A Lot of us may have heard that the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act has been signed into law in Nigeria. Which stipulates that it is now an offense to discriminate against People Living With Disability (PLWD). Thus, giving rise to the question; how can we make buildings disability-friendly?
Certainly, you and I don’t set out to discriminate against PLWD but what about our buildings? Our buildings and structures are becoming increasingly inaccessible to PLWD.
This article will highlight 6 ways to enhance accessibility and make our buildings disability-friendly. There are of course more than 6 ways, however, these are those that can be implemented by the architect during his design.
Unknown to a lot of people, one of the easiest ways to discriminate against people with disabilities is through the kind of buildings we construct, which could either be by inaccessibility or difficulty in building usage.
A very good example is the revolving doors commonly used in Nigerian banks. On one hand, these doors are security enclosure that shuts off access when metal or weapons are detected but they have become too small to grant access to PLWD especially those using wheelchairs. This is a typical scenario of what this Act aims to address.
These are the reasons why a portion of the Act directly speaks to public buildings specifically those that aren’t disability-friendly.
We can say today, that it is now mandatory for every architect in Nigeria to design disability-friendly public buildings.
Like they say in law;
ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Excerpts from the bill
A few excerpts from the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act were gotten from a Nigerian newspaper – Premium Times. They say that the bill is meant to protect the Nigerian citizens, therefore;
It provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobile are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.
Before a public structure is constructed, its plans shall be inspected by relevant authorities to ensure that the plan conforms with the building code.
A government or government agency, body or individual responsible for the approval of building plans shall not approve the plan of a public building if the plan does not make provision for accessibility facilities in line with the building code.
An officer who approves or directs the approval of a building plan that contravenes the building code, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of at least N1,000,000 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both.
What is a public building
These are buildings everyone can access. The definition of public buildings may vary from country to country but it can best be described as;
any building frequently visited by the public for purposes unrelated to their residence, employment, education or training.
The government or private individuals can own public buildings. Examples of public buildings are.
- A building owned by the government e.g. Libraries, museums, schools, hospitals, auditoriums, sports arenas, university buildings, etc.
- A commercial establishment that provides services or retail merchandise e.g. retail stores, supermarkets, malls, hotels, motels, sports arenas, cinemas, eateries, banks, etc.
- General office building or space
- Any public or private non-profit schools or hospitals etc.
When to make buildings disability friendly
For public buildings that already exist, a 5 year transitional period which ends in 2023 was given for them to become accessible by PLWD if they already aren’t.
Nevertheless, for public buildings either in design or under construction, no grace period was given. From day one of completion and use, all new public buildings should be disability-friendly.
How to make buildings disability-friendly.
According to the act, adherence to the building code is the ultimate way of designing a disability-friendly building.
However, there are a few basic items that buildings must have in order to be disability friendly.
1. Disabled parking
These are reserved parking or drop off for people with disabilities. These car parks are always clearly marked, very close to the building and dedicated to PLWD. At night they are well lit to enable those using them to easily find their way.
2. Entrances and exits
Correctly designed and spacious accesses and doors for use by PLWD should be provided. These doors may not be reserved for PLWD alone but must be convenient for use by them and whoever uses it with them. In some cases, secondary entrances and exit are dedicated to PLWD which are different from the main entrance and exit doors.
Also, at places where the entrance floor level is of a different height than the natural ground level a ramp instead of a step should be introduced. If not, both ground floor and natural ground level should be of the same height.
3. Ramps, steps, and lifts.
Once a building has multiple floors, a lift is always required for PLWD as most can’t use the staircases effectively. Often, Ramps are provided as alternatives. Where this is done, the angle of inclination must not be steeper than 1:20 and where this can’t be achieved, a suitable ratio should be used.
Within floors, the use of steps should be discouraged as these can cause tripping and accidents. Alternatively, gentle ramps should be used instead of steps.
4. Corridors and Doors
All Corridors within the building should be correctly designed to cater for the wheelchair user and they shouldn’t be obstructed. Internal doors also should be wide enough for everyone and be left open if possible. Where this can’t be done, the doors should be designed to open easily. Auto doors may be recommended.
5. Disabled toilets
Besides regular toilets, correctly designed disabled toilets should be provided for use by PLWD. These are usually accessible toilets that allow for maneuvering by those with limited mobility or wheelchair users.
Appropriate and visible signage should be used everywhere within and outside the building to let users know where they need to go. A combination of signs such as Brailles and large print signage should be used.
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