We have been discussing the concepts of Universal Design and accessibility in this series of blog posts. Creating an accessible environment is essential to provide a level-playing field for everyone irrespective of their level of abilities or disabilities. Nearly fifteen percent of world population suffers from some kind of disability; it’s important to create accessible environments to enable these people to lead a normal life and contribute to the society. Designing barrier-free built environments will allow people with special needs, the disabled, the elderly, and the sick people, to use these buildings/ facilities without risking their safety.
Some main design considerations for making buildings accessible
Most people, including some architects, have a misconception that making a building or built-environment accessible is synonymous with providing a ramp at the entrance of a building.
One needs, in fact, to take care of numerous aspects/ elements to ensure that a structure is accessible and presents no obstacles or safety hazards for people with special needs. These elements may include ramps, stairs and elevators, entrance doors and corridors, washrooms, flooring, audio-visual/ braille signage, and so on. We shall be discussing some finer points regarding these elements in our posts in detail; let us begin with two very important elements here: ramps and elevators.
Ramps play a significant role in making built environments accessible in three ways:
- Making routes/ paths accessible wherever there is a level difference,
- Making the entrances of the buildings accessible, and
Making it easier for wheelchair users and people with mobility problems to move between different floor levels in a building.
Usual shortcomings with ramps:
- Very steep ramps difficult to climb,
- Very long ramps with no resting landings,
- Lack of handrails or improper handrails.
Main design principles for ramps:
- Ramps take a lot of space, so an outdoor location is always better than an indoor one
- If possible, the entrance to a ramp should be immediately adjacent to stairs to give a choice to the users
- A ramp can be either a straight run, a 90 turn, or a switch back (180 turn). Circular ramps should be avoided
- The minimum width of a ramp should be 0.9m and maximum slope should be 1:20; exceptions may be permitted as per requirements and situations
- Ramps should necessarily be provided with landings, primarily for resting and avoiding excessive speeds. Minimum length of 1.20m and a minimum width equal to that of the ramp
- A protective handrail should be provided along the full length of the ramp
- The ramp surface should be hard and non-slip; carpets should not be used
- A coloured textural indication should be provided at each floor level to help the sightless know about the location of the ramp and the number of the floor
Some of the problems people with special needs experience while using elevators are:
- There is sometimes inadequate space inside the elevator cab
- Switches, buttons and control panel are out of reach
- Braille or audio signs are not used
- Entry doors are too narrow or opening time interval is insufficient
Main design principles for elevators:
- An accessible elevator should serve all public floors
- A key-operated elevator should always have an operator present
- Wide elevator cabs are better suited than long ones
- Minimum internal cab dimensions for a single wheelchair user should be 1.00 m x 1.30 m, and minimum door opening should be 0.8 m.
- There should be a handrail 0.8 m high on three sides of the cab
- The control panel should be mounted at a minimum distance of 0.50 m from the corner to be conveniently accessible for wheelchair users. It should be mounted 0.90 m to 1.20 m above the floor level.
- Control buttons should be illuminated, and numerals on the floor select buttons should be embossed to be easily identifiable for visually impaired
- Tactile numerals should be placed on both sides of door jams 1.50 m high for visually impaired people to identify the floor level
- The door opening interval should be no less than 5 seconds
- Audio and visual signals should be provided to help visually impaired and hearing impaired respectively identify the number of the floor reached
- The floor of the elevator and the area in front should have a non-skid resilient surface
- The colour of the door should contrast with the surrounding surface so as to be easily distinguishable by persons with visual impairment
Ramps and elevators are two of the main elements the architects should consider carefully for making the buildings/ facilities accessible for people with special needs. We shall continue this discussion in our future posts and come up with some more vital elements that should be considered in order to create an accessible environment for all the users. Please continue to send your feedback/ suggestions to help us make these blog posts more knowledge and interesting.
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.