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Accessible Design Boosts Principles and Aesthetics

Consumer demand for accessible spaces has grown substantially in recent years. At first, the demand was driven largely by legislation like the Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and other provincial disabilities acts. These pieces of legislation are primarily concerned with practical matters regarding access requirements and entry into interior spaces.

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However, this does not speak to the fact that an accessible space can also be a beautiful and an aesthetically pleasing one. This is best accomplished by the designer having both accessibility and aesthetics in mind from the planning stages.

We like to go a bit further and look at truly universal design. Design for accessibility is a process that considers special needs. Universal design is broader than this and seeks to design an environment that is usable by everyone without the need for adaptation. It is usually possible to retrofit a design for greater accessibility. Universal design principles build this in from project conception.

We often talk about accessibility in terms of accommodating physical or visual disability, but increased accessibility means the space is more inclusive of everyone, regardless of need.

At PC350, we take pride in making sure that our products benefit from the universal design mindset. Naturally, they comply with laws like CDA, ADA, AODA and others, but we go beyond this by ensuring that the products retain their aesthetic appeal.

Vision of the Future

Transparency is a large part of a glazed wall system and its enduring beauty. It’s a fundamental part of what makes glass a great choice for interior walls and doors. When a designer wants to provide a feeling of openness and barrier-free access, they often rely on glass and its transparent characteristics. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that this very transparency may present an accessibility issue for people with visual impairments.

The Accessibility Act mandates a vision strip for all glass doors and sidelights. This provides a clear visual indication that there is a barrier present. This is not just a mandate; it’s an opportunity to elevate the design. Film suitable for this purpose is available in a wide range of styles and colours. If you bear universal design principles in mind, you’re sure to find an option that not only suits the aesthetics of your design but enhances them.

Doors Open Opportunities for Universal Design

Recent changes to the Building Codes have mandated an increase in the size of door openings for both swing and sliding doors. Previously, swing doors were 36-inches wide and sliding doors were 42-inches. The latest version of the Building Codes has bumped both of these up by two inches, leading to new openings of 38- and 44-inches wide respectively.

This may seem like a small change, but the impact in terms of universal design is enormous. For both swings and sliders, the new sizes mean a clear walkthrough of 34 -inches. This gives much greater accommodation for wheelchair accessibility.

Further, a designer working from universal/accessible principles should make sure that the door hardware doesn’t impede the opening. This isn’t part of the building codes, but it will help make sure your designs are as accessible as possible.

In addition, swing and sliding doors must be positioned a certain distance away from the demising wall to ensure that users have the space to turn and reposition if necessary. For swing doors this is approximately 12 inches on the push side and approximately 24 inches on the pull side. Sliding doors must be positioned with the strike side of the door approximately 12 inches away from the demising walls. PC350 offers a number of options to help you achieve this, for example by adding a small glass sidelight on the strike side. This provides easier access and greater visibility by offsetting the door opening.

The Accessibility Act also builds on the standards in the building codes by mandating a 10-inch bottom rail on the door. PC350 can provide this, ensuring your design is both accessible and fully compliant with all codes.

Multiple Accessible Opening Options

PC350 provides hardware including door pulls and lever sets that are accessibility compliant without sacrificing aesthetics. The current standards advise that hardware should be operable with a closed fist, and PC350 offers hardware compatibility that meets this standard. However, when designing from the standpoint of universal accessibility, it’s smart to consider adding electronics such as sensors that allow for contactless entry. PC350 can provide you with systems that open with key fobs, contactless device compatible card readers, and wave systems for both sliding and swing doors. Even better, hardware options are available with the ability to conceal data and electrical wiring throughout the system. This ensures that nothing distracts from the beauty and appeal of your design, while still providing your customers with the accessibility they desire.

It isn’t just a desire to build an inclusive society that leads us to accessible and universal design. As it’s estimated that over 20% of Canadians have an underlying disability of some kind, adopting these design principles is good business sense. It’s also the right thing to do.

Improving access for all users has a relatively low cost, when it’s designed that way from the beginning. Retrofitting existing spaces tends to raise the costs, so it’s best to adopt accessible design from the start.

For more information on how PC350 can enable your accessible designs, call us at 905.475.6022 or email us at [email protected].