Designing Barrier-Free Environments

hawking‘People with disabilities are vulnerable because of the many barriers they face: attitudinal, physical and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach… but most important, addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people with so much to contribute to the world.’

-Stephen Hawking

Hawking’s words assume great significance as he set new standards for generations and showed that physical disability was no limitation if one had the talent and the will. However, it’s important to understand that an accessible environment is a precondition for persons with disabilities to realize their full potential or to lead a normal life. The designers should be persuaded to create barrier-free environments in order to ensure full participation and equality of the disabled people in the real sense.

Mainstreaming of disability
man-3047012_1920What the designers often fail to realize is that the needs of the disabled coincide with those of the majority; all people are at ease with them. Making the built-environments accessible for all is all the more important since most of us experience some kind of disability at some stage in our lives; a person with a broken leg, a child or an elderly person, a parent with a pram, there can be so many examples. Mainstreaming the disability would ensure that built-environments are planned and designed for the majority, for people with varying abilities and disabilities to allow them to have a comfortable, hazard-free access to the places and services.



Major types of disabilities
We have to deal with five major types of disabilities while planning accessible buildings for this important segment of the society. The target groups may be categorized as following:

  1. The sightless
  2. The partly sighted
  3. Wheel-chair users
  4. People with limited walking abilities
  5. The hearing impaired

man-301373_1920If a built environment is designed with a view to satisfy the special needs of the above-mentioned categories, it will be accessible for other categories of the disabled, and general public also.

Design elements to be considered
Disability has largely remained invisible in the mainstream development agenda, resulting in a lack of equal access for these people to basic resources like education, employment, healthcare, and legal and social support system. Designing barrier-free environments is essential for enabling the disabled people to move about safely and freely, and use all the facilities in the immediate built environment without any assistance- roads, parks, pavements, buildings, transport systems etc.

Unfortunately, even many designers believe that a ramp and a lift/ elevator is all that is needed to make a built-environment accessible and barrier-free, however, nothing can be farther than truth. One needs to consider so many elements to make the built space accessible and hazard-free for people with disabilities (for every user, in fact) in the real sense. The list is virtually endless– door and passage widths, flooring surfaces, toilet fixtures, staircase design and railings, door handles and counter heights, audio-visual signs, and so on. Similarly, auditory signals in public roads, and curbs and slopes in pavements can make life so convenient and safe for visually impaired people and wheelchair users respectively.

Providing barrier-free environments has been made a social/ moral/ legal responsibility of the architects and town planners by many countries. It’s important not to marginalize a major segment of the society with vast potential to contribute to the world. We shall be discussing the subject in more detail in our future posts; so, keep signing in and giving your feedback/ suggestions.





About the author
Sandeep Singh 
is an architect from IIT Roorkee. He is a prolific writer and a sensitive poet. His professional posts mostly cover the future in Architecture.  His books are chiefly devoted to the inner and outer battles that a disabled person in India faces every day.


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