In our everyday lives, those of us who are able-bodied may take for granted, the ease in which we can get around. From moving about our homes, parking our cars, shopping for clothes, or eating in a restaurant, we are able to use our faculties, for the most part, without pause. For millions of people, however, it is not so easy. Some have to rely on a wheelchair, cane or other device to get around. Others may have trouble with their eyesight or hearing. While still, many have trouble just opening a door because of their arthritis. As architects, we have a responsibility to design spaces that anyone can navigate and use, regardless of their circumstance.
There are several texts, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards of Accessible Design, and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1, that establish the minimum requirements in which all new construction and altered facilities are required to comply. While private residences, which fall under the R-3 Occupancy Type of the International Building Code, such as single family homes, are not mandated under these supplemental regulations, all other structures that contain sleeping or dwelling units must conform. I personally believe that we will see new single family homes become more barrier-free friendly in the near future.
In all applications, the goal is to make the components of a building easier to use for someone needing assistance. Doors, for example, have minimum clearances that must be provided depending on which direction the person is approaching from and if they are pushing or pulling the door open. The door must be equipped with lever type hardware that does not require someone to grasp and turn the handle, as such with a knob. It must also be able to be opened by using no more than 8 ½ lbs of force, for an exterior door and no more than 5 lbs for an interior door.
The codes also require that toilet and bathing facilities are accommodating to those needing assistance, especially those who use a wheelchair. The rooms themselves need to be large enough to allow someone in a wheelchair to have the clearances at the toilet and sink to maneuver their apparatus without obstructions. Grab bars are also regulated as to location and height to best assist a person transferring from their chair to the water closet or into/out of a bath tub or shower.
Accessibility design does not just lend itself to accommodating those with physical disabilities. There are requirements, such as with signage, which assist those with visual impairments. For spaces that require signage by their entrance, such as toilet rooms, stairs, elevators and exits, the characters of the room names must be of a certain height, text style and width. Braille must also be present on the sign and it too, has criteria for size and position. It is very common to see signage with a pictogram, or universal symbol or picture, to be placed near toilet rooms and stairs.
Providing accessible means is also a requirement outside of the building envelope. JL Architects has worked in the past providing services that required the team to ensure sidewalks, exterior ramps and stairs, and parking spaces all met the minimum standards that allow patrons to access a building. For example, a ramp, whether exterior or interior, in most cases, may not have a running slope steeper than 1:12 and may not rise higher than 30 inches. What this translates to, is that for every 1 inch in height a ramp must rise, it must be 12 inches in length (or run). So, a ramp that needs to rise 4 inches, must have a run of 48 inches in length. The higher the rise, the longer the run. This can eat up a lot of space and may result in the need to install a lift or elevator, if the required area is not available.
Currently, JL Architects is working on a multi-family apartment building in Madison, New Jersey. Each unit, including common areas, sidewalks to the building, as well as parking, must meet the minimum requirements for accessibility. In addition to standard regulations, the State of New Jersey has additional requirements for barrier-free construction. The State of Texas also uses their own Accessibility Standards and has inspectors tour the facilities to check for compliance. In all of our commercial work, be it retail, office or restaurant, designing for accessible means is always in the front of our minds. While in the broad scope it may assist those with physical impairments, it winds up being a benefit to all. As a mother of four, I can appreciate the barrier-free accommodations while pushing around a stroller with my two-year old!
I have only mentioned a few components that make up the much larger scope of designing spaces with accessible accommodations, to list them all, the blog would become a book (and there are already several)! Even if you are able-bodied, you may know someone who is impaired, or may someday benefit from its advantages; I truly believe that barrier-free design is a great service for the masses. If you would like to learn more about accessible standards select the following link and click the left hand side of the page to view.http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm
– Melanie Hicks