Over the last 50-70 years, various design concepts and trends have been actively developed to take into account the whole spectrum of human diversity and to adapt spaces, environments, devices, equipment and objects to a wide variety of human needs, functions and activities. Two approaches, universal design and inclusive design, can be distinguished.

Universal design at the planning stage takes into account the needs of the greatest number of users without additional adaptations or the need for reasonable accommodations, making spaces, buildings, objects, etc. accessible to all people.

The term ‘universal design’ was coined by architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing products and built environments in such a way that they are safe, aesthetic and usable to the maximum extent for all people, regardless of their age, abilities, physical or mental characteristics, condition or status.

However, a precursor and one of the areas of universal design is the so-called inclusive design, addressing the needs primarily of people with different types of disabilities or impairments. Inclusive design is a design process, not limited only to the organisation of space, interfaces or technology, in which a product, service or environment is optimised as much as possible for the specific needs of a particular end user. This usually means that the needs of that particular user must be addressed by many design processes. By focusing on extreme users, inclusive design will ensure that these users are safe, comfortable and convenient. And at the same time, people who may temporarily have the same needs will also be covered by its solutions.

Both inclusive and universal designs aim to make a product, service or environment more inclusive, meaning that a wider range of people can easily use it. Universal design tends to be more focused on a single solution that can be used by as many people as possible, whereas inclusive design involves designing for a specific person or a specific use case and extending it to other users.

Therefore, inclusive design as “design for all” has its advantages in the employment field as well. An employer will not need to specifically adapt their office to meet the needs of people with disabilities (with few exceptions) if the offices, buildings, surrounding areas and access routes are safe and accessible for all. This philosophy is slowly becoming a stimulus for action in a growing number of businesses, institutions and organisations around the world.

The changes in the socio-cultural recognition of human diversity are also directly affecting our state and are being implemented in its legislative and regulatory frameworks. First of all, in December 2009 Ukraine ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in March 2010. In particular, this Convention proclaims the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others.

Employment is one of the areas for creating equal opportunities for all people. It is especially important for people from so-called less mobile population groups”, such as pregnant women, the elderly, people after surgery or injury, including people with disabilities. This is why, by employing such employees, the employer not only fulfils the legal requirement to employ people with disabilities and provides effective employees, but also helps these people to be equal members of society.

However, for more than a decade, the changes that people with disabilities themselves have been demanding so much have been moving too slowly.

Many employers are intimidated not only by the psychological unpreparedness of their staff to work alongside people with different types of disability on a daily basis, but also by the need to equip, refurbish and adapt buildings and office space to the needs of these workers, who can nevertheless be quickly replaced and not recoup the investment made.

However, changing such a philosophy to a universal approach quickly solves this problem to anyone’s advantage: a building or office equipped according to universal design principles and approaches will always be safe and comfortable for everyone. Then, even if equipping and adapting spaces and fixtures entails considerable financial outlay, they will be useful to everyone without exception – employees, customers and visitors alike. Such spaces need to be specially created and should be created by professionals.

It should be noted that for every person who needs to travel independently and safely to and from work, the accessibility of the transport infrastructure and circulation routes of the city or town where that person lives is also important. This includes accessible public transport stops or car parks and routes to them, accessible pavements at least 1.5 m wide, accessible normative ramps on traffic routes, pedestrian crossings and at gradients, alternatives to stairs (lifts, lifts, etc.), markings and navigation. A separate issue that is still a long way off is equally accessible public transport stops and issues of cleaning the area around buildings and structures in winter, which would avoid slippery surfaces and hidden obstacles for everyone.

However, systemic accessibility solutions, i.e. retrofitting and adapting the existing settlement structure to the needs of all people, are not yet being implemented quickly and effectively enough. Therefore, below we will focus on some of the principles and solutions within the territories of individual owners and owners of buildings and premises that need to be implemented now.

What are the basic principles of accessibility that everyone needs?

  1. no obstacles in the paths of travel, wide pavements;
  2. clear navigation;
  3. clearly marked entrances;
  4. automatic doors;
  5. wide doorways;
  6. flush and threshold-free entrances; door handles clearly marked; automatic doors; door openings;
  7. door handles and door openings are clearly marked;
  8. door handles are arranged so that doors can be opened with minimum effort, elbow, shoulder, etc;
  9. contrasting markings on glass doors, partitions, walls and other obstacles in the paths of travel;
  10. handrails on both sides of the staircase and, if the width of the staircase is more than 2.5 metres, also in the middle of the staircase;
  11. the horizontal part of the step does not overhang the vertical part;
  12. the first and last rung of each flight of stairs are contrasting;
  13. there are alternatives to stairs (lifts, lifts, ramps);
  14. non-slip, level flooring in pathways and rooms;
  15. easy access on circulation routes in the premises;
  16. a system of contrasting colours and markings which indicate the different types of obstacles, paths and elements in the organisation of space
  17. which must be seen or to which the user must turn;
  18. accessible and convenient ways of accessing information and services;
  19. common areas for social gatherings and socialising – quiet;
  20. adjustable height of furniture and arrangement of office equipment that can be adapted to the needs of the individual;
  21. office equipment and appliances, storage systems, switches, staff call buttons, lift buttons etc. are accessible at sitting height, to people of short stature, to children universal sanitary facilities, accessible to all and equipped in accordance with regulations, including safety regulations;audiovisual emergency and/or evacuation notification devices that are mutually redundant (audio messages duplicate visual signals and vice versa –
  22. visual signals duplicate audio signals) and accessible to all people;
  23. evacuation exits are open, usable by themselves quickly, free of obstructions in the paths of travel, equipped with clear visual and non
  24. visual navigation and accessible to all employees and visitors of the building or premises without exception;
  25. evacuation plans – visually and non-visually accessible, for which universal mimic diagrams are used.

    In Ukraine, formal requirements regarding the accessibility of buildings and premises are outlined in the state construction norms DBN 2.2.40-2018 “Inclusion of Buildings and Structures”, in force since April 2019. These norms apply to the design, construction of new and reconstruction, restoration, overhaul and technical re-equipment of existing residential buildings and public buildings and constructions, as well as their reasonable adaptation to the needs of people with limited mobility. The requirements of these standards are mandatory for all legal and natural persons in Ukraine, except for the construction of individual residential buildings.If the head of an institution, organisation and/or owner of buildings and premises has a task to arrange office buildings and premises for people with different types of disabilities, such arrangement and adaptation should be based on two principles: first of all, on the work of accessibility specialists and on the advice and recommendations of the people for whom such arrangement is made.

    Taking into account the two perspectives – those of professionals and end-users with low mobility and disability – will ultimately yield the best results. In designing accessibility according to universal design principles, communication and feedback to the target audience, or audiences if more than one, is extremely important.

    Four principles should be considered when creating a universal environment that is accessible to people with disabilities and people with low mobility:

    – safety; -safety;
    – accessibility;
    – aesthetics.

    So, where it is safe, convenient and comfortable for a person with a disability, it is safe, convenient and comfortable for everyone. We do not create special conditions, we create universal conditions in which everyone feels, works and receives services equally well.

    Yulia Patlan, commissioned by the Barrier-Free Ukraine Resource Centre

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