A reflection on Project 2 – Disability in Design

Overall this has been a bit of a rollercoaster of a project. I started the project with a very broad topic in mind, I wasn’t sure what kind of research I would be looking into and I also wasn’t sure what kind of route I wanted to take through the research.

So at the start of the Project 2, I researched into disability as much as I could and as quick as I could and I think by doing so, I found myself wandering down a path and couldn’t figure out how to get back onto the road. I wanted to know about all kinds of disability, what they were and what they mean, as well as diving into regulation books and equality acts. I’ll be honest, I was lost for quite a lot of my project.

Starting off my research with such a broad mindset allowed me to explore and pin down the areas I am most passionate about and want to carry through to the MA Project. I first decided to explore why and how disabled users feel invisible in public places and to others around them. I researched into wheelchair users feeling invisible and it touched me quite a lot to think what some people go through in their everyday lives… as an able-bodied person, we take things like that for granted. This then led into visibility – what could I do to increase a wheelchair users visibility; maybe by creating something for the wheelchair itself that would link to an interior space. Although I know I won’t focus on these areas within the MA Project, I will visit each idea and consider them in the designs I create.

After lots of research, both primary and secondary, I found that the area I am most passionate about is accessibility and how a wheelchair user accesses an interior or moves around an interior space. In the MA Project, I intend to explore further into accessibility and how design can be adapted to allow full access. I will be designing interior spaces focused on wheelchair users.

I have had weekly tutorials with my tutor, Patti, who has helped and supported me along this journey of disability in design. I kept finding myself losing track of what I wanted to explore and ended up exploring things I had already done. Patti became a big help in this way as she guided me back to the right path and helped me to open my mind about such a broad topic. – Thank you.

Reference

What is Accessibility? – My own personal experience

Accessibility The quality of being easily reached, entered, or used by people who have a disability. (Accessibility definition. Oxford Dictionaries (2018)

Accessibility. Every single day, every single one of us encounters an accessible building, path, shop, home. This isn’t an issue though if you are an able-bodied individual because we can walk up steps, through tight doors, up and down high paths or be dodging around people in shops… this to us is easy and accessible. But what about for a disabled wheelchair user? Accessibility is a tough area when designing for a wheelchair user, there are so many regulations which are mandatory and extra care is (or should be) put into designing for the disabled.

As part of this accessibility post, I am including primary research that I have done. In order for me to understand properly the difficulties that wheelchair users face, I got in a wheelchair and went shopping. This experience really touched me because it became apparent that the research and other peoples personal experiences I have looked at, is true. I genuinely felt invisible to other people just because I was at a different level to them – this made my passion for designing for disability stronger.

Here are some images taken from my trip to show the limitations I faced whilst doing this experiment.

This was a different but eye-opening experience for me because I am an able-bodied person; this really helped me to recognise the issues that limit a wheelchair user faces as well as recognising that with minor changes, full accessibility will live to its meaning.

Observing the people closest to me…

As part of my primary research, I used my family to help me gather more research on disability and design by taking them out to a public place to see how they would use the space, whether it be going out for a meal or simply shopping.

I am so passionate about designing for disability and when you have family members that struggle daily due to poorly designed buildings, everything becomes more apparent and obvious.

It is okay for a company or shop to say that their buildings are ‘accessible‘, but when I look closer at the finer details it becomes apparent that there are always unnecessary limitations.

For this exercise, I took my grandparents and partners parents out on separate occasions to different surroundings, to see how someone with a disability would interact and use an interior space, I also took observations of the space around them and how accessible the interior was. On top of this, I asked my subjects to give me a piece of advice that they could pass on to someone living with a disability.

 


Grandma S & Grandpa T

Grandma Sandra suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis in her arms and legs which has caused mobility issues. Alongside this, she became a recent amputee of the lower left leg. Sandra now has a prosthetic leg with which she uses crutches and wheelchair until she is strong enough to walk on two legs independently.

On our trip out we went to a local carvery pub (which was yummy!). There we had to enter through the rear entrance as the front is stepped. The access doors were only just wide enough to squeeze a wheelchair through. I also noticed that there wasn’t a lowered area of the bar that my grandma could go to, to order, and when she did the bar staff couldn’t see her and spoke right over her.

Grandma is a huge football fan, so to help her own visibility when she goes to matches, grandma attached flashing lights to her wheels. Before this, she noticed that people would cut straight in front of her and not notice that she was in a chair, but once they were on she received positive comments. When I took her out she received comments like, “Wow they’re cool!” and “You won’t get lost with those on!” 

Advice –  “Keep your spirits up, there is a life after amputation.” ….. “Never be afraid to ask or receive help.” (Almond. S. 2018)


Grandma F

Due to her age, Grandma Flo’s mobility is slowly decreasing, making it harder for her to go out on her own. We bought her this Rollator and it was the best thing for her! Not only did it give her the confidence she needed to go out but the support too. When I took Grandma out to observe her, we went to the Trafford Centre – somewhere busy. At the restaurant the staff were very accommodating of grandmas rollator and cleared a space for her to put it next to us, however, we were right at the front of the entrance, but we didn’t mind.

Advice – “Get yourself a Rollator!” … “There might not be physical signs, but my disability is mobility.” … “Try not to feel pressured.” … “Don’t let it get you down.” … “Don’t be afraid to ask for or receive help.” … “You’ll have dull days, but you learn to work with them.” (Milenkovic. F. 2018)


Martin

Martin has Neuro Sarcoidosis which can affect any part the nervous system and in worse cases can leave you with a permanent disability and in an unfortunate case, this has happened to Martin.

Martin uses a motorised wheelchair as his means of transport, due to it being a motorised chair it is easier for him to get around because of the permanent state. When I took my partners parents out to observe, a few issues arose. Firstly we were only offered the table right next to the entrance – but it was way too cold to sit there, another issue was space inbetween tables – furniture had to be moved. But on the other hand, the restaurant was accommodating in other ways; there was a lowered bar area, the bar area floor was clear and had enough unobstructed space to turn, the carvery server was an acceptable height but could have been a touch lower.

Advice – “Listen to and take advice from specialists.” … “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” … “Plan long-term.” … “Challenge as much as you can.” … “Look at motorbility.” … “Educating others on your disability.” (Rowley. M. 2018)

Understanding Wheelchair Metrics

Wheelchair metrics are something that needs to be understood when researching into such a broad topic. For me as an Interior Designer, it is crucial that I know the heights and widths needed to accommodate a wheelchair passing comfortably through an area when it comes to planning out an interior. After reading through regulations and measurements, I have hand-drawn these to help myself when it comes to designing an accessible interior. I have written the scale measurement next to each drawing as a guidance for size.

There are standard disability metric systems when working on an interior space, I have drawn these from the Portsmouth City Council – ‘Design guide for wheelchair accessible housing’ (2006) and Building Regulations Part M (2010) Category 3 – ‘Wheelchair user dwellings’ :                                                                                                                                  Turning Circle – 1500mm                                                                                                                      Door Widths – 850mm – 900mm                                                                                                              Plug Heights –  450mm from floor                                                                                                            Light Switches – 1200mm from floor

Metrics
Handrawn metrics. Milenkovic. A (2018)

I understand that I have drawn an example of a toilet cubicle that may not have the turning circle circumference in it, but it is accessible for those who transfer off and on the toilet, and the door swings outwards.