People, Pandemics and Premises

A group of people, some wearing face masks, are crossing the road. They are walking a safe distance apart.Is the built environment designed for social distancing in a pandemic? The quick retrofitting in buildings and outdoor spaces, indicates pandemics were not envisaged in designs. But the pandemic has revealed many problems experienced by people before it struck. Being stuck at home for a long time is one of them. Not being able to access cafes is another. People with mobility restrictions in particular are saying, “welcome to my world”. 

Being isolated at home because you can’t physically get out is not new to everyone. An article in Sourceable, People, Pandemics and Premises, discusses some of the issues the pandemic has highlighted. Here are some points to consider:

    • Plastic screens at customer service counters make it difficult for people with hearing loss.
    • Face masks make lip-reading impossible and muffles speech.
    • Lack of door automation means touching door handles.
    • Narrow footpaths and internal corridors make social distancing impossible.
    • The height of take-away counters in cafes make ordering difficult from a seated position and difficult to hear each other.
    • Self-serve counters and check-outs are preferred now, but the space is too small to include mobility devices.

The design of housing also gets a mention and the recent “bean counter” approach to universal design in housing doesn’t take account of the pandemic. And this will not be the one and only time we have a pandemic. Our homes are now school rooms, workplaces and refuges. Apart from general accessibility for everyone, the pandemic requires us to re-think the 1950s “ideal” home design. It’s time for some real universal design thinking. 

The Sourceable article is an interesting take on the pandemic by Joe Manton.