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Why Disabled People Must Be Included When Designing Accessible Architecture

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Every day, people with disabilities face the “disabled” spaces built especially for them but built without input from anyone who actually has to use that space. Whether it be stalls in bathrooms or the wheelchair spaces at movie theaters, many facilities that claim to be “accessible” aren’t.

Recently, I had to go to a flag football game for my niece at the local high school football stadium. I was extremely lucky that there were spaces made specifically for wheelchairs where the seats had been removed. However, there are large disability signs right on the fence that anyone in a wheelchair would see at face level, blocking their view of the field completely.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. I find architecture everywhere that was supposedly built for people with disabilities, but obviously without the input of anyone who actually has to use these spaces. I am lucky enough to have a pediatric-sized wheelchair as a little person and often find the specifically designed “disabled” stall in bathrooms will barely fit or more often not even fit my size wheelchair, even though in the world of wheelchairs, mine is relatively small. I’ve been in numerous elevators in my lifetime where the buttons are far above my head, and I need to rely on others who are taller than I am to push the buttons, despite the fact that elevators are the main way people in wheelchairs and other mobility devices can get between spaces that have stairs.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this. I have friends who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices who run into problems like this all the time. Even the sinks and soap dispensers in bathrooms are built too high for anyone who uses a wheelchair to reach. We are expected to use the bathroom but not wash our hands after? Ew. I have another friend who uses a wheelchair full time and always must have the person she is with check the bathroom “situation” to even see if the bathroom is made “accessible” in smaller spaces like cafés. If there is no accessible bathroom situation it is now time for the hunt for an accessible bathroom, which sometimes does not exist in the area.

I think the larger problem at hand here is not only that people with disabilities are not included when building and renovating spaces new and old, but that all spaces should be disability accessible, no matter how old or new. People with disabilities are not some new minority. People with disabilities have been around since the beginning of mankind and are the biggest minority in the world. It is also the only minority that you can become even if you are not born that way. Think about it, any able-bodied person can wake up one day and go through almost their entire day still being able-bodied, only to get hit by a bus right before dinner. There is no way to tell when or if your body will give out on you. So wouldn’t you rather have a space already made for you if you or a loved one is suddenly disabled, or would you prefer to fight tooth and nail like most people with disabilities do every day for the littlest accommodation or space?

Getty image by Digiclicks.

Originally published: July 19, 2022
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