What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for People with Physical Disabilities at Public Venues

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for People with Physical Disabilities at Public Venues

A café busy with customers

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for People with Physical Disabilities at Public Venues

Are you certain your public venue is accessible to people with physical disabilities, including people with reduced mobility and wheelchair users? Where exactly is it necessary to have accessibility? What does the law say? What types of equipment can you set up?

Enhancing accessibility for your public venue will enable you to provide your users with physical disabilities with the best possible experience. We all know a satisfied customer will happily come back to your venue and will be more likely to spread the word about this fantastic place they’ve been to!

And to shed some light on what you can undertake, here we’ve compiled everything you need to implement to make sure your public venue is entirely accessible and ADA-compliant to welcome people with physical disabilities! 

Accessibility for people with physical disabilities at public venues: what regulations to apply?

Without any surprise, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is the one to strictly follow. Since 1990, the law aims at ensuring people with disabilities have access to the same rights and services as anybody else. Thus applying to public venues. If you manage a public venue such as these, you need to think about accessibility:

Stores and shopping malls

Bars and restaurants,

Hotels,

Banks,

Public services such as city halls,

Colleges and universities, private schools…

Amusement parks,

Hospitals,

Places of worship,

Cultural places like museums, movie theaters, stadiums

For all these public venues, the ADA requires not only that the building in itself to be accessible but also all the services the venue provides. The goal of this law is to ensure there’s no discrimination against people with disabilities by removing accessibility barriers. 

Existing buildings and new ones need to be ADA-compliant. Of course, it can be difficult for existing buildings to be completely accessible seeing that some are very ancient. Some would need to undertake major renovation works to enhance accessibility which could be very expensive. But the ADA states that they need to make “reasonable modifications” to suit the needs of people with disabilities. Plus the act emphasizes on communicating effectively with them. 

What solutions can you implement to enhance accessibility for people with physical disabilities?

There are a lot of things to consider to ensure your public venue is indeed accessible to people with physical disabilities. Keep in mind that people with mobility challenges don’t only concern wheelchair users, some people may use scooters, walkers or canes. The challenge is ensuring a seamless mobility chain so that people with physical disabilities can go from point A to C without any difficulties. Meaning that point B can easily link points A and C. But be reassured: the solutions you can implement to remove accessibility barriers are simple. Let’s take a look at them!

Accessibility outside your venue

Let’s start with what you can do to make sure people with physical disabilities can easily have access to your building:

PRM parking spaces: They need to be easily spotted with horizontal and vertical signage. And they need to be close to your building entrance to make the trips of people with physical disabilities easier.

A clean and smooth ground without any major obstacles or potholes. 

Large exterior circulations for wheelchair users to move freely.

Accessibility at your venue entrance

Obviously, your building entrance needs to be accessible if you want people with disabilities to enjoy your venue:

Access ramps: You can set up a permanent one instead or in addition to stairs. Make sure to respect the ADA requirements: ramps must be a minimum of 36 inches wide. They need to have top and bottom landings as wide as the ramp itself and at least 60 inches long. As for the slope, it needs to be greater than 1:20 and less than 1:12. A removable ramp also does the job: make sure it’s easy to use or that there’s a call button within reach so that wheelchair users can make their presence known.

Large doors: Indeed they need to be large enough to make sure wheelchair users can enter your venue. 

Accessibility within your venue

This is where you may need to step up your game to guarantee accessibility for people with physical disabilities! Let’s see what it entails:

Anti-slip mats: Mats at entrances, whether located just in front of the doors or right beyond, are necessary against dirt or mud but they also need to be accessible for wheelchair users. That’s why ADA-compliant floor mats have to be non-slip, robust enough and have the appropriate size and thickness to ensure wheelchair accessibility.

Universal pictograms so that your users with physical disabilities are aware of what services are accessible to them.

An accessible information desk and/or checkout: These services need to be easily identified thanks to a clear signage system. Plus lowered counters are easier for wheelchair users to see and be seen by your staff but also communicate effectively with them. And having a staff trained to best suit the needs of people with disabilities is priceless in terms of quality experience!

Elevators, escalators or access ramps so that your users with physical disabilities can access everything your venue has to offer!

Large aisles for wheelchair users to move without any difficulties. Thanks to large aisles, they can easily make a u-turn. 

Accessible seating areas.

Accessible restrooms: They need to be clearly identified thanks to the use of pictograms. Its equipment consists of a lowered sink and counter for handwashing, a higher toilet seat, grab bars on the wall closest to the toilet and behind the toilet, a bathroom emergency pullstring, and enough space for wheelchair users to easily make a u-turn. Every piece of equipment needs to be at the same level as wheelchair users for better comfort. 

Indoor navigation app: It’s particularly useful for users with physical disabilities to apprehend a new and complex environment. The app Evelity designed by Okeenea adapts perfectly to its user profile. For wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility, it provides optimized routes. Meaning that Evelity will guide them to use stair-free routes only.

