March 5, 2010 | bfeldman | Accessibility


Bob Dunn, Fox Architects

I have been in a wheelchair for the past 3 weeks and I have 6 more weeks before I can bear weight on my right leg again. No need to go into the details on how I broke my leg the picture to the lower right explains it – what I would like to talk about is accessibility.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to go back and forth from the wheelchair to crutches, using the crutches at home and the wheelchair at work.


Both means of assisted transportation are exhausting for me but I find it easier inside a commercial office building to get around in a wheelchair (the travel distance from my desk to the car is just too much to bear on crutches).  However getting around the house and going from the car into my house it is easier on crutches, the house is not ADA accessible.  I think I use crutches going to places I am not sure of and use the chair where I know it is accommodated.

The real eye opener is this: it is very hard to open a doors on crutches when the pull resistance is too great, it is difficult crossing the street with no curb cuts, ramps that are too steep or too long wear one out, and uneven steps and uneven pavement are large hazards.  I was surprised that I can maneuver my chair in surprisingly tight spaces; the chair turns like a spyro-graph more than on a 30” radius  but the littlest change in elevation is difficult for me. The littlest change in elevation can also make it safer on crutches; a really slick floor with no grout lines or surface variation is a given I will fall.  In the wheelchair the smother the floor the faster I can go, on crutches the smoother the floor the faster I can fall to the ground. This is where restrooms are most dangerous.

The commercial restroom here at the office has 2×2 tile on the floor, my bathroom tile at home is 2×2; both are difficult to kept clean but I have never fallen on 2×2 tile.  The last restroom I fell in had a combination of 3×3, 6×6 and 12 x18 I felt secure making my way across the floor but once I hit the large tile my crutch slipped out from underneath me and before I could catch my balance or my crutch to catch an edge (or grout line) I hit the ground.  I am sure people have experienced worse things but there is nothing nice about falling on the floor of a public restroom.  I have slipped on 2×2 tile wet and dry but I was able to catch myself or my crutch catch a grout line before picking up too much “slip speed”.

My conclusion, the bigger the tile, the better the slip resistant needs to be.  When it comes to door pull resistance, curb cuts, ramp slope/length and uneven pavement, ADA has it covered and most architects and designers do a really good job adhering to building code.  But most of us are guilty of selecting material for design over slip resistance including me, I have learned and I do not want to end up on the restroom floor again.  Those days are over.

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