Wheelchair Access : Principles of Arch

An induction loop fitted in a busy-noisy environment

Wheelchair Access and Architecture

The Seven Principles of Universal Design were developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers in the North Carolina State University.

Principles of universal design

1. Equitable use – the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities
2. Flexibility in use – accommodating a wide range of individual preferences and abilities
3. Simple and intuitive use – use of the design is easy to understand
4. Perceptible information – the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user
5. Tolerance for error – the design minimises hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions
6. Low physical effort – the design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue
7. Size and space – appropriate size and space is provided for approach reach, manipulation, and use


The following are examples of how to design with universal accessibility in mind:

1. If tactile indicators are used on landings and the first and last step in a flight of stairs is clearly marked, a person with impaired vision will find stairs easier to use;
2. An induction loop fitted in a busy-noisy environment will enhance communication for people with hearing aids;
3. If colour contrast is used on fixtures and fittings and tactile indicators are used on controls (e.g. in lifts) they will be easier to use for people with vision impairments;
4. Clearly legible, well-designed and placed signage will help everyone to find their way around in an unfamiliar building and are vital for people with learning and speech difficulties;
5. A threshold with no step provides access for everyone.

To ensure accessibility of the built environment is of the highest standard, there are a number of essential criteria that need to be met.  These are highlighted below with a brief description of some of their influencing factors:

  • Management – Access handbook, access and safety, management responsibilities
  • External Environment – car parking, routes, ramps, steps and doors
  • Vertical and Horizontal Circulation – steps and stairs, lifts, corridors and internal doors
  • Facilities – reception, toilets, seating areas, changing rooms, restaurants and refreshment machines
  • Interior Design – lighting, colour and contrast, fixtures
  • Evacuation – emergency equipment, alarms, signage, evacuation equipment, evacuation plans
  • Communication Facilities – signage, telephones, tactile features, acoustics
Horizontal circulation within the building

Check that:

  1. Doormats are recessed (with the top of the mat flush with the floor) and, along with rugs, are securely fixed so as not to cause tripping
  2. Slip resistance of floor finishes is maintained, spillages cleaned up promptly and appropriate cleaning agents and polishes used
  3. Worn floor finishes are replaced
  4. Artificial lighting is at adequate levels
  5. Doors are easy to open and door closers are set at the minimum force needed to open and shut the door
  6. Doors are kept closed when not in use
  7. Wheelchair spaces in waiting rooms and elsewhere are kept free of obstruction
  8. Both temporary and permanent circulation routes are free of obstruction, e.g. toolboxes, boxes of files, vending machines, photocopiers
  9. Safety zones are kept free of obstructions
  10. Adequate headroom is maintained throughout the building, with no trailing cables on floors or at heights below 2200mm
  11. Approach to and egress from all lifts and stairs are kept free of obstruction.
Vertical circulation

 Check that:

  1. Stairways and ramps are free of obstruction, whether permanent or temporary, particularly on landings and at the tops and bottoms of ramps
  2. Stairway finishes are maintained clean and slip-resistant and are replaced when frayed or worn
  3. Stairway handrails are securely fixed
  4. Visual strips on stairways nosings are clearly distinguishable from adjacent surfaces
  5. Tactile areas at stairs and the colour contrasting strips of the first and last steps are maintained
  6. Stairways are adequately lit, without confusing shadows adjacent to or on the stairs
  7. Lifts are serviced and lift car floors align with finished floor levels
  8. Lift controls are free of obstruction

Check that:

  1. Signage is clear and legible and revised on foot of any alterations to building layout
  2. Signs are replaced after redecoration
  3. Bulbs in illuminated signs are replaced when performance is reduced, rather than when they fail
  4. Access to tactile signs is maintained
Sanitary facilities

Check that:

  1. Toilet transfer areas are kept free of obstruction
  2. Alarm facilities are maintained and any pull cords extend to within 100mm of the floor
  3. Toilets used by people with disabilities are kept particularly clean, as these users depend on the WC surfaces for support
  4. Sanitary disposal bins are provided, emptied regularly and positioned within reach of the toilet


Source: Studio Negri

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