 

As you can see, providing accessibility to your users with physical disabilities isn’t as tricky as it seems! Implementing these solutions will help you attract more users or customers to your venue. Even if you can’t undertake major and expensive renovation works, a digital solution can improve the accessibility of your venue! Thanks to all these different solutions and equipment, inclusion truly is within reach!

Would you like to know more about physical disabilities? Dive in with:

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with Physical Disabilities

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for Physical Disability?

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A wheelchair user and a woman using a cane side by side

Keep in mind that people with mobility challenges don’t only concern wheelchair users, some people may use scooters, walkers or canes.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

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For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

How to Make Museums More Accessible for People with Disabilities?

How to Make Museums More Accessible for People with Disabilities?

Exhibit of bone dinosaurs

How to Make Museums More Accessible for People with Disabilities?

Culture for all is a universally acknowledged notion. We, as human beings, depend on culture, whatever form it may take, to understand our society, to be a part of it, to think outside the box… If you’re a museum curator or director, you may be sensitive to that and want to offer your visitors the best experience possible. But what about visitors with disabilities? What are the solutions you can set up to make museums accessible to them?

Not only does accessible museums mean welcoming all types of visitors, regardless of their profile, but it also means making the content understandable for them. You, as museum professionals, need to answer both challenges. Whether it’s a painting, a sculpture or a documentary, museums need to make culture accessible to its visitors. It has always been an area that easily warmed up to accessibility, much earlier than others. Seeing that culture focuses on creating dialogue and human connections and is synonymous with social inclusion, that makes perfect sense.

Let’s see the guidelines you should follow to make your museum more accessible! 

Why is making museums more accessible so important? 

Museum accessibility is indeed covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) meaning that museums have to provide accessibility for visitors with disabilities. They need to provide equal access and services to their venues for all types of audiences. 

According to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), in 2019 museums in the U.S. produced 50 billion dollars with approximately 850 million visitors. Even though the world pretty much stopped in 2020 due to COVID-19, culture remains an essential part of our lives. With around 40 million Americans with disabilities, they represent potential visitors for museums to attract. 

Plus, of course, our need to connect with others and to other ways of thinking is key. Something that we all long for, including people with disabilities. Culture in general and museums in particular enable us to be more included in our society and to meet other people out of our comfort zone. That’s the power of social inclusion. Accessible museums simply make it easier for all audiences.

The Smithsonian Institution paves the way for others by making available accessibility guidelines for museum professionals. This applies to any museum dedicated to providing inclusive experiences to all its visitors.

Removing accessibility barriers at every stage

For museums to be more inclusive, accessibility barriers need to be removed at every step of the way. This means implementing a seamless mobility chain. It’s not just to be guaranteed when using public transit but when going from point A to point B: a blind person who would go from their home to a public venue. All inbetween stages need to be made accessible to ensure this person can properly reach their final destination.

Let’s see the stages where you, museum professionals, need to focus in order for visitors with disabilities to fully enjoy what the museum has to offer! 

Preparing the visit 

It’s probably the most important stage for people with disabilities. Indeed, they need to apprehend beforehand the venue they’re going to visit in order to make sure they’re not going to meet any difficulties during their trip or once they’ve arrived. Once again, everything needs to be seamless.

To get all the necessary information, your museum website is of course the most reliable resource. But the website needs to be accessible for all types of users. Check our article on digital accessibility to understand what it entails exactly! Simple solutions like subtitled videos, visual contrast and using alternatives to captchas can greatly help users with disabilities navigate the Internet.

Providing an online map to visitors is greatly useful for those with disabilities. They can apprehend the galleries and all the points of interest by themselves to get the most of their visit. Plus, they can download it on their phones and access it whenever they need it. As we previously saw in another article, 84% of people with disabilities use a smartphone

Seeing that some of the museums are gigantic mazes, being able to find the main entrance, your bearings and to know exactly where the accessible equipment like accessible restrooms are located is extremely convenient. For example, the Met in New York City represents the 5th largest museum in the world and was the most visited one in the U.S. in 2019 with 6,770,000 visitors. Its online map is well conceived to help any visitors enjoy their visit.

Going to the museum 

Once visitors have spotted the exact location of the museum they want to visit, they need to plan their trip to go there. What’s the best way to go there according to their needs? Where are the accessible parking spaces for wheelchair users? In a large city, using public transit can be the easiest way to get around. But it means riding an accessible subway for more autonomy.

Blind visitors can struggle to find the exact location of the museum entrance. A sound signage system like audio beacons remains the best solution to guide them. For example, NAVIGUEO+ HIFI audio beacons can be installed at the museum entrance and activated on demand by users to avoid noise pollution whether with a remote control or their smartphone with the MyMoveo app. 

