Last edited 10 Dec 2020

Non-discriminatory building design

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[edit] Background

Over the last two to three decades there has been great progress in making the built environment (buildings, streets and transportation) more accessible, especially for people with disabilities and access problems. This is reflected in the introduction of Acts, codes, standards and regulations such as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA 1995) and it’s successor the Equality Act (2010). For buildings, more specific requirements are stipulated in the Building Regulations Part M (2004, amended 2013) and in British Standards. NB See Access and inclusion in the built environment: policy and guidance for more information.

[edit] Experiential discrimination

Experiential discrimination occurs when not all users get to enjoy the same experience of a building or building feature. For example, there should be one entrance that serves, rather than a “special” entrance for wheelchair users. Such discrimination should designed-out when consideration is made of people's different strengths and weaknesses in physical, sensory and cognitive areas (including phobias).

An example of experiential discrimination is when a building has a central area that is served by escalators. Those who do not wish to use, or cannot safely use, the escalators require a lift. The lift should have a window so that those who use it are not denied the experience of appreciating the space (and also to support those with claustrophobia). A further, enclosed lift would support those who have agoraphobia (fear of open spaces, or those spaces perceived as hard to escape from). Passengers would thus be given a choice of lift type to better serve their preferences.

For those who find long distances a barrier, good design would provide seating at intervals to allow rest and recovery. This is of particular importance on staircases where seats half way up a staircase can enable people to rest with dignity. A flip-down seat in a lift can offer respite in crowded lifts, or if lift journey times are long.

The built environment is predominantly designed for right-handed users (in terms of door openings, light switch locations, etc.), however, studies have shown that between 10 and 30% of the population is left-handed. Additionally, people who have strokes are often affected on the left-hand side of the brain, which affects the right-hand side of the body.

Signage can also be misinterpreted. The international sign for disability is the white wheelchair symbol on a blue background. This is not meant to be a “for wheelchair userssign but is often interpreted as such. A pregnant lady, for example, may see the symbol on a lift and decide that they should not use it (self-discrimination) and hence struggle on a staircase with shopping and the unnecessary risk of tripping/ falling.

[edit] Conclusion

Designers, and others who bring designs into realisation, do not deliberately discriminate against users or persons with particular disability, however there is inherent discrimination in the buildings that we create. It is hoped that future generations of designers will become more empathetic to the needs of a wider range of users and therefore help create built environments that can be used and enjoyed by a wide spectrum of users in a natural, unforced, way.

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