Architecture & Design talks to Luke Price and Chantelle Smith from Vision Australia about the latest innovations in accessible buildings and what architects need to know. 

Price and Smith are orientation and mobility specialists who consult for Vision Australia’s Access Appraisal team. Access Appraisal assists architects, developers and bodies such as municipal councils to construct buildings that allow people with disabilities to make maximum use of those facilities. While the team is employed by Vision Australia, they are trained to provide appraisals that cater for all disabilities rather than only for those who are blind or have low vision.

What are some recently-introduced regulations or standards that architects need to be aware of when designing buildings/spaces?

  • Wayfinding standards
  • Understanding Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSIs) and implementing them in the appropriate way (under-use vs over-use and consistency)
  • Luminance contrast – minimum standard often isn’t enough for Vision Australia’s client group, and architects should look at going above and beyond where possible

Are there any accessibility features you feel get neglected in buildings or public spaces?

  • Signage – good accessible signage throughout
  • TGSIs
  • Corridors and pathways that are clear of obstacles
  • Furniture that intrudes on the path of travel for people who are blind or have low vision and people with other disabilities

In terms of city planning and the architecture of public spaces, do you feel Australia is prepared for an ageing population? 

A lot more work needs to take place in public spaces to maintain the independence and wellbeing of our ageing population. Specifically, design strategies need to consider mobility and safety. Some of these strategies include:

  • Thinking about mobility. As mobility decreases proximity becomes important – there is a need to provide en route seating and public toilets within short distances, for example
  • Usable universal design seating – the ageing population is less flexible and may find it difficult to sit on grass
  • Handrails on stairs and steep paths improve safety, confidence and ultimately usability of the space
  • Tree cover provides shade and protection from heat and sun exposure
  • Wider walking paths to accommodate scooters and wheelie walkers, and paths that are well lit
  • More pedestrian road crossings

Do you have any examples of creative or innovative accessibility solutions?

Yes - Bluetooth Beacon Wayfinding technology is being used in large public spaces such as airports. These are sensors that transmit a signal and can be placed around a venue. A mobile device can pick up the signal and determine that it is in close proximity, alerting someone with visual impairment to their position and closest landmarks. 

Pros: Low cost and low maintenance.

Cons: The beacons require deployment and maintenance about every 20 metres throughout any part of the building where positioning is desired.

Can accessible buildings also be aesthetically pleasing?

Yes – absolutely.

Our luminance contrasting testing service is used to assist people who have low vision to navigate, negotiate and identify features within the built environment. We help choose colour schemes that fit in with the design brief but also ensure safety of people who have low vision. Design features such as textural changes and solid shorelines are discrete but make all the difference to wayfinding through a large open space.