Why Door Knobs are Going Extinct
Why Door Knobs are Going Extinct

Why Door Knobs are Going Extinct

Door knobs are an endangered species, and are no longer allowed in various cities and countries around the world. Here's why that is, and why it's a good thing.


I'm Julian O'Shea, and today I'm gonna be talking about this, the humble doorknob. Now, you may not know, but this guy's actually going extinct. There's an interesting story that involves bears and velociraptors. Stay tuned.

So the story of the functional doorknob as we know it goes back to 1878 in the United States where it was invented by a guy called Osbourn Dorsey. Now, we don't know a lot about his life, but we do know that he was an African-American inventor. And he came up with this concept and got a patent while he was still a teenager. It's a really interesting document that shows how he's integrated the locking and holding mechanism with the knob itself.

Before this, doors were held open with latches and straps, and if there was a locking mechanism, which was generally only for people that are a bit richer, it was a different system than the knob itself. So the key would lock the door, and the handle would be used just to help you open and close the door. So this is an innovative design that's served us well for over 100 years. But there are some limitations with it. So anyone that's carried a load of shopping and tried to get to a door with a doorknob certainly knows it's not the easiest thing to manoeuvre. And it's something that you can't necessarily do if you have poor grip strength. Maybe you're older or have arthritis. Or for people without a hand at all, these are very hard to operate.

And that's where we get to universal design. This is something that designers and architects and planners use to make the world more accessible for all. There are lots of examples in your day-to-day life. Think ramps instead of stairs or pedestrian crossings where you can both see the light and hear the sound. So people that have different abilities can use the same system.

And doors themselves, making sure that the handle isn't too high so kids and people from all heights can use it. I'm sitting on a box right now. That's now how tall the actual handle is. And governments have done some good work in making sure that this type of design becomes commonplace.

In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1992, and there are laws like it all around the world. And what they mandate is that the places we build and the cities that we live in have to be accessible for all. And this law points to a series of standards which give some really detailed information about what buildings need to do to be accessible. And this guy doesn't make the cut.

So if doorknobs aren't allowed, what is the alternative? Well, the standards that this document points to gives us the desired solution. And here's what it is. And the answer is door levers. These guys can be operated with one hand. You don't need a lot of strength to do it. And it could be easily pushed or pulled to open the door.

So the basic solution is less knobs, more levers. But change doesn't always come easy. When the city of Vancouver updated its building code to outlaw doorknobs and mandate that levers should be used, they didn't get an overwhelmingly positive response. In fact, the media picked up the story, 'cause they love something that's a bit sensational, and branded it as the banning of the doorknobs.

And look, the fact is not everyone likes change. But it's kind of hard to argue against making something more accessible for the elderly and people with disabilities. So that's not what they did. What they did is they founded a scare campaign that would push back against the idea of introducing accessible doors

And what was that? Bear attacks. Yes, people said that because these doors were so easy to use, that bears would be able to come in from the forest and enter people's homes. It was definitely an overblown story, but the media loved it. "The Economist" called it "Canada's war on doorknobs." And it's something that could be pretty easily solved. Just lock your door, and that'll keep the bears out.

To be fair, the city of Vancouver did say that with its zero-bear population, it isn't something they gave a lot of thought to. But often when you get positive change, people push back against it. In fact, one town actually mandated the use of doorknobs to prevent these bear attacks. So is it true that animals might be able to get in easier if you've got a more accessible door? Well, there's a great scene from "Jurassic Park" where the protagonist is asking whether they're safe from the raptors. And the response is.

Yes. Unless they figure out how to open doors.

And that's kinda the point, that these things are so good that yes, even velociraptors can use them. And this is what's great about universal design. And once you know about it, you'll start to see it everywhere in your day-to-day life, things that are designed to be used by people of all different abilities.

So the fact is we want a world that can be used be everyone, and yes, that does include bears and velociraptors, well, maybe it's time to farewell the doorknob.

I'm Julian O'Shea, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed that, there's more minutia coming up from me. Stay tuned, subscribe, and enjoy.