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Transforming Public Spaces with Accessible Design

Posted on 27 Nov, 2023

Have you ever stopped to consider how an environment can shape our experiences? From grand museums to bustling shopping centres, every space has its own unique vibe that influences how we interact with it. Yet, in many instances, accessibility for people with disabilities is overlooked or compromised.

In our research for this blog we've looked at the significance of accessible interior design and shed some light on why ensuring equal access for all should be a top priority for public buildings.

Understanding accessibility regulations

Creating public spaces that are accessible and inclusive is crucial for ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their abilities. In the UK, accessibility guidelines and regulations are outlined in the Equality Act of 2010. This act requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to their premises to ensure that disabled people can access them without facing discrimination.

Understanding these accessibility guidelines is essential for architects, designers and decision-makers involved in transforming public spaces. By incorporating universal design principles into their planning process, they can create environments that accommodate people with a wide range of disabilities.

Adhering to the accessibility guidelines not only benefits people with disabilities but also enhances the experiences of all individuals who use public spaces. Accessible design promotes inclusivity and equality while fostering a sense of community among diverse groups of people. It allows everyone – whether they have physical impairments or not – to enjoy parks, cultural venues, educational institutions, shops and restaurants fully. Ultimately, creating inclusive spaces not only complies with legal requirements but also fosters empathy and ensures equal access for all members of society.

Interior design considerations for public buildings

Designing a public building goes beyond simply creating an aesthetically pleasing space. It needs to be approached with the mindset that every aspect of the design should be accessible for all individuals, regardless of their physical abilities. Whilst architects play a crucial role in ensuring that spaces are built to meet accessibility standards, interior designers also have a significant impact on the overall accessibility and functionality of a building.

One aspect to focus on is the layout and organisation of different spaces within the building. By considering how people with mobility challenges will navigate through the building, designers can ensure that they are creating a truly accessible space.

Aesthetic choices

The best colours when creating an interior design space that is accessible to all are colours with a high contrast ratio. This means that the colours should be very different from each other in lightness or darkness. This makes it easier for people with low vision or colour blindness to see the difference between different elements of the space. 

Here are some specific colour combinations that are good for accessible interior design:
  • Black and white
  • Yellow and black
  • Blue and yellow
  • Green and white
  • Orange and blue
You can also use different shades of the same colour to create contrast, as long as the difference in lightness or darkness is significant. For example, you could use light gray and dark gray, or light green and dark green.

When choosing colours for an accessible interior design space, it is important to consider the following:
  • Use a consistent colour palette throughout the space. This will help to create a unified and cohesive look.
  • Use colours in a way that creates visual cues. For example, you could use a different colour for the floor than the walls to help people with low vision to orient themselves in the space.
  • Use colours to create a welcoming and inviting atmosphere. Avoid using too many bright or clashing colours, as this can be overwhelming for people with sensory sensitivities.

Fixtures & fittings

Proper lighting is pivotal in creating an accessible environment within public buildings. Adequate illumination aids people with visual impairments by reducing hazards and increasing their ability to navigate surroundings comfortably. Employing efficient lighting fixtures like motion sensors or timers can further enhance energy sustainability whilst improving accessibility at the same time.

Another important aspect of improving accessibility in public buildings is the inclusion of accessible furniture. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about accessibility, having furniture that caters to individuals with disabilities can make a huge difference in their overall experience. For example, adjustable tables and chairs can enable people with mobility limitations to comfortably sit and work or eat at different heights. Similarly, incorporating armrests on chairs can offer much-needed support for those who struggle with balance or have limited upper body strength.

Another crucial element in enhancing accessibility is selecting suitable flooring materials. Slippery surfaces can pose a significant safety risk for individuals with mobility impairments, making it essential to choose non-slip flooring options. Additionally, opting for smooth and even surfaces can make navigation easier for those using wheelchairs or walkers. Handrails are not only useful for providing stability and support, but also play an important role in promoting inclusivity within public buildings. Installing handrails allows individuals with varying disabilities to navigate spaces more safely and independently.

In addition to physical modifications, technology-driven solutions are also transforming accessible furniture in public buildings. For instance, smart seating options equipped with sensors and actuators are being developed to provide personalised comfort adjustments based on individual preferences. This not only enhances the user experience but also ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to comfortable seating arrangements like their able-bodied counterparts.

Integrating assistive technologies such as Braille displays or screen-reading software can greatly assist visually impaired individuals in accessing information independently and efficiently. These technological advancements break down barriers and highlight the incredible potential for innovative accessibility solutions within public spaces.

Examples of interior design projects that have incorporated accessibility features

Here are just a few examples of well-known interior design projects that have incorporated accessibility features:

This award-winning building was designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability. The building features wide corridors, accessible lifts and toilets, and adjustable height workspaces. It also has a number of sensory features, such as tactile signage and Braille labels.
This museum has undergone a number of renovations in recent years to make it more accessible to visitors. The museum now has accessible entrances and exits, ramps and lifts, and accessible restrooms. It also has a number of assistive listening devices available, and its interactive exhibits are designed to be accessible to people of all abilities.

The Microsoft Campus is one of the most accessible campuses in the world. The campus features wide walkways, accessible buildings, and accessible transportation options. It also has a number of assistive listening devices available, and its employee training programs include training on accessibility.

The Googleplex is another highly accessible campus. The campus features wide walkways, accessible buildings, and accessible transportation options. It also has a number of assistive listening devices available, and its employee training programs include training on accessibility.
The High Line is a former elevated railway that has been converted into a public park. The park is accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability. It features ramps and lifts, and its walkways are wide and level. The park also has a number of accessible restrooms and seating areas.

Transforming public spaces

Accessible interior design plays a crucial role in transforming public spaces. It not only enhances the overall aesthetic appeal but also creates an inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of their physical abilities. By incorporating accessible design principles and features, public spaces can become more welcoming and accommodating to everyone. This is especially important as society becomes more aware of the need for inclusivity and accessibility.

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