Apprehending the museum and its galleries

Now that visitors with disabilities have access to your museum, they need to be able to get around freely and in complete autonomy. Welcoming visitors with different profiles means having a staff trained to best assist them according to their needs. It’s even more important with guided tours specially reserved for blind visitors. Being patient and letting them feel the works of art when possible at their own pace enables them to feel safe and to properly enjoy their visit. Besides, it takes a good storyteller to describe colors, shapes and all the details so make sure your staff knows how to make blind visitors “see” your collections! 

Moreover, all the services provided by your museum such as galleries, cafeterias and restaurants, restrooms and shops need to be accessible. Let’s see the basic equipment you need to implement to physically welcome visitors with disabilities and guide them!

Blind and visually impaired visitorsTactile guide paths
Secured stairs with handrails and visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings
Audio information
Braille plaques
Deaf and hearing impaired visitorsAssistive listening devices
Audio induction loops
Visual information
Visitors with reduced mobilityLowered counters at information desk, restaurant and shop
Courtesy wheelchairs
Ramps and elevators
Large spaces for wheelchair users
Wheelchair seating areas
Visitors with a cognitive impairmentUniversal pictograms
Visitors in the autism spectrumQuiet places

Although guide paths help blind visitors find their way, they’re not to be used meagerly since too many of them could alter the esthetics of your venue. 

That’s why more and more museums choose to turn to digital solutions like navigation apps to apprehend the venue and easily get their bearings. The Sign Research Foundation established a guide on Digital Wayfinding Trends: Lessons Learned from Museums, Healthcare and Transit Experiences. This shows how these three different fields encounter the same issues about helping people with disabilities find their bearings in a complex environment but how a digital wayfinding solution can in fact solve them.

Besides, the Luma Foundation in Arles, France chose a wayfinding app for its visitors. The soon to be opened museum chose to provide its visitors with disabilities with the best experience possible by implementing Evelity: an indoor navigation app specifically conceived to suit any user profile.

Thus it’s perfect for:

Blind and visually impaired visitors: the app provides audio instructions thanks to VoiceOver and TalkBack screen readers. 

Deaf and hearing impaired visitors: a focus on text descriptions and icons.

Visitors with reduced mobility: they are given optimized routes meaning they are aware beforehand of the locations of elevators or escalators.

Visitors with a cognitive impairment: easy-to-read instructions that help them navigate their way without feeling overwhelming.

Plus, users can keep their phone in their pocket while using Evelity in order to enjoy the museum without having to carry it. This app truly helps visitors with disabilities feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment and make this museum accessible without having to undertake major renovation works.

And French architect Nadia Sahmi couldn’t agree more on the importance of physical and psychological comfort for all in cultural venues. She worked for instance on the Luma Foundation and the Vuitton Foundation. We had the chance to interview her and she gave us her insight on what culture for all entails. In her work, she focuses on a human-centered approach to take into account everybody’s needs. And every single detail counts: “For example, there’s no point in having properly sized spaces if we don’t take into account the light, preferably natural light or a well-thought artificial light.” 

Obviously, lighting is extremely important for museums since they favor low lighting to preserve their collections. But this can represent an obstacle for visually impaired visitors who wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy the works of art. The Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth England opted for “relaxed opening mornings” once a month when light levels are higher than usual for visually impaired visitors to properly enjoy the warship. This solution also helps people in the autism spectrum and people with dementia to feel more comfortable. 

Inclusive design thus proves to be essential to make museums accessible. The goal is to create solutions that meet the needs of several groups of people, something that cultural places like museums have always focused on, long before other fields to make culture accessible to all. 

Accessing the cultural content 

Although inclusive design can help make your museum more accessible, other solutions come into action to ensure all types of visitors can easily access the cultural content exhibited. Let’s review existing solutions some museums chose to implement!

Blind and visually impaired visitorsVerbal descriptions by professionals
Audioguides
Tactile models
Deaf and hearing impaired visitorsText descriptions
Subtitled videos
American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
Visitors with reduced mobilityLowered works of art
Lowered text descriptions
Accessible seating places at video rooms
Visitors with a cognitive impairmentVerbal descriptions by professionals
Easy-to-read descriptions

The app Evelity, mentioned earlier, is perfect for museums: not only does it guide visitors with disabilities but it can also provide geolocated cultural content read by voice synthesis directly on their phones. Thus Evelity turns into a cultural mediation tool. An all-in-one solution to make your museum accessible!

Some museums even go the extra mile like the Guggenheim in New York City for whom accessibility is important. They’ve established Mind’s Eye programs to provide sensory experiences to visitors with a visual impairment. They’ve also created a social narrative guide explaining to people with sensory processing disorders what to expect during their visit.

Making your museum accessible isn’t just about the venue in itself. Finding ways for people with disabilities to access the cultural content represents one of your most important challenges. Whenever possible, a lot of museums break with the famous “don’t touch!” rule for blind visitors and implement various types of tactile objects and models. This enables them to “see” by themselves the works of art through touch.

