MasterBuild Africa

Designing For Disability

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People with disabilities face various types of barriers everyday especially when it comes to a building’s design and the professionals who design, commission and construct these buildings need to keep these barriers in mind when designing a particular building. People with disability need to be given due consideration since they have rights as everyone else.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has now entered into international law and it requires that all governments take cognisance and action to ensure that the human rights of people with disabilities are realised. The Convention stresses that persons with disabilities should be able to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

To this end, many African Nations have started to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to the physical environment, transportation and other facilities and services open to the public.

The special adviser to the Governor of Lagos state in Nigeria, on Youth and Social Development, at an event themed ‘Removing Barriers to Create an Inclusive and Accessible Society for All’, urged civil society groups, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders to support the government to advance the lives of persons with disabilities.

Various Barriers faced by People with Disabilities

Designing for disability needs special attention towards various requirements of people who face disability. For example:

A person who is short of breath or has an injured leg may find climbing stairs extremely difficult, or even impossible.

Incorrect lighting and contrast may hinder proper functioning of people with impaired vision.

A door having insufficient width may restrict entrance of a person dependant on a wheel chair.

Similarly, a person having a poor grip may find opening a door having a smooth circular door-knob difficult or impossible.

It is thus important that a building is designed in such a way that it is suitable for everyone. Elderly people, who are not considered as having a disability, should also face no problem with an environment’s accessibility. A buildings’ design, particularly those open to the public, must be inclusive not merely accessible so that all can move around with ease without discrimination.

In place where people work, the designers should keep in mind the various users of the building, such as the disabled employees, customers and visitors.

‘Disabled Friendly’ Building Features

Several features can be incorporated to a building’s design in order to make it accessible for everyone. These features are essential things that are influenced by certain requirements and need special attention in order to build an environment that does not ignore special needs. Features such as the ones given below ensure that a building is built having an environment complying with the highest standards when it comes to designing for disability:

Access to various switches and sockets, so that people such as those using wheelchairs can reach them with ease.

Corridors and doors and even lifts should be assigned a minimum width so that people using wheelchairs can move easily. Automatic doors also help with this purpose.

The entrance to the building should have both ramped and stepped approach, for the wheelchair user and ambulant disabled person respectively.

An accessible toilet provided on the ground floor. The toilet should be fitted with the appropriate sanitary fittings, grab rails and emergency pull cord. The toilet should also be big enough for a wheelchair to manoeuvre

The position of signage and other hearing and visual aids, such as proper lighting, must be designed and added to the building’s design according to the needs of people having disability.

In addition, the external environment of the building also needs to be made ‘disabled friendly’.  Car parking, routes, doors and ramps all need to be incorporated in the design with special needs in mind.

As far as the built-up environment is concerned, it is important that it should be barrier-free and adapted to fulfil the needs of all people equally. As a matter of fact, the needs of the disabled coincide with the needs of the majority, and all people are at ease with them. As such, planning for the majority implies planning for people with varying abilities and disabilities. MBD


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