Assisting accessibility with design and products

For Building Products News. From designing for aged care facilities to modifying your own home to stay in it for as long as possible, safe, accessible and healthy places for older Australians will become more and more important to more and more people.

Assisting accessibility with design and products

By Deborah Singerman

We are not foolproof. Getting from A to B is slower with each of our passing years and with an ageing population design and product needs for access and mobility will only grow. Hospitals and aged-care facilities increasingly must recognise that “patient-centred healing environments that integrate design and technology can lower stress, improve recovery rates and increase mobility”, says Elizabeth Grigg, principal of multi-disciplined Tectura Architects.

The design framework (salutogenic) for the practice’s aged and health care projects focuses on human health and wellbeing rather than disease. Wider corridors, ease-of-movement door widths especially for bathrooms, and easier-to-use furniture, fixtures and fittings are ways to promote mobility. Natural light, music, nature (interaction via larger and lowered patient room windows), art and civic spaces that blur the boundary between traditional hospital settings and community interaction are also important, Grigg said.

Tectura has used different coloured floor finishes for wayfinding, such as InterfaceFLOR Carpet Tiles at the new Teaching and Learning Centre for Northern Melbourne Institute (NMIT) of TAFE at Preston. External colour can also create a façade with strong street presence as at Wantirna Health, where the education centre’s hand-painted, multi-coloured precast external walls direct vehicles from the highway and passengers from the bus stop.

Lighting too is important, not only for better access “but even for general safety and wellbeing”, says Independent Living Centre access consultant Queenie Tran. There are a lot more products, such as signage buttons, incorporating glow-in-the-dark features, or illumination using LED lights, helping luminance contrasting even in low lighting, she says, citing Sydney trains as an everyday example.

Vertical access within restricted spaces is still a challenge for architects, builders and developers, Tran says. The EasyStep or Sesame Lift stairways transform into a platform lift to allow wheelchair access, and have been used in commercial and heritage buildings and retrofits.

Rather than rely on solutions such as ergonomic chairs for accessibility in the workplace, Tran prefers flexible workspaces and areas like communal kitchens with height adjustable products (either automatic or manual), the height adjustable cupboards or workbenches and worktables of the Indivo kitchen units from Pressalit allowing for people’s different reach ranges and comfortable working positions.

Directing day-to-day connections to a smart home system, says Tran, such as Clipsal C Bus Home Automation, mean that “anyone can control” and operate lighting and electrical services. She argues for them to be considered as a general accessible design feature for any home and not just as a luxury.

In this regard, one important factor is to improve interfaces so that they will work for older people, Associate Professor of Industrial Design Thea Blackler, from the School of Design at QUT, said in Choice magazine.

Giving individuals more mobility, access and independence can take many forms. It is now easier to install ceiling hoists without needing major structural changes to the house, says Tran. The Ergolet Luna Overhead Hoist, for instance, has a fairly compact design and installation method while its E track can be fitted to most types of wall and can cover a room with capacity to carry up to 275 kg.
Grigg also notes anti-gravity harnesses that hang from ceilings, such as the pendant lifting Drager Integrated Patient Lifting Solution; sit-stand design furniture; and whiteboard walls, using Dulux Professional Dry Erase Clear Coat Gloss 1st Coat that turns smooth painted surfaces into an erasable (and reachable) canvas for office, schools or home.

But a word of warning, Tran fears that these products, “quite innovative for increasing accessibility”, are “also undervalued by architects, designers, builders and developers.”