Creating tactile models and providing visitors with original experiences is Tactile Studio’s mission. This inclusive design agency is specialized in promoting the arts and culture for all. Their innovative works make museums more accessible, including famous ones like the Louvre in Paris. The most visited museum in Europe now has tactile stations showing blind visitors all the construction phases of the Louvre. 

Relying on modern technology to make museums accessible 

3D printing, which has become more generalized, also represents a great way for blind visitors to apprehend a certain work of art. However, relief models aren’t the only way to make cultural content accessible to them. A lot of digital solutions appear to reach a wider audience. Tactile Studio also happens to focus on them. The agency set up digital services for the “Photographs: An Early Album Of The World 1842-1896” exhibition at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Implementing interactive animations, graphical interfaces and a digital narration is just another way for visitors to explore your museum and its collections.

Some museums even have their own apps displaying their works of art in a different format and offering a virtual tour like the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Its Deep Time Audio Description App enables users to explore the Fossil Hall directly on their phone thanks to a self-guided tour providing alt text images, visual descriptions and interactive touchscreen.  

Living interactive experiences makes culture come to life. This explains why more and more museums bet on virtual reality (VR) to show their exhibits. Visitors just have to wear a helmet to explore an exhibit. This can be very useful for visitors with reduced mobility: they can enjoy an exhibit at their own pace. Or even for blind visitors who could feel like they’re “touching” a forbidden sculpture. The National Museum of Natural History in Paris even set up a permanent Cabinet of Virtual Reality so that visitors can dive into Evolution. This enables visitors to be completely immersed in a stimulating environment.

It’s the same process with augmented reality (AR) even though it’s via an app. This technology offers an altered version of the environment. It helps visually impaired visitors have a better sense of the work displayed in front of them with more contrast and highlight on details. Once again, the National Museum of Natural History proves to be a pioneer in modern technology. In order to showcase the skeletons from its famous Bone Hall, the museum created an augmented reality app: Skin and Bones. A way to show users how these animals used to move!  

In order for your museum to be more accessible, you need to rethink the way you showcase your collections to best suit all types of audiences. It’s obvious that providing inclusive experiences is becoming the norm. Culture for all isn’t just a trend. As we saw, museums are all committed to having accessible venues providing accessible content! What about yours?

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Visitors exploring a museum

Making your museum accessible isn’t just about the venue in itself. (…) Whenever possible, a lot of museums break with the famous “don’t touch!” rule for blind visitors and implement various types of tactile objects and models.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Museum Accessibility: Physical and Psychological Comfort for All | Interview of French Architect Nadia Sahmi

Museum Accessibility: Physical and Psychological Comfort for All | Interview of French Architect Nadia Sahmi

A large group of people taking pictures at a museum

Museum Accessibility: Physical and Psychological Comfort for All | Interview of French Architect Nadia Sahmi

Putting architecture at the service of individuals’ well-being, that’s Nadia Sahmi’s principle, architect and CEO of Cogito Ergo Sum’s agency in Tours, France. She works as accessibility, quality of life and user experience consultant on a lot of museum projects. For her, “us” in “user”, implies the plurality of our differences, all the singularities we, as different groups of people, may have. Being convinced that making all types of audiences feel welcome comes from a global approach, Nadia Sahmi fights against technical and regulation shortcuts to put human beings at the center of every project.

Hello Nadia Sahmi. For our readers who may not know you yet, could you tell us about your approach as an accessibility consultant?

On every project I’ve worked on, my goal is to bring physical, psychological and sensory comfort to all users respecting at the same time the architectural design. For that, I study projects through the eyes of the most vulnerable users. If we take into account the needs of the most fragile among us, we truly improve society for all. I favor a global approach, taking into account all audiences in their diversity.

The strictly regulation approach that control offices adopt causes a lot of rejection. The danger is having an approach that’s too segmented, too prescriptive and not human enough. I make a point of making everybody adhere by turning things around. We create “for all”, including blind people and wheelchair users, not the way around. We don’t favor a group of people over another, we don’t point the finger at anyone. Plus, anybody can momentarily become visually or hearing impaired depending on the circumstances. Let’s just take the example of smartphone addicts… The most important thing is to find common denominators that will bring comfort and well-being to all.

More specifically, if we focus on museums, what do you think the principles to respect should be for these cultural sites to become accessible to all? 

Once again, it’s about focusing on a global approach. Making access to culture easier comes from improving the staff’s work conditions. They need to be able to act as facilitators. Everybody should be able to move around in all areas, to get closer to collections, to take note of mediation content. These examples show that focusing only on respecting accessibility technical regulations isn’t enough to make a museum accessible. By tackling accessibility through usability and empathy towards users, not only do we make all people involved adhere to the project but we also gain quality feedback. The goal remains providing physical and psychological comfort so that everybody can feel well in their heart and inner self.

