Accessibility and Stairs Do Not Mix Well

Blending accessibility into an architectural design is a good thing but not when it compromises safety. Accessibility and stairs do not mix and this can be seen at the Vancouver Law Court. At first glance, you might think this is an impressive universal approach to stairs, but I’m here to tell you it is not.

Being someone who uses mobility devices; cane, walker, scooter, I can immediately see this is a serious disaster waiting to happen. When I first looked at this image right away I had a visceral reaction. In my opinion, it is dangerous for everyone not just those with disabilities.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

This staircase is unique to look at but pretty should be left for decor. Infrastructures must be built with safety for universal users. It surprises me that anyone would think this is an acceptable public design. And, it saddens me to know this structure is located in Vancouver Canada.

Designed by Arthur Erickson, now deceased, who has many creative designs all through Vancouver. Erickson is widely known for the Signature Building for the Olympic Village development. The building actually twists from west to east and provides a zigzagged art like effect. This staircase offers a similar presentation.

What’s Missing?

The most significant problem is the lack of handrails and edging to alert where steps end. Yes, handrails do run along the building’s edge and one lone one is available for the lower set of stairs. This is not enough for those who need to use a railing while maneuvering a mobility device such as a wheelchair on a ramp.

The stairs are a nightmare for children and anyone who is not paying close attention. Can you imagine the danger for someone who is blind or visually impaired?

Why Handrails are Important for the Disabled

Let me break it down for you. When someone uses a device such as a cane, walker, wheelchair or scooter, handrails are vital for safety when an incline is a factor. When going up an incline handrails act as a guide. More importantly, however, a railing offers support when a person needs a rest. It also assists the climbing process by allowing a person to grab hold of the railing to pull themselves forward. Trust me, it can be really hard work pushing a walker or wheelchair up an incline.

When it comes to going down, gravity rules. Accessibility and stairs do not mix, it’s an oxymoron. It’s easy to lose your grip on a walker’s handles and brakes, or when holding wheels from spinning forward too fast on a wheelchair. Handrails offer the support to keep the movement of the assisting device in control. A good home ramping system is provided by Qramp, we wrote about them here.

Lack of Consistency

Personally, I don’t know anyone who runs up and down stairs sideways or in a zigzagging pattern. The lack of consistency of the actual stair widths makes me dizzy. If someone took a day to notice how people use this staircase, I would venture to guess the steps closest to the wall with handrails are the most used. I’ll say it again, accessibility and stairs do not mix. A ramp is a ramp and a step is a step never shall the twain meet.

Standards Are Needed

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it odd that such a poor design would be associated with a legal institution. Seriously, where was the public planning department? This is a good example that cements the point that accessibility standards must be established and upheld. If ever there was a case where looks can be deceiving then this is it.

p.s. You’ll notice I made a cameo appearance in the photo below.

Accessibility and stairs do not mix
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