As a nation, we have been found wanting, when it comes to providing special infrastructure for the differently-abled and elderly. We need to accept people with special needs, as equal individuals in society. Accessible or human-centered designs, have to be the focus areas, in the process of developing a solution. The concept of accessible design in architectural practice, is not a new phenomenon but has been ignored and has turned into a pertinent issue today.
“After my son’s accident, his life changed overnight. Simple chores became a challenge for him,” recalls Meena Kapoor a Mumbai resident. “He was on a wheelchair for almost two years. Now, he uses crutches, to move around at home. We made modifications to our home. All electric switches were shifted to a height, where he could access it from his wheelchair. To make the bathroom safe, we put grip rods near the WC. Sadly, the building does not have a ramp. So, it’s still a task to take the wheelchair out,” she laments.
The need to adopt universal design principles
Kapoor’s words only highlight the urgent need to make housing colonies and other public places like banks, restaurants and theatres barrier-free, to create a more inclusive society for the physically challenged. Architects and developers have to adopt universal design standards, which allows people with varying needs and choices, to have access to the spaces. Special needs aren’t restricted to people with disabilities but also extend to the needs of the elderly, children, expecting mothers and people with injuries and limited mobility.
Housing involves large-scale design and the development process calls for standardisation of dimensions and amenities. If this standardisation follows universal design principles, a large part of the challenge is won, says Abhishek Ray, principal architect, Matrika Design Collaborative. Ray, is a recipient of the Ashoka-Lemelson fellowship, for his work in developing solutions for people with disabilities, in India’s urban environment.
Simple measures, for a big difference
Differently abled individuals and the elderly, deserve to enjoy quality life in a comfortable home. “The home’s layout, should be designed keeping their needs in mind. The house should not have any obstructions that hinder free movement,” points out Dr Ajay Monga, professor of architecture, DCR University of Science and Technology, Murthal, Haryana. “To reduce the need for bending and reaching out, opt for cupboards and shelves with slide-out storage. Toilets can be replaced with special units, or raised seats can be installed,” he suggests.
In housing societies, people with disabilities should be allotted parking spaces that are convenient. “Elevators, recreational spaces and other amenities, like swimming pools, club houses, banquet halls etc., should be accessible to people with special needs and disabilities,” adds Ray. Most importantly, to provide accessible solutions, the changes in housing colonies should be incorporated in a planned way, through proper guidance and conformity of standards.
Tips to make homes friendly for the differently-abled
- For easy accessibility, ramps made of suitable materials should be provided, with proper slope and railings.
- Doorways should be wide, to make the space approachable by wheelchair.
- Opt for anti-skid tiles in the bathroom and grip rods along the shower and toilet areas.
- Ensure that the house is well-lit. Opt for energy-saving bulbs like LEDs and install night lights in the bedroom and bathrooms.
- Remove clutter – keep minimum furniture, so that one can move around easily, with their crutches, walker or wheelchair.
- For easy movement of wheelchairs, provide a gentle slope in the floor, between the bedroom and attached balconies and washrooms, instead of a sharp difference in the floor’s level.
- The height of the bed and other seating options, should be at par with the wheelchair.
- Use fans, lights and air-conditioners that can be operated with remote controls and place switches near the bed.
- For security, install alarms, cameras and door phones.