For example, there’s no point in having properly sized spaces if we don’t take into account the light, preferably natural light or a well-thought artificial light. The unit of measurement can’t be lux but psychological comfort. It’s true that we can’t make people agree on everything. Studies show that men prefer white light and that women prefer yellow light. We need to accept differences and we need to find the big common denominators, the layouts that enable everybody to find their groove. That’s the vision I provide clients and users with. Colors and materials also have a strong impact on mental health. White is like a flavor enhancer: you can’t put too much of it at the risk of ruining the whole thing. There’s a whole culture to develop.

When we talk about accessibility, usually we point out the cost that comes with creating access ramps and oversized rooms. But we never talk about the benefits of creating a society where we can be comfortable in: less aggressivity, less health issues. From the moment we elevate individuals by offering them quality spaces, everybody feels better. To parody a famous brand, the headline of my approach could be: “Because I too, I’m worth it!”

In a museum, what matters before all is the way I’m welcomed, the services I get, the technologies at my disposal. Museums need to be pleasant for everybody. I have enough large spaces, intuitive paths so I feel safe to enjoy the experience. Mediation tools are diversified and adapt to the needs of everybody. No more “don’t touch!”, it’s about time we can explore museums in a different way.

So opening up museums to all audiences depends on a global approach that leaves nothing and no one behind. Can you give us any examples of museums that have adopted this approach?

At the moment, I’m working on the Luma Foundation in Arles, France. We focus a lot on welcoming visitors, its organization. The goal is to bring flexibility, to assist people who need it. We rehumanise, we give meaning back to reception jobs. We reintroduce quality in relationships with others. Due to excessive hygienism or responsibility fear, it’s something we’ve completely lost track of. 

Despite everything, we can’t only rely on humans. Of course, the layout has its importance. On this project, neither text nor usability permitted us to implement a tactile signage system. I went to Okeenea to develop a solution for all, a solution that architects couldn’t reject. The indoor wayfinding solution is pain-free for architecture and is incidentally more effective than a tactile signage system for blind people because it enables them to have flexibility in their paths. It’s more than a wayfinding solution since the idea is to provide content about the history of the location. At first, we had a lot of technical and architectural constraints, due to the presence of a lot of metal. So we proceeded in stages carrying out tests on a limited area that turned out to be conclusive. What I’m interested in with this solution is that it’ll serve everybody and that it’s capable of evolving over time following the life of the building. The exhibits are never permanent so it’s important that nothing is set in stone.

Besides, we can’t put aside the 35% of French who aren’t comfortable with digital technologies. 17% of the population don’t use a smartphone and among those who do, many aren’t completely comfortable with it. We need to think of a tool that could be used by visitors to replace smartphones, an intuitive and easy-to-manipulate tool, including for people who may have their hands full with a mobility aid or something else.

The Luma Foundation does research to create a breadcrumb trail adapted to all types of floors. The idea is to create a continuity in all spaces that’s both useful and beautiful. Several artists are involved and its Mrs Hoffmann, the Foundation’s benefactor, who will have the last word. The tactile guide strips at the top of the stairs have also been rethought to fit in the architecture.

I advocate for “specific” mediation tools to be generalized for everybody. For example, the tools that are developed for blind people are great for kids but also for other audiences. At the Vuitton Foundation, another project on which I’ve worked a lot, everything has been conceived to welcome all audiences in their diversity. The plans and the tactile models that enable blind people to visualize Frank Guery’s architecture, the volumes, the way spaces are interlocked and the materials, attract all types of visitors, because they were put on the visit tour and they deal with beautiful creations. The visit assistant smartphone app is compatible with voice synthesis and is composed of subtitled and American Sign Language content. It’s completely open for a visitor who doesn’t need it but for a visually or hearing impaired person, the mediation content is here and available.

We’ve talked about the specific case of museums. But accessibility applies to all public places and housing. In order to broaden the subject, could you tell us what your recommendations are in these fields?

The main mistake remains segmenting the approaches. The regulation approach causes rejection when, on the principle, everybody agrees on creating well-being for everybody. We need to look for solutions by having a meeting of minds between architects, users and contracting authorities. It’s important to organize spaces according to usability data and not dimensional data. We also need to reintroduce the humane party. Autonomy is an aspect for which we can’t compromise on dealing with housing. However, outdoors, we can create social ties. Having worked a lot in difficult neighborhoods, I can tell you that when you provide quality of life, the whole society benefits from it.

Another important aspect is letting users choose, choose between oversized or reduced restrooms, between stairs or access ramps for example. Everywhere we have generalized the use of ramps but it’s a nightmare for the elderly. Crossing a ramp can be very difficult when one has balance issues. Imposing elevators everywhere isn’t the solution either. On the contrary, we need to promote physical activity for the elderly. I advocate installing stairs back. I know physios who have their patients work on small portable wooden stairs, just because building stairs aren’t highlighted, are ill-conceived and with a poor signage system. It’s urgent to invest in stairs: a good lighting, visual contrast on the stairs. However, we need to be careful with tactile guide strips with rounded nails that we usually find at pedestrian crossings. Elderly people could fall on them. Indoors, they can be replaced with groove mats or other flat nails. It’s important to think about solutions in their plurality and not restricting ourselves on ready-made solutions. When an older person stays cooped up, it’s because of their fears, starting with the fear to fall. I had the opportunity to observe this in a residential building on which I worked on. When we installed stair nosings with visual contrast, elderly people started to go outside. A month later, we implemented tactile guide strips with rounded nails and it was over! They had to be replaced with ground mats. It’s an intuitive code that works very well for everybody.

