41.1 million people in the United States live with a disability, however, around 20% of these individuals encounter barriers (including, barriers to buildings) in major cities across the country at least once every day, the Council for Disability Awareness reveals. Accessible buildings are vital as they, above all, allow for more equal access for people with disabilities. Fortunately, by improving and maintaining accessibility, building operators can help ensure their buildings are welcoming to everyone.
Elevators are essential in both new and existing public and commercial buildings to allow access to people of all abilities. Accessible elevators should have doors that remain completely open for a minimum of three seconds, braille on the control panel, and two-way communication available for people with blindness or deafness. Regular elevator maintenance (at least once a month) is also key to keep them running smoothly.
When it comes to creating and maintaining accessible spaces, the emphasis is typically placed on meeting the needs of people with physical impairments. However, it’s important to also account for people with mental and/or developmental disabilities. For example, roughly 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — a complex neurodevelopmental disorder with a myriad of potential symptoms, including communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors. People with ASD may also have difficulty focusing and therefore prefer certain modes of learning, such as interactive learning. Interactive learning that blends elearning with class-based learning makes it easier for people with ASD to stay engaged and receptive throughout the lesson. Moreover, when it comes to building design, sound perception is an important element for people with ASD, who are sensitive to volume and often find rooms either too loud or too quiet. So, for example, biophilic design with natural sounds, such as, running water or birdsong, can put occupants at ease and minimize stress.
When it comes to accessibility challenges, doors are a key concern. Heavy doors, for example, pose a challenge for people with disabilities or upper body mobility issues lacking the muscular strength needed to exert enough force to open them. Additionally, people with wheelchairs or walkers don’t always have enough time to pass through the door before it closes. Fortunately, however, door accessibility can be improved simply by adjusting door closers — a simple step that can be transformative for people with disabilities. Interior doors, for instance, should be able to open with a maximum of 5 lbs. of force. Keep in mind, the 5 lbs. doesn’t include the “initial force needed to overcome the weight of a motionless door”. The door should be opened slowly, rather than quickly yanked open. Where possible, doors should also be kept open as standard practice.
With numbers of people with disabilities only continuing to rise, accessible buildings are ever-more essential. By prioritizing accessible elevators and doors, as well as sensory considerations, building operators can make sure their buildings are welcoming to everyone, including people with disabilities.
This article was authored and contributed by Jackie Edwards. Now working as a writer, Jackie Edwards started her career in Environmental Health in the Public Sector, but after becoming a mom refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a strong interest in ecology, wildlife and conservation.