Compliance isn’t an aim – it’s a duty

Entrance to the LightHouse building showing a man using a cane and a woman with an assistance dog.Do you know of good examples of universal design in buildings? One or two maybe?  Bess Williamson asks in Metropolis magazine, Why Are There So Few Great Accessible Buildings? Of course, accessibility in its fullest sense is much more than compliance to the building code.

Professor Williamson discusses the LightHouse project, and the Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. Including people with disability in the design process means these buildings are not a regular type of commission. In some respects they are specialised buildings because people with disability were central to design thinking. It’s puzzling to think that architects can’t apply the same thinking to all their projects. After all, everyone benefits from inclusive design. What’s worrying is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), isn’t being heeded.

Williamson also discusses the recent architectural “triumph” of the new Queens Public Library which revealed major access problems. The architects claimed compliance on the basis that patrons could ask a librarian for help. However, this is not equitable access. It shows scant regard for the ADA and not only people with disability. Families with prams also use libraries, and staff cannot take trolleys to the shelves. Thinking about all users makes a case for universal design. The Queens Library is a case of form over function – the views from the windows, if you can reach them, are fabulous. 

Williamson concludes that access remains an afterthought for designers who look to the minimum. But disability-specific places show that access can be creative beyond the legal minimum. The article is easy to read and has a gallery of illustrations.

 

Invisible Universal Design

two people are walking towards a door that automatically opens.Richard Duncan reminds us about design features that we never think of as “accessible”. For example, how would supermarket shoppers manage without automatic doors? These doors are everywhere and we don’t think twice about it. But more to the point, we probably do notice any door that doesn’t open automatically when our hands are full or we are pushing a trolley or stroller. That’s when universal design becomes visible – when it’s not there.

When it comes to doors, the worst offenders are revolving doors and that is why many building codes require a separate door for people who cannot navigate the revolving contraption. Other devices we don’t think about are beeping noises at traffic lights. As more people have their heads down looking at their phones, this device designed for people who are blind has become good for many more. Lever handles and taps are now the norm because they are useable by everyone and probably more hygienic. Video captioning has also become a favourite for everyone watching social media on smart phones.  Richard Duncan’s article, Hidden Universal Design: Commercial doors, is on his Linked In page.