Control offices often lead to shortcuts regarding regulations. It’s important to make an effort in understanding what are the needs that led to the solutions described in laws and in knowing when it’s not necessary to follow them to the letter in order to keep an open mind. Regulations have opened up possibilities and enabled us to have “alternative solutions”. We need to dare!

I’ve been advocating these ideas for 25 years now with decision makers, politicians, investors. Architecture needs to meet all usability goals and this can happen fighting against clichés and bad paradigms. We need to be patient and persistent but it’s worth fully focusing on it to improve our togetherness!

Read out our articles to learn more about design and how it can help improve the everyday lives of people with disabilities: 

Adopting a Design Approach to Put People at the Heart of New Mobility Services – Interview with Marie-Charlotte Moret

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

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Picture of Nadia Sahmi

Making access to culture easier comes from improving the staff’s work conditions. They need to be able to act as facilitators. Everybody should be able to move around in all areas, to get closer to collections, to take note of mediation content.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

 

Inclusive design has a major role in enhancing accessibility. Though both concepts don’t exactly encompass the same ideas, they are undeniably linked together because of their complementarity. Accessibility consists in removing the present obstacles whereas inclusive design consists in creating solutions that from the beginning are perfectly tailored to the needs of several profiles of people: a person with reduced mobility for whom it’ll be easier to use an elevator in a shopping mall or a person with a visual impairment who needs a contrasted signage in a subway station for their getting around in complete autonomy for example.

Therefore accessibility can be achieved through an inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Putting people first and focusing on their needs permits to respond adequately and to favor their inclusion in society.

What’s better than a society which caters to the needs of all its citizens? Inclusive design offers a wide range of possibilities for cities to help them create an accessible and barrier-free society in several areas whether it concerns the services they provide such as public transportation but also in their architecture with buildings and parks. In addition, culture happens to be one of the first fields to have considered inclusive design and is showing the way to others. 

The sky’s the limit as the following examples of accessibility achieved through inclusive design will demonstrate!

 

Inclusive design, universal design and accessibility: an inevitable triptych 

In order to perfectly comprehend what inclusive design embraces, let’s focus at first on its definition and those of universal design and accessibility since the three are often intertwined together.

⊗ Inclusive design: making a product or service easily accessible to several categories of users. It strongly focuses on the user experience to make sure the needs of the targeted categories are met and consequently acknowledges the diversity of the population. Meaning that for different groups of users, inclusive design explores different solutions. It also takes into account different cultures so that solutions can also apply to foreign tourists who don’t speak the language of the country they’re visiting. 

⊗ Universal design or Design for all: it consists in providing one solution to tailor the needs of everybody. Universal design thus focuses on the entire population rather than just a few groups of people to make accessible products. But usually, universal design only accomplishes to meet the needs of the majority so there are still a few people whose needs aren’t answered. 

⊗ Accessibility: removing obstacles and adapting solutions or equipment so that users with disabilities can have the same experience as any user such as screen readers for people with a visual impairment. Accessibility is all about accommodations. 

As you can see, there are slight differences to know concerning these concepts. However, when dealing with inclusive design, it’s obvious that it has to be linked with accessibility. One goes with the other. After all, they share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody. 

Consequently, a simple thing like a wide building entrance constitutes a perfect combination of inclusive design and accessibility! It can prove to be extremely useful for wheelchair users and is the first step to make a place accessible for them. 

This type of equipment can be found in different places such as city halls, universities and colleges or even airports. For shopping malls for example, in addition to a wide entrance with automatic doors, you can find elevators, escalators and ramps so that people with reduced mobility can easily get around and do their shopping. Although elevators may seem to be the obvious choice for easy access for people with reduced mobility, stairs are still relevant since they can help the elderly exercise without them realizing it. Plus people with a visual impairment don’t have to worry about finding the right button on the elevator. They all can simply use accessible stairs equipped with continuous handrails and visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings: an easy equipment to implement!

Inclusive design and accessibility truly are complementary since they serve the same purpose. 

 

Inclusive design with a human-centered approach

People with disabilities are at the heart of inclusive design since it focuses on meeting their needs in the best possible way. Thinking of installing a wide building entrance for wheelchair users is just the beginning for architects and designers. To make a place accessible, it needs to be well thought out with the different profiles in mind. And for that, it means working closely with groups of people with disabilities.

