Universal Design for Diverse Disabilities

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Universal Design for Diverse Disabilities

Universal design, universal access, disabled traveller – words that seem to simplify, or attempt to place millions of individual human beings into one box, a box that is mistakenly perceived to be a one-size fits all when it comes to access for people with disabilities. What is accessible for one person using a wheelchair, may be completely inaccessible for another, and so it is with all disabilities – mobility, sight, hearing, mental health, intellectual and other.

However, the concept of universal design, that all buildings and all facilities need to be accessible in every way for all people, regardless of ability, is the ideal. For a person without a disability with the best intentions of providing an accessible experience, this can be a daunting exercise to implement. Standardised access requirements provide a guideline for establishments in providing accessible facilities, and making information about these facilities available to travellers as a checklist allows each person to assess from their unique perspective whether a specific place is indeed accessible according to their individual disability requirements. 

As an example, one person may need side access while transferring from wheelchair to toilet, another may require front access. A roll-in shower with a fold down seat and adjustable shower head may be spot on for most, while a parent of a child with a disability may find a bath easier. So what are the standards and minimum requirements, and what are the extra considerations to make facilities just that much more comfortable? After all, not all ramps were created equal!

Universal Design and Diverse Disabilities

Travellers with Mobility Challenges

This is probably the most extensive list of considerations, and if implemented effectively will cover the needs of others who are not wheelchair users. Ramps versus stairs make access easier for the elderly as well as parents with babies in prams. 

  • Parking – Is there a disabled bay with a width of 3500 mm? Is it close to the entrance? Undercover in case of bad weather?
  • Entrance – Is there a ramp? is the gradient the ideal 1:3, or is it more than 1:3? If there is more than one level, is there an elevator? Is there a doorman to assist with entering the building? Is the check-in desk at wheelchair-accessible height? 
  • Do the bedrooms have smooth surfaced floors? Are the light switches positioned 900 to 1200mm above floor level? Is there a 750mm clearance under the desk or dresser?
  • Is the bathroom accessible at 1700mm x 1600mm? Does it have a sliding door? Does the toilet offer front or side access and is it at accessible height of 480 to 500mm with a lever flush handle?
  • Does the kitchen have an accessible counter top and work space at 710 to 865mm above the floor with 750mm clearance under? Are all utensils accessible and can a person in a wheelchair access the fridge, stove, kettle and microwave to operate them?
Universal Design for Blind and Low Vision

Travellers who are Blind or have Low Vision

Again, not everyone who is blind or has low vision experiences travel in the same way or has the same requirements. While one person may have a guide dog for assistance, another may rely on a cane to navigate the world around them, just the same as not all people who are blind use braille to access information on a daily basis. However, we reiterate that access to information on what facilities are available goes a long way to ensuring a positive travel experience.

  • Is there a barrier free pathway from the parking to the entrance?
  • Are menus and information brochures available in large print, braille, or online?
  • Is braille or tactile signage displayed, and are the elevators equipped with braille buttons and audio call signals?
  • Are guide dogs welcome and is there a nearby leash relief area?
  • Are orientation tours available?

Travellers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Communication of information plays a vital role in the overall travel experience, and so being able to engage with staff on arrival and during a visit is a important for any traveller.

  • Are  staff able to use sign language to communicate?
  • Are hearing loops available?
  • Does the room have a closed-captioned television?
  • Is there a wake up / non-visual alert system in place in case of emergencies?

Mental Health Challenges and Intellectual Disabilities

This is a broad category of disability with the scope of challenges vast and varied, from invisible mental illnesses to conditions such as autism or Down Syndrome. Each with their own set of requirements and considerations. We focus here on psycho-social disabilities as a grounding for understanding how often, travel takes an enormous amount of planning and the various scenarios where facilities play a pivotal role in the well-being of the traveller.

  • Repeated wakeups and assistance to exit in an emergency. Medication may cause difficulty in getting up.
  • Obstacle free pathway from bedroom to bathroom. Medication may cause disorientation.
  • Seating available in a quiet section as certain conditions may cause increased anxiety in crowds.
  • Important information provided verbally and in writing as concentration problems impact on memory.
  • Therapy or emotional support animals welcome.
Universal Design

The Elderly

We are all going to age, the speed at which we do so, the grace with which we enter this stage of our life, and the challenges that arise will present differently for each of us and so this is not a straight-forward category with a one-for-all checklist. This category encompasses aspects from the others above, as we may experience mobility struggles, requiring a wheelchair, walking frame or cane and we may experience hearing and vision loss, as well as mental health deterioration with onset of conditions like dementia, for example.

  • Mobility challenges will require ramps, elevators and barrier free pathways.
  • Grab rails in the bathrooms.
  • Large print information brochures and menus.
  • Alerts and assistance in emergencies.
  • Quiet spaces to retreat from crowds.
Universal Design

Parents with Babies in Prams and Toddlers

While we may not ordinarily consider this a disability, parents at this stage of their child’s life do have special access needs. This is noteworthy for those who consider disabilty and universal access impertinent to their own lives – at some point in our lives, whether it is becoming a parent, or as we age, our access needs change and become more pronounced.

  • Parent and tot parking
  • Ramps for strollers
  • Baby changing facilities
  • Kiddies menu
  • Age appropriate activities

The above features are just highlights from each category. Our full checklist is available on request. Please provide your email address to receive a copy.

We’d love to hear your feedback on the checklist and if you have anything to add from your own perspective and experience.

Connect with us by email: visit@accessiblesouthafrica.co.za or leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

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