Lift and stairs in building. Credit: Peter MacKinven

+ By balancing possible uses, we can create a solution that is inclusive and usable by 100% of the population.

As an access consultant, I often hear the term ‘fully accessible’ bandied about to describe environments that have incorporated inclusive design. But in recognising that we live in a society that is diverse, I’d argue that we should also recognise that nothing can be fully accessible.

Creating something that addresses all of everyone’s needs is simply not achievable. No two people are identical, and no two people will have identical access requirements or preferences.

Road crossings are a good example. Level or raised crossings can be user-friendly for wheelchair users, as these allow direct access from pavement to carriageway without negotiating gradients. However, without a traditional kerb or dropped kerb, level or raised crossings can be difficult for blind and partially sighted people; there is no clear indication as to when they are stepping into the carriageway.

Tactile paving is a useful tool for addressing this, but it can be difficult and uncomfortable to stand on for some people – including wheelchair users and people who are unsteady on their feet. A simple thing such as a road crossing suddenly becomes a complex item requiring very careful thought and consideration to ensure it’s safe and convenient for all potential users.
It is clear that one solution cannot address all users in this scenario. But this doesn’t mean we should leave anyone out. Creating something that addresses all the needs of just some people is not acceptable, as this discriminates and segregates people into those who can and those who can’t.

Meeting as many needs as possible is the way to create more opportunities for people to participate and enjoy the world we live in. By balancing possible uses, we can create a solution that is inclusive and usable by 100% of the population.

To go back to the crossing example, perhaps we could use a level crossing (complete with visual and tactile indicators) with sufficient pavement width to allow people to wait off the tactile paving. Or perhaps we could integrate smart technologies that adjust to the needs of the users.
In a previous Thoughts article, I called for designers to think outside the box for inclusive design. After all, the passenger lift was inconceivable 300 years ago as a means of moving people between levels. Perhaps one day, a new invention will allow for a truly fully accessible solution.

Until then, we should consider everyone’s needs and try to address as many of them as we can, allowing more people to use and enjoy the environments we design.