March 28, 2017

Seven Universal Design Changes You Can Make Today

There is no such thing as “one-size fits all” when it comes to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-in-five people in the United States has a disability—either physical or mental—that can affect the way they travel through, use, or perceive a space. Universal Design is the idea that a building or space can be designed in a way that makes it accessible for a wide range of people. A person’s height, hand dominance, body size, and age are all factors that Universal Design takes into consideration during the pre-design, design, and construction phases.

Today’s offices, fitness centers, retail spaces, and schools come in a variety of shapes and sizes. And because many were built years ago, they no longer meet ADA requirements or Universal Design best practices. Making a better experience for your staff, customers, and members (whether disabled or not) may be simpler than you think, and it can be a great way to differentiate your organization.

Starting your journey into Universal Design doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are a number of easy and affordable changes you can do that will make a big difference in how people use your building.

Here are seven things you can do to help make your facility more accessible:

  1. Brighter lighting – It’s a simple conclusion: brighter lights make it easier to see. By increasing your wattage you’ll be able to brighten up dark spaces and make navigation easier for people with visual impairments.
Where traditional windows may not be an option, like the center of a large building, skylights can help increase daylighting
  1. Wider walkways – Could a wheelchair or walker easily navigate your gym floor or the spaces between desks? In many cases, a simple move like turning furniture and equipment 180 degrees, can make walkways larger and areas more accessible.
Throughout the Mary Free Bed YMCA, equipment is spaced further apart than what you might find at a traditional wellness facility. This allows wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, etc. to easily pass through the different areas.

  1. Handicap shower hoses – If showers are a part of your facility, then you’ll want to take a look at the hoses in your handicap showers. Are they long enough to actually reach someone sitting on the bench? If not, ordering extra-long hoses is a quick and easy fix. Take a moment to also check the height of the handles in the shower. If they’re too high, a person using a wheelchair may not be able to reach them on their own.
  1. Correct seating – Whether it’s around a pool or in a waiting area, seating provides necessary areas for respite. For safety and ease of use, make sure seats and benches include the following: sturdy arms on either side, a back length of at least 18 inches, and a seat depth of 20 to 24 inches.
  1. Welcoming entrance – Your building’s entrance says a lot about you. It should be welcoming and easy to navigate. Make sure there’s good lighting and clear access to the front desk and workers. Providing easy-to-grab maps can help visitors and new members feel more at ease. Ideally, maps should have large font and be tactile in nature. Signage should be intuitive and easy to read. Eliminate unnecessary free-standing items such as display racks and unused furniture.
Entrances should be simple and intuitive with minimum furniture and easy access to the reception desk
  1. Push plates – Adding push plates to doors throughout your facility will help make navigation easier. For fitness centers, think specifically about the doors between locker rooms and the pool and sauna areas. These tend to be extra heavy, and when combined with wet floors, can increase the likeliness of falls and are a smart location for push plates.
  1. Push plate placement – Speaking of push plates, take a look at the height of the plates you have. Are they too high? Are they easily visible? Plates should be large, easy to find and easily accessed by people in wheelchairs and those of shorter stature.

Our firm is an expert in creating buildings and spaces that meet the principles of Universal Design. In fact, we designed the Mary Free Bed YMCA, the first building the world to receive certification in Universal Design from the Global Universal Design Commission. When it comes to architecture and design, Universal Design is helping make buildings and spaces more accessible to a wider range of people.

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