers were imposed in schools and homes in a given jurisdiction, the incidence of such tragic cases would dramatically increase. A gradual introduction in new buildings would gradually increase the accidents.
Of course, lever design and height can be modified, which would require new doors or even more costly modifications. But then one might be condemning older children and some adults to similar misfortune.
And if the immediate suffering to children were not enough to dissuade politicians from imposing door levers, each of the cases studied in the U.K. required an average of 28.6 months of highly specialized medical follow-ups.
Now, Halifax is not yet compelling private residences to adopt door levers. But imposing the use of levers in all public buildings, such as schools, might not be far behind when people live by the dictates of progress or by the desire to out-progress others.
Levers are not the sole alternative to improving access and help the disabled (although there are no perfect solutions), but people should always have the choice. Vancouver’s doorknob ordinance seems a fait accompli, and city hall there might have to deal with lawsuits from parents, augmenting suffering and wider public costs.
However, it is not too late for Haligonian councillors and future copycats elsewhere to consider whether to sacrifice even one child’s vision for the sake of easier access. Given that Halifax Regional Municipality cannot modify the building code without the intervention of the province of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia legislators must also consider the question.
So, let’s think of the children.
Marco Navarro-Genie is President and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies