FACTORS OF PHYSICAL DISABILITY

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WHEELCHAIR USERS

A lot of priority in access issues appears to be given to wheelchair users. This may be partly due to the fact that a single step onto a pavement or into a building can create a total no go area for most wheelchair users.

Many wheelchair users can get up a 12mm (1/2") step but even this can cause difficulties or at least a bump and jarring. A number of wheelchair users have spinal problems which means bumping and jarring can cause considerable pain and may put them out of action for several days.

Wheelchair users are expected to climb steep ramps, squeeze through narrow openings, beg for things out of their reach, crane their necks upwards to join in conversations, push open heavy doors with one hand while trying to move and steer their wheelchair with the other one. Most of these indignities are due to the thoughtlessness of companions or designers. They don't necessarily want everything done for them but a few changes in the environment built around them would give them back their independence and self respect.

It is up to service providers, developers and designers to make their world a better place for all of us. As we live longer, we all increase our opportunities to acquire disabilities.

STRENGTH

Many disabled people have a combination of disabilities. Often disabilities will result in a loss of strength. Heavy doors in particular can make moving around difficult. The effects of wind and weather can make external doors even heavier to open. Automatic opening doors can help a great deal, particularly when people may be carrying items, such as in shopping centres or offices.

STAMINA

As strength is used to just get around, stamina is used and reduced, creating a need for resting places. Single seats in shopping centres and in individual shops give opportunity to rest and regain some strength and stamina. It may be just the short break that someone with heart problems or breathing difficulties needs.

Some disabled people give up wearing themselves out and stay at home or only visit a few places they know to be disabled friendly. If providers improve facilities, it needs to be made clear and promoted to the general public and disability organisations, so that potential users may be enticed to try it again.

GRIP

Loss of grip due to arthiritis or other disabilities makes apparently simple jobs such as turning a door handle or operating a tap difficult. Lever handles and lever taps can be operated by nudging with hands or even elbows.

Brochures and booklets can also become difficult to hold or to turn their pages. Spiral binding which doesn't make the pages spring back shut can help. Smaller page sizes, such as A5, can also be useful.

BALANCE

There may sometimes be a need to just lean against a wall, desk or counter for a few moments while recovering balance or from a bout of dizziness. Keeping an area of wall or counter clear will help in this. We tend to try to cover all available space with objects and information. This tends to confuse people and to worry someone with poor balance and nowhere to stabilise against.