For every line you draw, think about the end-users… If you do a good job, think of the beneficiaries; if you do a poor job, think of the sufferers.
THINK about it. If you build a poorly designed ramp, the next victim may be your grandmother, or your children. When you design for differently-abled people, you design for all. This includes the seniors, or what I like to call “recycled teenagers,” people with disabilities, pregnant women, and children.
Designing spaces which these groups of people can access without aid encourages people to go outdoors, creating a vibrant and livable community. It also helps improve the local economy. Retirees usually have more means than the younger generations. But instead of circulating their finances, they are left cooped up in their homes since they are discouraged by non-senior-friendly designs. Creating livable spaces would also increase their appeal to a wider range of markets for tourism and for living. This should involve urban planning and design, and streetscapes as well as architecture.
Designing public spaces for all
Before anything else, pedestrian sidewalks should be properly paved, be wide enough, and clear of any obstacles in the middle. All public spaces should provide tactile surfaces. Not only are they for anti-slippage, but they act as guides for the blind. If not, providing proper landscaping would also help act as guides and add aesthetic value to the place. For those in wheelchairs, there should be an area where they can stop to rest without blocking the walkway. In some places, the waiting sheds are aligned with the bus or train entrance in consideration for those in wheelchairs.
Lighting and signage should be considered as well. Instead of yellow lights, consider using white lights. This also helps increase night activities, security, and will allow people to better see the signages. Colors used in signages should be contrasting for easier distinction. Braille should also be provided for the blind, located at a minimum height of 1.5 meters at the center, based on the BP 344 Accessibility Law.
Ramps are one of the most obvious identifiers into how much thought was put into creating an inclusive space. Nowadays, most owners view this more as a “requirement” rather than a consideration. The ideal slope for a ramp is 1:12; however, following this standard eats a lot of space. Hence, some provide ramps with very high slopes that are more dangerous to use, in order to save on space which can be used for profit. Going to a bank, I have observed the same situation where the slope of the PWD access is too high that it took two security guards of the bank to help a woman in wheelchair to go up. There could be a potential security issue; while the guards are preoccupied with helping PWDs up the ramp something else could happen needing their attention. This is why it is important to design places that PWDs can access without aid.
Public restrooms should also adhere to these laws. Providing handrails and enough turning space for wheelchairs are at most a minimum. Door openings, water closet and lavatory height should also be considered when designing for PWDs. Lavatories are usually lower so people on wheelchairs as well as children can reach them, while water closets are usually higher so as not to strain senior citizens, PWDs, and pregnant women.
Building design is no exception, and should be stricter in implementing these standards since people use or spend most of their time in buildings. The maximum height of a step is 20 centimeters. In consideration of children, pregnant women, and senior citizens, it is not ideal to maximize the height of the steps in order to save space. A step with a height of 20 centimeters may be hard for differently-abled people, especially if there are many steps in a flight. With proper design of stairs, people can be encouraged to use them more, which could help improve their health. Taking the stairs has been proven to be one of the most effective and cost-efficient way to exercise.
Along with proper stair design, there should be well-thought-out handrails to accompany it. Take for example a railing with horizontal bars. Children can climb over it and cause accidents. Nevertheless, there should still be horizontal bars at the bottom of the rails for the blind when they use their white cane.
Older people tend to lose strength in their joints. Design modifications should be made to facilitate easy access. For example, European-style door handles are preferred over door knobs, while delta-type faucet handles are suited for older people for easier grip. With the gradual reduction of the nerve tissue, this greatly affects older people’s equilibrium and balance. Non-slip surfaces and support railings would tremendously help, and even encourage the seniors to move around the retirement home.
It is not only because we are architects, planners and engineers that we should consider creating differently-abled-friendly spaces. As fellow neighbors and citizens, we ought to provide them spaces where they can live comfortably and enjoy them. A truly inclusive space takes into consideration end-users of all abilities.