In a recent Professional Insightful Sharing Session (P.I.S.S. 2019), Ar. Sharifah Noor Nazim, Head of Division at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Development & Estate Management (DDEM), was invited to give a sharing on “Disabled Awareness: Inclusivity in Interior Spaces”. She gave students real insights into her everyday life as an in-house architect for the university and imparted knowledge to spread the awareness.
According to her, the knowledge on this topic typically applies to architects; however, as interior designers it is important to be socially conscious of this matter as well. Both architecture and interior design play very big roles in designing spaces for people who are physically challenged. While creating aesthetically pleasing interior spaces, many times the needs of people with special care are forgotten or overlooked. Designs are often created for a perfect world, but it contradicts reality and the minority groups will feel the sting the most.
She explained on inclusivity and what it means. Inclusivity means including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of minority groups. In other words, it means provision without discrimination or segregation. Discrimination is not just about physical discrimination, but runs deeper to cultural. Unlike people, spaces should not discriminate.
The types of challenges consist of movement, speech, hearing, mental and visual. Pregnant women and the elderly are also included in the physically challenged bracket as they have difficulty moving around. Two key goals out of the 6 Strategic Thrusts embedded in The Eleventh Malaysia Plan include “enhancing inclusiveness towards an equitable society” and “improving well-being for all”. It is the next crucial step in our journey to become an advanced nation that is inclusive and sustainable.
In this day and age, this group of people are still being discriminated. It is mainly due to facilities that have limited access, are poorly managed, difficult to use, expensive and usually barricaded. Other factors include inequality and low awareness. For those who are disabled or are related to someone who is, they would know how challenging it is to navigate around spaces that are not designed to accommodate them.
She mentioned that in terms of design influence, it should be respectful, flexible, inclusive, convenient, accommodating, affordable, and able to be used independently without assistance. Adding to that, design criteria may include tactile, smell and colour contrast as way-finding, Bluetooth technology to help with navigation, sound-activated elevators, automated doors, ramps for wheelchairs, lowered level of switches and sinks, sidewalk railings to avoid from falling onto the street as well as changing door knobs to levers or push buttons.
She provided pointers on how to come up with a great design, which are to collect sufficient information, consult people from all backgrounds, collaborate with various parties and importantly, never stopping at enough and to always go the extra mile. She wrapped up with a quote from Chris Downey, a blind architect, “Architecture for the blind is just like any other architecture, only better.”