The concept of inclusivity extends beyond mere accommodation; it involves creating environments that allow all individuals, regardless of their abilities, to fully participate and engage with their surroundings just as non-disabled people do. The difference is that this may just take a little more thought an effort, but the result of this, can be truly life changing, allowing that individual to live a fully independent life. We must remember that accessibility refers to how easy it is for everyone, (not just those with disabilities), to use a service or product. Accessibility acknowledges that all human beings are different, and that designing, in this case homes for people, should be done with the aim to be usable by all, to the greatest extent possible.
In the realm of housing, particularly in apartment buildings, the importance of designing spaces that cater to the needs for disabled people with physical, invisible, or neurodivergent disabilities cannot be overstated.
Inclusivity is the cornerstone of a diverse and thriving community, and something which affects us all even though we may not truly realise it. Take a moment to think, do you know anyone who is truly ‘perfect’, who function and operate in which society has deemed a ‘normal’ way. We all need adjustments in life to help us feel more comfortable for various reasons, and then allow us to thrive, it just so happens some people have labels and others don’t.
For those with visual or hearing impairments, as well as people with a physical disability, navigating the built environment can be a daunting task if appropriate provisions are not in place.
An inclusive apartment building seeks to eliminate barriers and offer equal opportunities for all residents, regardless of their health condition or disability.
By prioritising inclusivity, society moves closer to creating an environment where everyone can live with dignity, independence, and an enhanced quality of life.
Designing for Accessibility
Physical Accessibility: The physical layout of an apartment building plays a pivotal role in ensuring inclusivity. Features such as ramps, elevators, wide doorways, and handrails can be essential for individuals with health conditions which may affect their mobility. These adaptations not only facilitate movement but also promote autonomy, independence and freedom of choice.
Visual impairment adjustments: For individuals who are blind or visually impaired, a well-designed apartment complex should feature tactile indicators, contrasting colours, and clear signage. These elements aid navigation, promote independence and prevent accidents, enabling these residents to move confidently within the building.
Examples of simple adjustments which could be made to a building to support an individual with a visual impairment are, installing handrails around a communal space and up a staircase, as well as lining the lip of each step on a staircase with brightly coloured paint or textured material can make a real difference, particularly in terms of safety. The use of brail or raised numbers and letters on signage can also make a significant difference.
Auditory Considerations: Deaf people or people with hearing impairments will greatly benefit from visual notifications and accessible communication options. Induction hearing loops, visual/vibrating alarms, and video intercom systems enhance their ability to interact with others and stay informed about building activities and important alerts.
Communication Alternatives: Inclusive apartment buildings have the opportunity to provide various communication alternatives, such as Braille signage and digital displays with voice output, ensuring that information is accessible to all residents.
Universal Design: Adopting a universal design approach ensures that spaces are inherently accessible to everyone, eliminating the need for retrofitting after the building process has finished. Lever-style door handles, lever taps, and stepless showers, are just a few examples of features that benefit individuals of varying abilities, that can be created in the first place, meaning adaptions don’t need to be made later.
Social Inclusion and Community
Ensuring that common spaces are accessible can drastically reduce the risk of social isolation that so often people with disabilities experience due to a lack of access. Inclusive apartment buildings could prioritise the creation of common spaces that encourage social interaction among all residents, by simply ensuring they are accessible and welcoming. These spaces should be designed with accessibility in mind, allowing individuals with disabilities to fully participate in communal activities, just as other non-disabled residents will be able to.
In these spaces, ensuring that information is accessible is key. As well as physical access, notices, announcements, and community information should be disseminated and/or offered through various formats – written, visual, and auditory – to accommodate the diverse communication needs of residents.
For example, ensuring that information boards can be seen by everyone, regardless of height or mobility, is crucial in ensuring all residents can access the information displayed. Using clear, simple language, larger print sizes, high-contrast colours, and non-visual cues and Braille for those who are visually impaired can make a significant difference too.
Assistive Technology Integration: In an increasingly digital world, integrating assistive technologies within the building infrastructure can greatly empower residents. Smart home devices, voice-controlled systems, and mobile apps can enhance daily living experiences.
Training and Education
Perhaps one of the most important things of all, which can be a complete game changer for disabled people, is ensuring that apartment management provide training to staff and residents on interacting with and assisting individuals with disabilities.
This not only ensures respectful communication but also fosters a more inclusive atmosphere, reducing the fear and assumptions made around disabilities.
The best thing to do is ask, then listen, and then act. Often the adaptions a disabled person needs to become independent don’t cost a lot but can make a huge difference to their overall well-being.
Every single person’s needs are different, and just one conversation which is taken seriously and then acted upon can change somebody’s life in an instant.
The examples given above of course are not exhaustive, but it’s a way of highlighting how creating inclusive living spaces within apartment buildings is a multifaceted endeavour that requires thoughtful design, collaborative efforts, and a commitment to equal opportunities for all.
By prioritising the needs of individuals with disabilities, society takes a significant step towards a more empathetic, diverse, and harmonious community, allowing equal opportunity to thrive.
Inclusive apartment buildings are not just structures; they are embodiments of a society that values every individual's right to dignity, independence, and full participation in all aspects of life.