This month, our Built Environment students learnt about the importance of prioritising inclusive design through simulation. Using specialised equipment such as bariatric suits, simulation gloves and wheelchairs to simulate different conditions, students gained insight into the kinds of everyday difficulties that people with various disabilities are likely to experience when using a building. The students undertook a number of everyday tasks such as walking up and down stairs, and using a lift and toilet facilities.
Wearing bariatric suits, students first experienced the challenges of using small spaces such as lifts and toilet facilities. Some of the lifts in the building used in the exercise were fairly small, leaving little room for personal space once two people had entered the lift. Similarly, there was little room to manoeuvre inside the gent’s toilet cubicle, making entering and leaving difficult, and sitting down extremely cramped. Students experienced how the width of the cubicle was inadequate for a person with a large build, with almost no room to move their arms when sitting.
Using wheelchairs with large wheels that can be propelled by the user, students experienced difficulties with using lifts and other means of access. In particular, they discovered that one of the ramps up to the URS Building is very steep, which meant that it was a quick ride down, but required some expenditure of energy to get back up the slope again. They noted that the wheelchair seemed unstable going up the ramp, unless the user bent forward in the chair. Leaning back in the chair and pushing the wheels resulted in the front lifting up. The students also attempted to move across a gravel bed, which proved quite difficult. The final task for the wheelchair user was to experience using one of the disabled WCs in the URS building. This proved to be quite a challenge, as there did not appear to be any simple way of moving from the wheelchair onto the loo itself. Although there are rails that can be used to hold onto whilst moving out of the wheelchair, the rail on the left (nearest to the wheelchair user here) seemed to be more of a barrier, rather than an aid. One student almost managed the task, but only by literally lifting him up and over the rail. This was an enlightening experience into the difficulties faced by wheelchair users, and also by the designers of accessible WCs.
The final task for students was to wear simulation gloves while performing everyday tasks, such as using a mobile phone, a laptop, or just using the handle on a door. The plastic strips on the gloves reduces the amount of strength and control that you can apply when undertaking a simple task like this, making gripping the object more difficult.
Geoff Cook and Christina Duckett led the workshop, with assistance from our new team member Nic Hollinworth (who also wrote this blog).