Have you noticed the new developments in architecture that remove barriers to mobility? There are several outstanding organizations providing support to architects and builders that have created thoughtful guidelines for certifying houses and buildings as accessible.
As physical therapists have expanded their abilities to help people with a growing number of limiting physical conditions, architects and builders have expanded their understanding of the many conditions requiring consideration in building design. The key to improving design is discovering and removing the barriers that are part of traditional architecture.
You may not be aware of some changes that have only begun to happen. As part of civil rights legislation during the last half of the 20th century, our society began thinking about barriers that kept disabled people from using public buildings. Initially, the thinking was limited to people in wheelchairs.
We see the wheelchair symbol on most signs indicating a provision made for the disabled. Since then, we have identified many disabilities that don’t require a wheel chair but may make features of a building hard on people with those disabilities. Although original changes included ramps outside buildings with outside steps, certified new construction eliminates the need for steps with creative landscape and building design.
The positive trends also include a change in our mindset. So often people with disabilities are self conscious about the burden they may place on others to accommodate them. As provisions were installed in old construction and included in new construction, too many people were hesitant to use them at first.
That is quickly changing. For example, now it is acceptable for someone who may look perfectly well to use an automatic door opener. Social acceptance has helped people with debilitating conditions to feel more comfortable using anything available to help them to enjoy working, shopping, and spending time with others in public spaces. Using available facilities can help us avoid undoing the progress we have made with physical therapists to improve our mobility.
Residential architectural trends include garages at the main level of the house and entrance ways without steps. Other features include wider doors, lower exterior door thresholds, open floor plans, and showers with no threshold. Improved lift construction has made it more feasible and affordable to include them in a home with more than one story. Consideration for issues with feet, legs, arms, backs and necks are all part of the trends in architectural design improvements.
Many public buildings have access improvements from the parking lots to the restrooms. The pleasant surprise is that these improvements make being in these spaces more enjoyable for everyone. Business owners find that building access compliance improves the experience for all of their customers.
These savvy businesses understand that their business becomes a preferred destination with more comfortable and accessible space. Customers may not even be consciously aware that the access compliance is what makes their experience more enjoyable.
Encouraged by the social acceptability of using facilities made for the physically impaired, it’s common to see a shopper with moderate difficulty in walking using electric scooters provided to get around a store.
We should continue to encourage this trend by recognizing it is smart not to push the use of an injured limb beyond what a physical therapist tells us is helpful. Scooters in stores with wider aisles is a great example of design accommodating equipment to make a public space more accessible to a person with disabilities.
Architectural trends demonstrate our acceptance of a range of human conditions within our society. Medical science and nutrition are extending the expected average life span in the US. Living longer means we have a greater chance of facing short or long-term physical challenges.
We can accept this reality, take advantage of increased knowledge and skills in physical therapy, and support access improvements in private and public spaces. By doing so, we will all experience a better quality of life together.