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The normal construction is a half-round, rectangular, trapezoidal or V-shaped enclosure with a hinged gate trapped between its arms. When the gate is parked at either side of the enclosure, there is no gap to pass through. However, the gate can be pushed to give access to the small enclosure, then moved in the opposite direction to close the first opening and allow exit from the enclosure to the other side. The gate is usually self-closing, to the side away from the land where animals are kept. The self-closing may be by hinge geometry, or by a spring or weight.
The gate may be made large enough to fit wheelchairs and the like. Alternatively, to allow pushchairs, wheelchairs, bicycles, and other things too large for the gate to pass, a conventional gate not for routine use may be nearby, or an additional latch may allow the kissing gate itself to open fully.
The name comes from the gate merely "kissing" (touching) the enclosure on either side, rather than needing to be securely latched.
The UK's Equality Act 2010, which superseded the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, requires that public services make "reasonable adjustments" to allow disabled access. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England suggested in this context that kissing gates and stiles should be in time be replaced or supplemented by a type that would allow access to a wider range of users.
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