Their participation and involvement is key to make sure architects, city planners, engineers create the perfect environment for their needs. Human-centered design, used in ISO standards, consists at first in researching what the problem is, analyzing the data and then in conceptualizing it in order to implement the appropriate solution. Various stages take place:

⊗ Observing the user groups;

⊗ Analyzing the research;

⊗ Communicating with the user groups on the issue;

⊗ Offering a solution or a prototype;

⊗ Feedback from the groups;

⊗ Fixing the potential problems of the solution raised by the user groups until it’s perfected. Thus, there can be several back-and-forths between the groups and the designers.

Throughout this whole process of analyzing the issue of user groups, empathy remains key. After all, architects, city planners and engineers design for humans. They need to put themselves in the shoes of those who are usually unseen and unheard: people with disabilities. 

The Institute of Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston focuses on both inclusive and universal design in order to foster projects that meet the needs of a wide range of people comprising the elderly who may have difficulties to get around or to use their hands due to arthritis, people with learning and attention disabilities, people on the autistic spectrum or any profile of disabilities. Indeed, the IHCD provides their expertise in accessibility from the start of a design project (cities, parks, public transit systems) to ensure all categories of people can have access to a barrier-free society applying a philosophy where people are listened to and valued. People with disabilities as other types of profiles can thus regain some self-esteem. They properly feel they’re part of society. 

Moreover, what’s useful for one group can also be for another one. For example, using simple and clear pictograms to give basic information such as the location of the elevators or the bathroom to people with a cognitive impairment is also efficient for the elderly or children. After all, the goal is to convene universal information through a signage system. 

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London represents a huge success in terms of inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Created specially for the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012, it had the ambition to be home to “the most accessible Games ever” by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). It definitely was the case at the time and today it’s still being put to use to welcome the general public. The LLDC issued last year its updated inclusive design standards describing the implementations that took place within the Park, its venues and its surrounding areas. From accessible toilets for wheelchair users to guide paths for the orientation of people with a visual impairment, shared spaces that are easy to navigate and comfort zones for pedestrians but also facilities for assistance dogs, the Park provides a safe and attractive place for a wide range of people of all ages. A sense of community and belonging is thus reinforced. Let’s just hope that the Park inspires others to implement the same inclusive design standards!

On a larger scale, London keeps considering inclusive design as the city is planning to make the Square Mile, the financial district, an accessible environment for its citizens with disabilities and its elderly. London is set on removing all the barriers to create an inclusive society! As we’ve previously explained in our article Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City, accessibility and inclusion represent a challenge to face for all cities that want to be able to claim they’re Smart Cities.  

Innovating while focusing on a human-centered approach can result in surprising creations. The whole world has had to adapt to the ongoing pandemic and wearing masks happens to be essential for all of us to protect ourselves and others. However, this has isolated a lot of people including deaf and hard of hearing people who have been struggling to communicate with others. Seeing that their conversation partner has to wear a mask to cover their face, deaf or hard of hearing people can’t read on their lips anymore or see their facial expressions to help them understand them and the situation. Thankfully, companies or just regular citizens stood up to make transparent masks. A simple inclusive solution that enables deaf people to lip-read and communicate!

Another example of innovation that meets the needs of groups of people is the creation of sensory rooms: a dedicated space for people with cognitive disabilities, autism or even dementia. They can find there a quiet and safe environment away from any potential stressful situations. Once again, the city of London is a fine example of inclusion with the sensory room at the Heathrow airport. Researchers established a guideline showing the therapeutic benefits of a sensory room on patients with dementia with the use of gentle stimulation through senses. Sensory rooms can also provide a sound-protected environment for people on the autistic spectrum who can be sensitive to noise and need a calm place to relax. This happens to be the case at the one in the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as previously seen in our article The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience. Designing a room with low lighting, different types of spaces to provide calm for people or even fun with the use of soft toys demands a perfect analysis of the categories of people that are to be welcomed there. 

Focusing on the needs of several groups of people is a huge part of inclusive design. It helps improve solutions to create a barrier-free environment for all whatever this environment may be, that’s the beauty of inclusive design!

 

Resolving the challenge of mobility: an inclusive society one foot at a time 

Mobility represents an important challenge to face for people with disabilities in their everyday lives. In our article How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?, we had already focused on the importance of the mobility of people with a visual impairment. 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) remain the best solution for them to safely cross the road. However, COVID-19 has highlighted their limitations: the use of the pushbutton in the United States and in other countries can endanger the lives of its blind citizens. Indeed, they need to touch the pushbutton to activate the APS and then cross the street but unfortunately it has been proven that the virus could also be found on surfaces making it difficult and unsafe for blind or visually impaired people to easily get around. Our article How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become COVID-19 Responsive? had greatly focused on this issue and had introduced the connected device aBeacon as an adequate solution.  

