Go beyond guidance when designing an inclusive environment – Advice Eating

© Robert Kneschke

From our day-to-day dealings with minimum widths for doorways, maximum gradients for ramps, and many other benchmarks, one of the top pieces of advice we want to give you is that when working to design an inclusive environment, don’t be afraid to go beyond the guidelines, says About Access

Whether you get it from Approved Document M of the Building Regulations, BS 8300 or other official sources, try to remember that this is guidance only. It sets a minimum requirement and gives you the freedom to be better than the lowest level if you can – and if you want to.

Not many people always choose the cheapest option when buying a car. We all like a few bells and whistles on top of functionality, so why not take the same approach to accessibility?

Far too often we come across examples of designers following the guidelines but not taking the basic extra steps that would have made a big difference.

Inclusive environment in the workplace

Someone who works in an office is likely to leave their desk several times a day for various reasons. If they have an impairment, their short and seemingly easy journeys through the building can become quite an ordeal.

Real-life examples of access issues include people having to move to another part of their work place to access food and drink facilities, be it a kitchen, canteen or vending machine.

The kitchen in our example was at the end of a corridor, and for some, going through four pairs of doors meant going through it. Getting there was okay because people didn’t have their hands full, but returning was a problem because they always had at least one item with them.

In some cases, the kitchen might be on a different floor, and we’ve also seen cases where the toilets are on a different floor as well. However accessible the actual facilities are, obstacles can make the route inaccessible.

People may also leave their desks to get some fresh air, meet outside of the company, and for various other reasons. You must remember to make it easy for them to exit and return to the building. You can’t assume they’ll be in the building all day.

They may also need to visit colleagues in other parts of the building, whether in a meeting room or elsewhere, to discuss work projects and events. If they use a meeting room, is it accessible? Is the way from the desk to the meeting room barrier-free?

It’s about anticipating the journey through the building before the employee arrives on site and thinking about the pre-information you could give them leading up to entering the premises, moving through the building, and their day of work.

Don’t forget location when considering an inclusive environment

One case we looked at involved a company relocating to a new building that was much more accessible. But its location wasn’t on a public thoroughfare and didn’t have parking. These aspects were not taken into account, resulting in a significant problem.

In each example, the designers and architects had followed the brief but failed to use their initiative to do anything more, such as making sure facilities like the kitchen, toilets, or a stairwell were in a place that convenient for as many people as possible rather than being stuck at the end of a building or in a remote corner.

Doors in an inclusive environment can be a major obstacle

Doors often pose a potential obstacle, so it’s good to keep them to a minimum and consider all design options, as some are more accessible than others.

It is worth mentioning here that in one hotel we visited we found all the doors to be of reasonable width, with plenty of room on either side to allow a wheelchair user to open and close them. Except in one instance where someone had placed a high table right in front of the door, preventing a wheelchair user from getting close enough to the handle.

Consider the long-term perspective of an inclusive environment

When planning and designing the floor plans of new buildings and renovation projects, it pays to think long-term and to imagine yourself as a person with disabilities who has to use the premises and facilities.

If you are the boss or the person behind the financial strings of an accessibility project, remember that despite the many disabled colleagues in or around your organization, this number could increase as people become disabled through accidents, illness and old age could suffer.

If so, should they be forced to quit the job they need and love, or can adjustments be made to keep them and their valuable experience on your team?

As a boss, what would you do if you acquired a disability? Perhaps your circumstances and savings would be such that you would relish the chance to drive off into the sunset and enjoy retirement? But wouldn’t you like at least the option to stay instead of being pressured into leaving because of accessibility issues?

It’s important to remember that narrow corridors and doorways can present difficult challenges, but narrow-minded thinking is easily overcome.

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