Designing for the Handicapped: Why It’s Important and How to Do It
The World Health Organization (WHO) gives statistics implying that at the least ten percent of the global populace lives with a certain form of disability. The percentage might be higher in some countries, and it is safe to say that this group of people is often discriminated against in many aspects of life, one of them being architecture and the built environment.
The term ‘handicap’ generally implies a limitation or a restriction in ability or capacity. However, the word has come to have different connotations in different contexts. In North America, the word ‘handicap’ is often used in reference to physical or mental disabilities, while in Europe, the term is used more broadly to refer to any disadvantaged group in society. For the purposes of this essay, the term ‘handicap’ will be used to refer to physical or mental disabilities.
There are many reasons why designing for the handicapped is important. First and foremost, it is a matter of social justice. Everyone deserves to have access to the built environment, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Second, from an economic perspective, designing for the handicapped makes good business sense. According to a report by The New York Times, Americans with disabilities have a combined spending power of $490 billion annually.
And finally, from an aesthetic perspective, good design is inclusive design. Design that takes into account the needs of the handicapped can also be beautiful and elegant. This was demonstrated by Timothy Nugent, the architect responsible for designing wheelchair-accessible dormitories at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His design was so successful that it was later adopted by the National Commission on Architectural Barriers as a model for accessible housing nationwide.
2. The statistic of handicapped people
According to WHO statistics from 2011, there are over one billion people living with some form of disability globally, representing about 15% of the world’s population. Of this number, 190 million are children and 160 million are adults over the age of 60. These statistics imply that at least 10% of the global population lives with a disability of some kind.
According to a study conducted by the US Census Bureau in 2010, 19% of Americans live with a disability. Of this number, 12% have a severe disability and 7% have a non-severe disability. The study also found that 56% of people with a disability live in households earning less than $25,000 per year and that 38% live in poverty.
Finally, according to a study by researchers at Harvard University and Boston College, 5% of American children under the age of 18 live with a disability. This number has remained relatively constant over the past 20 years even as other measures of child well-being have improved.
3. Accessibility in buildings
Accessibility refers to the extent to which an environment or product can be used by people with different abilities and disabilities. When it comes to architecture and the built environment, accessibility can be thought of in terms of three different types: physical accessibility, programmatic accessibility, and attitudinal accessibility.
Physical accessibility refers to the actual physical features of a building or space that make it accessible or inaccessible to people with disabilities. This includes features like ramps, elevators, Braille signage, and wheelchair-accessible toilets.
Programmatic accessibility refers to the way in which a space is organized and programmed in order to be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes things like providing wheelchair-accessible seating in auditoriums or having Braille menus in restaurants.
Attitudinal accessibility refers to the way in which people with disabilities are treated by the staff of a building or space. This includes things like making sure that staff are trained in how to communicate with and provide assistance to people with disabilities.
4. Designing for the handicapped
The term ‘universal design’ was coined by architect Ronald L. Mace in the early 1990s. Universal design is an approach to design that takes into account the needs of all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. universal design is sometimes also referred to as ‘inclusive design’ or ‘design for all’.
There are seven principles of universal design: Equitable use, Flexibility in use, Simple and intuitive use, Perceptible information, Tolerance for error, Low physical effort, and Size and space for approach and use.
Applying these principles can result in designs that are not only more accessible, but also more user-friendly for everyone. For example, a door handle that is easy to grasp and turn is an example of a design that is equitable and simple to use. A light switch that can be operated with a elbow or foot is an example of a design that is flexible and low-effort to use. And finally, Braille signage is an example of a design that provides perceptible information and is sized and spaced for approach and use.
5. Building for the handicapped
In the United States, there are two main laws that govern the design of buildings for the handicapped: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. These laws mandate that all new construction and alteration projects funded by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, the ADA requires that all public accommodations (e.g., hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.) must be accessible to people with disabilities.
There are several ways to make a building accessible to people with disabilities. One way is to provide ramps or lifts so that people who use wheelchairs can enter the building. Another way is to provide Braille signs and Braille-equipped elevators so that people who are blind or have low vision can navigate the building. And finally, one way is to provide auditory signals at pedestrian crossings so that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can safely cross streets. These are just a few examples; there are many other ways to make buildings accessible. The important thing is to make sure that all new construction and alteration projects take into account the needs of people with disabilities. Only then will we achieve true social justice in the built environment.
6. Accessibility standards
There are several organizations that have developed accessibility standards for the design of the built environment. The most important of these is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is a non-profit organization that develops voluntary consensus standards for a variety of products and industries.
ANSI’s accessibility standards are known as the ANSI/ICC A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. This standard covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to: means of egress, doors and doorways, signage, toilet rooms, drinking fountains, and telephones. The standard is regularly updated to keep pace with new technologies and changing needs.
Other organizations that have developed accessibility standards include the International Code Council (ICC) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). These organizations have developed similar but slightly different standards for the design of accessible buildings and facilities.
The bottom line is that there are several well-developed accessibility standards that can be used to guide the design of accessible buildings and spaces. Architects and designers should familiarize themselves with these standards so that they can be sure to meet the needs of people with disabilities in their designs.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that people with disabilities are a part of our society and that they deserve to have access to the built environment just like everyone else. Designing for the handicapped is not only a matter of social justice, but also good business sense and good design. There are many ways to make buildings accessible, and there are several well-developed accessibility standards that can be used to guide the design process. It is important for architects and designers to be familiar with these standards so that they can create spaces that are inclusive and accessible for everyone.