Accessibility can have numerous definitions and meanings, but the consensus is accessibility increases the quality of life for all. It creates spaces for people to easily enter. It makes it easier for objects to be reached. It creates an understanding and appreciation for all people. It makes for a better experience for everyone.
How does that translate into architecture and design? Architect Dominic Spadafore says, “Accessibility means not just building a space that is used by typical abled people, but rather can be experienced in rich fashion by those with various disabilities.” About 27% of adults in the United States have some type of disability, meaning they have a mobility, cognitive, hearing, vision, independent living or self-care disability. Architects and designers have an obligation to provide designs that equally serve 100% of the population.
WHY IS ACCESSIBILITY IMPORTANT IN EACH OF OUR STUDIOS?
At ACI Boland Architects we have four distinct studios we work within: Heal Studio, Learn Studio, Live Studio and Work Studio. Each studio has their own building requirements, but has the same goals in terms of accessibility and why it is important.
For instance, in the Heal Studio the goal is for patients to receive the care they need and for practitioners to provide them with adequate care. Rosemary Nelson, an associate architect on the heal team, says, “By providing an accessible design experience you are allowing patients to get the care they need. Our goal is to eliminate any kind of barriers the patient may have from receiving the care that they need.” She continues mentioning the importance of color, quality lighting, automatic doors, and technology within a healing environment. It is important to not just consider patients and staff, but the families that might interact within a hospital.
Accessibility in education plays a huge role in affecting people at an early age. “In education, it starts something. It gives you a new perspective. It resets your expectations for the rest of your life,” Spadafore states. By having accessible classrooms, gyms, theaters, playgrounds from an early age, students are exposed to people who are differently abled. In these inclusive environments they can grow, learn, and establish relationships with different people because the spaces are open to all students, teachers, and staff.
The Live and Work Studios encompass everything from multifamily housing, senior living facilities, commercial spaces, and retail, meaning there is a whole lot of people spending their time in these spaces. We want these everyday spaces to be accessible all the time without any worries. Vic Mosby, ACI Boland’s president and CEO, reminds us, “It can be as simple as how you go through a door, how you use the bathroom. All these things are a part of thinking about accessible design.” Normal, day-to-day efforts and struggles are different from individual to individual and it is important to recognize those challenges to work towards a solution.
HOW CAN DESIGNERS IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY?
Just like a designer recognizes good and bad design elements, they can also learn to recognize accessible design. The key is to look critically around the space, listen to people’s concerns and ask questions. “One thing that we do as architects and designers, which is a good thing and a bad thing, is we are always critiquing every building we walk into. How does this work? What makes this space work? Why did the designer do that? Accessibility is the same kind of thing,” says Mosby.
Below are ten questions to consider when designing accessible spaces:
- Are there intuitive paths through the space?
- Where are the tripping hazards?
- Is there clear lighting?
- Does the color pallet enhance the experience for all?
- Does the space have acoustic control?
- Does the furniture create obstacles?
- How is texture incorporated as a form of wayfinding?
- Are wayfinding signs large and clear?
- How is technology utilized to support an equitable experience?
- What safety features are included?
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF ACCESSIBLE DESIGN?
As designers become more aware and use accessible design, there is a move towards more universal design. Ron Mace, an American architect who made a significant impact on the disability community, defines universal design as, “design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” This is where everyone can not only enter or access a space, but they can also experience the space in the same way. “The difference is one is checking the box and the other is where you are creating equal quality of access for all,” says Spadafore. Creating specialization for each individual disability is easier when universal design is the foundation.
As we move towards a more universal world, we are reminded why it is important to design for everybody of all different shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. “We have four guiding principles at ACI Boland Architects, but the very first one is families first. We design for families, and we want to make sure all families can use what we design,” states our president. This guiding principle and our goal to serve over 1.5 million families encourages us to create spaces for everyone to be included and enjoy.