What are the elements of accessible design?
The earliest work on accessible design can be found in Selwyn Goldsmith’s 1963 publication, Designing for the Disabled. Community design has changed as a result of his work, most evident in the introduction of the cut curb. More work remains to be done. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) “accessibility is best represented when features are ‘built in’ as an integral part of the design and development process. Unfortunately, much of the time accessibility is an afterthought and features need to be ‘retro-fitted’ or adapted to ensure compliance.”
Key Elements of Accessible Design
Colours and Textures
Sidewalks are more than just somewhere to put your feet. They can be used to facilitate navigation. Engraving street names at crossings presents this information at an easy-to-read distance, especially when positioned at all corners. Texturing and high contrast colours can also be used to denote crossings, intersections, stairs or changes in elevation.
The use of paving tiles and street furniture also creates a safer sense of place for visual accessibility by providing landmarks as well as a sense of separation from vehicles or cyclists. Painted signs applied to the pavement, for example, can be used
to denote shared pathways with cyclists.
Maps and Guides
The use of clear maps, highlighting points of interest, along with the reader’s current position, is also useful. Maps should use large fonts and not be cluttered with too much information.
Proper signage has many complementary benefits beyond improving visual accessibility. Maps and directions enable tourists to find points of interest in the community, or shoppers to locate local vendors that they might otherwise miss. Think of your community like a shopping centre and how you
can best connect people with services.
One easy way to improve accessibility is to provide easy-to-read information on directions and locations at regular points around the community. Information signs must be clear, use high contrast colours such as white on black or black on white, be presented in large, clear font and, whenever possible, be positioned at eye level. Street signs should be located on more than one corner of major intersections.
Separation of Space
Urban design in general benefits when a proper sense of place is created. Whether a person feels safe in the environment is highly influenced by a sense of separation from vehicles, bicycles, rollerbladers and other activities that are often traveling at higher speeds.
Space can be separated using a variety of low cost design features. Bollards, posts or rails are one option to provide either a permanent or permeable separation. Even occasional bollards along a street or at a corner can provide a sense of comfortable separation in a busy environment. Plus they offer somewhere to rest your drink or bag for a moment!
The use of plain colours or textures is another option. This is quite common in the identification of cycling lanes and tram lines traveling at grade. Be sure to select high contrast colours. While it is important that colour choice blend in with the surrounding context it must be noticeable - even to those who may be colour blind.
See Some Examples of Accessible Design
Good Practice Examples
Click on an image below to learn about some examples of good practice in urban design enabling a more accessible environment.
Opportunities for Improvement
Click on an image below to learn about where improvements could be made to make an space more accessible.
Moving people through public space is the essence of wayfinding. As our cities and communities become increasingly urbanized with more people and economic activity we as planners need to become better at connecting people with points of interest in their environment. For further information on the principles of wayfinding I recommend reading The Wayfinding Handbook by David Gibson.