5 EYERS for Designing Accessible Spaces
For many of us, the term disability is a bit of a dirty word. People associate the word with being unable to do simple things, like a loss of muscle strength or not being able to walk in a straight line. But according to a study released in 2011 by the UK-based charity the Ithmar Disability Trade Unionist Research Centre, more than 40% of people living with a disability are employed – or trying to get into employment – despite more than 30% of those surveyed reporting some level of disability. That’s a significant, positive, and remarkable statistic.
It also means that instead of focusing on whether someone is “able” to do something, the conversation should be focused on building new designs that help people with disability to fulfill their potential. That’s why it’s critically important to design with the purpose of helping people with disabilities and their carers. Here are some design principles that we think can and should guide all of us building more accessible communities:
Consider the impact
When designing a building or a park, consider how the community can be affected. For example, accessibility changes such as better fitting ramps or narrow building entrances can potentially adversely affect the sight or hearing of many. An example of this would be central air conditioning – an effective way to cool off a summer day and still preserve ventilation – and a functional wall that makes a toilet accessible to people with severe mental or physical disabilities. Making these adaptations not only helps people with disabilities, but also offers enhanced quality of life to those supporting them.
Is it realistic?
If you want to design a building for people with disabilities, ask yourself if it’s realistic. Most of us aren’t going to have the time or inclination to devote hours to redesigning a building. After all, how many of us do you really see taking the stairs to work or our little bit of yardwork around the house? The challenge for designers is to take the emotion out of accessibility and focus on more concrete goals: How can we design a building for the most vulnerable? How can we build a new park that not only engages local residents, but also helps relieve some of the city’s “urban burden”?
Think about the long term
If you want to design a building for people with disabilities, there are obviously financial implications, including the cost of hiring services and bringing them up to standard. However, consider the impact that the standardization and accessibility of a building has. Think about older properties and those that are seeing a lot of use, such as schools and elderly care facilities. How might we build a building that can survive through time? Some of these properties have surely maintained or improved beyond their original specifications. They’ve adapted to the needs of the community over time, not only improving in design and function, but also in the ways in which they provide services to the community.
Who really needs this?
Determining who in the community is most likely to benefit from accessibility improvements can be tricky. For instance, if we’re building a park to help accommodate the needs of the mentally ill, there might be seniors in the neighborhood who might not be able to participate in the park. Perhaps we would be best off designing an accessible park to serve mental health professionals and professionals in the mental health field. Alternately, a much smaller section of the park could be designated as an inclusion area where people with disabilities could go to enjoy the amenities without necessarily getting out of their wheelchairs. Another way to think about this: A certain section of a road might need to be widened to accommodate wheelchair users, but a much larger area of the road might need to be widened to accommodate recreational cyclists. This idea would also solve the needs of both riders and cyclists.
These design principles are great in theory, but it’s more than enough to take a step towards making our communities more accessible for everyone. Hopefully, in doing so, we’ll have better-than-ever access to spaces that promote creativity, recreational activities, and community of all kinds.