This innovative APS can be activated on demand with a remote control or with a smartphone which means that the user doesn’t have to touch the pole. The device aBeacon, designed by Okeenea, can easily be installed on traffic lights to provide audible information creating a sound corridor to guide the user. A perfect example of inclusive design at the service of  groups of people! An inclusive society leaves no one behind! 

And French company Okeenea keeps innovating to make sure people with a visual impairment can locate a building or a subway entrance thanks to its audio beacons NAVIGUEO+ HIFI. When activated, their message enables people to find their way to the exact location of the point of interest. Same as aBeacon, these audio beacons also are on demand activated with a remote control or a smartphone so that the users have the same devices for two different solutions. Two well thought solutions focusing on the needs of their users to make their lives easier!

Of course, finding a building entrance is the first step but accessibility within is also important. We’ve seen earlier that buildings like shopping malls can have different types of equipment but usually, people with disabilities need to apprehend their trips beforehand and prepare them as best as they can so that to avoid any possible difficulties. What can be done to enable them to get around spontaneously and explore a new venue? There’s a simple yet original solution with Evelity: an indoor wayfinding app specifically designed for people with disabilities. More and more apps are created for people with physical disabilities, blind or visually impaired people or deaf or hard of hearing people…, to help them in their everyday lives. 

Evelity truly is an ingenious app that can help people with a visual impairment to find their bearings thanks to audio instructions with VoiceOver or TalkBack or people with a physical impairment with optimized routes. It’s up to the user to set up the app according to their profile. Evelity can guide users at any sorts of locations: shopping malls, universities and colleges, hospitals, transport networks such as subways and train stations, offices, museums and much more. 

In order to have a solution that was perfectly tailored to the needs of its different users, Evelity’s design team worked closely with test groups since its beginning according to the stages previously explained. It has always been one of the major principles of the team as service designer Marie-Charlotte Moret explained in her interview: Adopting a Design Approach to Put People at the Heart of New Mobility Services. Then empathy represents an important value when it comes to designing a solution for the mobility of people with disabilities. 

 

The undeniable commitment of the cultural world for the development of inclusive design

If there’s one field that has always questioned the issue of accessibility and the comfort of its visitors it’s the cultural world. How can blind or visually impaired visitors apprehend the paintings in a museum? Can visitors with wheelchairs have easy access to the galleries?

Tactile Studio, an agency specializing in inclusive design for the promotion of the arts to everyone, creates adapted and innovative solutions that both serve the aesthetics of the place and the needs of its visitors. World famous cultural institutions employ this agency to ensure all types of visitors can enjoy culture and arts such as the Orsay Museum in Paris that set up a tactile and multi-sensory exploration of L’Atelier du peintre, a painting by Gustave Courbet. Tactile Studio created a special design of the painting so that visitors with a visual impairment could touch the highlighted layers of the painting. They also had an audio description of the painting so that emotions could be convened through different canals and senses. A complete immersion to easily understand and appreciate an artwork!

Relief and tactile experience are not the only solutions put in place by the design agency. Indeed, technology can be used to help visitors exploit paintings or photographs. The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum opted for a digital solution for its “Photographs: An Early Album Of The World 1842-1896” exhibition to explain the relevance of these photographs on both technical and cultural aspects. Tactile Studio created interactive animations, graphical interfaces and a narration for digital non-tactile supports. A fun way to approach art!

The Guggenheim in New York represents a very good example of accessibility through inclusive design since it addresses different profiles thanks to adapted solutions. Even its cylindrical building proves to be easily accessible: visitors start their trip at the top and gradually go down with its slightly tilted rotunda ramp to access the exhibitions. A simple way for visitors with wheelchairs to get around in the museum if they don’t want to use the elevators. 

However, the Guggenheim and its rotunda provide more solutions that meet the needs of different profiles:

 

Wheelchair visitorsComplimentary standard wheelchairs
Accessible seating places
Visitors with a visual impairmentVerbal descriptions by professionals 
Visitors with a hearing impairmentAmerican Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
Assistive-listening devices
Visitors with sensory processing disordersA social narrative guide to know what to expect during the visit
Quiet places

Thanks to inclusive design, access to culture is indeed possible and can take many forms. Visitors with disabilities benefit from endless innovations to share the same experience as any visitor. Therefore, a constant renewal is necessary to ensure everybody can enjoy culture. Research proves to be an essential part of inclusive design which is why Access Smithsonian, the Institute for Human Centered Design and MuseWeb collaborated to establish a guide on Inclusive Digital Interactives: Best Practices + Research

This guide is a must-read for anyone involved in inclusive design and its implementation in the cultural world. It provides detailed examples of case studies with a goal to constantly rethink and reconsider what is done at the present moment to foster innovation. 

As we can see, creating an accessible and barrier-free society through inclusive design can happen for many different fields. The challenges to raise only but increase the necessary constant renewal to think and rethink the solutions. Accessibility can be achieved thanks to innovative solutions! Together, let’s build an inclusive world! 

 

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Inclusive design and accessibility both share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.