Photo by Ann H

Accessibility in an interior space means that the physical environment where users interact with each other has to be empathic to the elderly and people with disabilities. Inclusivity is critical because a built environment where no one has to struggle to go around is critical.

This is the beauty of creating spaces that encompasses beyond what is considered normal and only for people who are non-disabled. For example, the construction of ramps made life easier for people in wheelchairs to pass through since they won’t struggle with getting lifted from one place to another. An older person who has difficulty walking can now hold onto bar handles on the sides of the walls and a non-slip surface flooring to avoid any slip or fall.

Such examples are heavily considered when designing or modifying interior spaces to cater to these people with specific physical needs. Together with the standards set for each room, this creates a balance among different kinds of spatial users.

A Designer’s Duty to Be Inclusive

For disabled people to freely blend in with their surroundings, there has to be a natural flow in each space they are in, without it being too obviously catering to their needs as physically challenged people. As designers, it is your job to boost their social participation and self-esteem despite having limited mobility.

More than anything, the elderly and people with disabilities want to feel satisfied while maneuvering around any space and enabling them to do things that even a non-disabled human does daily. Designers have the social responsibility to care for the well-being of these groups and ensure their safety and comfort wherever they are. Providing them with a sense of normalcy will increase life satisfaction. Over time, the increasing awareness of the design community and the need to appropriate spatial standards for the disabled has led to many initiatives and discussions centered around design, which is an answered prayer.

The Need to Raise More Awareness

Aside from simply putting on spatial standards for the disabled, designers must have empathy and utter sensitivity to the end-users. Further research and personal encounters are necessary to evaluate and understand what they need to navigate around a space so easily. This is accompanied by championing more awareness among architects, planners, landscape architects, engineers, and other building professionals.

The fact is that there should be increased accessibility in spaces where everyone, disabled or not, can harmoniously coexist. Accessibility modifications in Ontario, Canada, are available for any designer around the area who plans to remodel or build interior spaces with the PWD and elderly in mind.

Ways a Designer Can Implement Accessibility

Any designer can put up ramps or extra broad expansions for people with wheelchairs and call it a day of being inclusive. But, there are other factors at large that most of us miss, and that is the design language. Failure to translate it correctly to the right audience can be fatal and will result in numerous consequences. In all aspects, designers must consider other types of disabilities, not just the ones in wheelchairs and crutches.

There should be touch-oriented way finders for blind people to refer to when navigating an interior space, especially for public spaces. As for speech-impaired individuals, visual way finders are a big help, with specific but not too heavily scripted signage leading to certain destinations. Some mentally disabled people do not have the average sensory capacity to take in their surroundings and are often photosensitive or easily triggered by loud noise. Solving these issues creatively and cohesively will be a challenge for any designer, but the result is worth doing.

With the joint efforts of industry professionals to create more livable spaces, even for the disabled and the elderly, empathy and sensitivity are two core values that all designers should nurture before reimagining a universally welcoming space. Incorporating an easy way out isn’t what accessible design wants to teach everyone. It shows that no one gets left behind with the progressive evolution of architecture and design.

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