Can Accessible Buildings Also Be Attractive?

A lot of thought goes into the design of a building. Architects must consider the way that light enters through the windows, the acoustics of the interior, the way that furniture and utilities will be laid out and the way that electrics and plumbing are connected. The building must not be considered as a standalone piece of art, but a dynamic and functioning system that can be used comfortably and effectively by the people who live within it.

Of course, one of the important things that need to be considered when designing a building is whether or not it will be accessible to people with disabilities. Good building design should be inclusive, so that it allows everyone in the community to be able to access the building if they choose.

There are over 11 million people who are living with impairment, limiting long term illness or disability in the UK alone. Some of the most common types of disabilities affect mobility, but there are also others living with impaired sight, hearing and other issues. When the public spaces within the community are not adapted to the needs of these people, they are unable to visit libraries, attend cultural events, use sports facilities, shop in retail stores and perform other daily activities.

Accessible Design doesn’t have to be Ugly

Many architects, interior designers and others involved in the design process have a fear that making their designs “accessible” will also necessitate making them clunky and unattractive. When they envision disabled access they picture large utilitarian wheelchair ramps and steel handrails. They imagine these additions as necessary components of their design which help to include everyone but run the risk of taking away from the natural flow of the building.

However, there is no need to feel constrained as a designer by your need to create accessible buildings. On the contrary, with the current innovations in technology and design it is possible to create beautiful and elegant buildings that are accessible to everyone.

Creating Beautiful and Accessible Public Spaces

Instead of thinking of accessibility as a negative restriction on the design of a building, why not think about it as a challenge to create something that is both functional and beautiful?

For example, one of the most elegant and simple solutions out there today to the problem of wheelchair access is a set of broad stairs with a wheelchair ramp that subtly zigzags back and forth across them in a switchback fashion. The design is so smooth and elegantly integrated that able-bodied people using the stairs might not even notice that it is there.

This is an important point to consider, that the disabled accessible part of the building doesn’t have to be something separate to what able bodied people use. Instead, a design can be something that is suitable to both in a harmonious way. When it comes down to it, wider corridors and aisles are also more attractive and welcoming to able bodied people as well as being more functional for those with mobility restrictions.

Access Audits Will Assess a Building’s Weaknesses

When it comes to transforming a space into something that is more disabled-friendly, access audits carried out by professional disability auditors are an incredibly valuable resource. These expert access audits will highlight the shortcomings of the building and where it can be improved so that it can be more accessible to the general public. After this has been assessed, the opportunity has been created to find a solution to the accessibility issue that is not only practical and functional, but also beautiful. What will your solution be?

Aki Hashimoto is a blogger who believes that professional access audits are very important for improving the accessibility of all public facilities. She suggests that designers should include solutions to access within their design whilst keeping the building’s design pleasing to all.

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