Friday, February 21, 2014

Accessibility Fail

Three photos of poorly designed accessibility features. Left photo is of a long ramp with a tree growing out of the middle. Middle photo is of a curb ramp and crosswalk to the opposite curb ramp, but with he path blocked by a median. Right photo is of a long ramp that starts with two steps up.
See the full collection of “accessibility fail” photos at The Fault Is In Our Spoons Tumblr blog, via Demonically Disabled.

These botched accessibility features create practical barriers, and are probably the results of poor planning and management. What other messages can we interpret from these “accessibility fails”?
1. Your needs are not important. "We added this feature because someone told us we had to, but it’s not important enough that we put any effort into making sure it actually helps. It’s just a requirement. It says we have to have a ramp. We put in a ramp. Next? Nobody’s gonna use it anyway, you mark my words!"
2. Accessibility is entirely symbolic; it has no practical meaning. "See, we painted the wheelchair symbol on it. That means it’s accessible. And is shows we care!”
Maybe there are other explanations. Maybe we disabled people over-interpet goof-ups or anomalies. Maybe we take things too personally. Well, maybe. But I remember when I used a mobility scooter in college, running across weird spots like these, and I would feel strangely affronted. It really did seem like a message ... You build everything else with such care and craftsmanship, but something that's for me and mine, you couldn't be bothered to do correctly. Got it!

Getting accessibility right is easy. You just have to be willing to do a little bit of research and ask for help.

Complete, detailed accessibility standards are available on the Internet. Your best bet is the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Most parts of the standard are easy to understand for anyone with a bit of simple building and repair experience. For an experienced contractor or designer, consulting the standards is a worthwhile backup to their professional knowledge.

Don’t just rely on the standards, though, and don’t assume you or your contractor will know how to apply them. Even credentialed architects sometimes don’t understand the best way to make specific locations accessible. Before you build, ask a disabled person for input. If you don’t know someone with physical disabilities who can help, call your nearest Center for Independent Living. Most of the people who work at them have disabilities themselves, and many of them have staff hired specifically to help homeowners and businesses make places more accessible. They may charge you a reasonable consulting fee, but if you do things right, you should only have to pay for all of this once.

Accessibility matters. The way it's designed and configured matters. In accessibility, good intentions mean exactly nothing ... it is all about practical usability. A publicly opened building or space that isn’t accessible to people with disabilities essentially says, “We don’t care enough to welcome you here. Go somewhere else.” For a business, especially, that’s a deadly stupid message to send, whether you meant to or not.

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