Today we have a guest post from Carla Williams, who works in customer service for the Williams Brothers Corporation of America. Carla humorously brings light to a serious problem– the intent behind ADA and Universal Design is very often not met with poorly-thought out applications in the real world. Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment for Carla below.
Universal design is the idea that architecture should be inherently accessible to everyone. The growing number of architects adopting universal design is great news for people with accessibility needs. Instead of having separate entrances and walkways to make a building accessible, universal design allows people of all abilities to move together.
Unfortunately, many buildings are stuck back in 1990 right after the Americans with Disabilities Act was made law. These buildings may be technically “accessible,” but they aren’t spaces people with accessibility needs can maneuver very easily. Until all building designers come to understand and implement the beauty and functionality of universal design, the world is left with less than ideal accessibility. “Less than ideal” is a bit of an understatement. Many times full-on “accessibility fails” take place.
We’ve taken the liberty of rounding up some of the most hilarious accessibility fails on the internet. These places are not only clueless about universal design, but they completely miss the whole accessibility thing by a long shot. Enjoy!
1. A very useful ramp completely blocked by a giant flower pot. A very useful ramp indeed.
Here we see a lack of understanding on the part of whoever dragged that flower pot out onto the ramp. Someone in a wheelchair might be able to use the ramp otherwise, but with the huge barrel of flowers sitting in the middle of it? Good luck trying to navigate around that thing into the building.
2. The only requirement to use the ramp is the ability to climb stairs.
Here is an example of something you may have thought impossible: a non-accessible accessible entrance. There is actually a ramp there, which is the accessible entrance into the building. The only problem is the ramp begins with a set of stairs. Stairs, according to the ADA and anyone with common sense, are non-accessible. So the ramp itself is non-accessible, making it a non-accessible accessible entrance.
3. Sure, you can reach 8 feet away for toilet paper, right?
This accessible stall is nice and wide for easy maneuvering. There is a great big spot to park your chair or walker, if that’s what you use. It’s just that the great big parking space is between you and the toilet paper once you are… situated. Let’s hope the owner of this building realizes the problem and bothers to install a TP dispenser anywhere within arm’s reach of the toilet like a considerate human being.
4. Is this a wheelchair ramp or a roller coaster?
That’s a very steep staircase and definitely not accessible, so it makes sense someone would see the need for an alternative entrance into the building. Maybe whoever installed it thought painting this “ramp” blue and slapping on an accessibility sign would make it useful to someone who needed an alternative to the stairs. The only problem is no one could even safely walk down this super slide, let alone take on the slope in a wheelchair.
5. “Please ask at counter.” You know, the counter you can’t get to.
Not all buildings were able or even required to meet ADA standards before 1990, and so the owners of these buildings try to accommodate their guests with accessibility needs in other ways. Yet in this case, despite good intentions, someone just wasn’t thinking it through. Great, you offer a ramp. A ramp which is only available at the counter… which is beyond the stairs. The stairs that someone with accessibility needs can’t ascend without a ramp.
Friends Don’t Let Friends Have Accessibility Fails
Cobbling together an accessibility solution is never as good as making a building permanently and sensibly accessible to all people. Even better, planning out a building with universal design in mind allows for better integration of accessibility needs while maintaining the design concept of a given space. Mandatory universal design would at least make ramps with stairs and stairwell superslides far less common.
Thanks Carla for your light-hearted, education post. Thoughts/comments? Have your own photo of an ADA or Universal Design fail? Share below.
The opening image is a situation that you can still find occasionally: well intended accessibility add-ons that are built in ways that try to maintain a common route of travel but with a more traditional appearance, e.g., avoiding visually obtrusive handrails. Of course, creating a safety hazard at the same time. Aftermarket accessibility add-ons are tough to get right and are more of a challenge that doing it up front. Situation #1 is very common. Entities must train operations and maintenance staff to affirmatively maintain the status of accessibility, usability, safety and compliance. Other examples are ashtrays in front of elevator buttons, equipment stored in accessible toilet stalls, etc. Situation #2,Thankfully not so common, at least in the ramp/stair direct combination. But it is entirely possible to miss important level changes in more lengthy or extended distances. Teams must take care to address complete pedestrian routes of travel on sites. #3 is somewhat more common, and installation errors in accessible toilet stalls are VERY common, in part because there are so many dimensions to keep in mind: grab bars, toilet centering, clear floor space, and accessory location, as well. #4 seems like an international example. I haven’t seen anything like that domestically but have seen it in other countries. Pretty dangerous in any event. With #5, I guess they were assuming that a person using a wheelchair always travels with a ambulatory companion. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that access into their inaccessible facility wasn’t needed because they don’t see any wheelchairs users there.
Thanks, Richard, for your insightful comments, as always. I imagine your clients do not have these problems!