While planning Covid-safe processes and procedures it’s easy to forget accessibility. To the rescue comes a handy checklistwith things to watch out for. The higher education advice applies to almost all built environments where people are coming and going. Here are some of the key points:
Remind maintenance staff to sanitise accessible features: tactile and Braille signage, and automatic door openers.
Make floor markers high contrast: one way arrows in hallways, for example.
Ensure floor markings are clear and intuitive. Where to stand should be obvious. Boxes individuals can stand in are clearer than lines or cross-markings.
Eliminate protruding objects and trip hazards: wall mounted sanitisers, A-frame signs, for example.
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.
Retirement living has to factor pandemics into design now. Separation rather than isolation is the key. Much of the value of specialist retirement living is the easy access to amenities and socialisation. But the pandemic put a stop to both. The constant reminder that older people are more vulnerable to the infection was the last straw. Especially as everyone fell into the vulnerable category. Consequently, everyone got isolated from each other. But how to design for this?
Australian Ageing Agenda has an article discussing these issues. If residents have to stay home for prolonged periods, they will likely demand more space. Pocket neighbourhoods could work so that only a section needs to be cordoned off. Other ideas are:
Converting utility rooms in residential aged care to provide sleeping cubicles for staff to stay overnight
Architects and designers working with materials that are either antimicrobial or easily cleaned
Better air filtration and purification, possibly driven by future changes in air-quality codes
More high-tech senior-living communities with virtual socialisation, technology support and clear communication systems in place so residents can ask questions and feel more comfortable
Technology that allows residents to navigate communities without pressing buttons or grabbing handles
Facilitation of in-person visits during times of outbreaks via a dedicated clean room