Here we define public places to be places accessible to the general public like pavements, roads, commercial buildings and parks. To put it in very technical terms, it is one place where a person has the basic right to patronize and set foot on without being excluded because of socioeconomic reasons.
Now here’s the problem – This set of definition is blatantly irrelevant to wheelchair users because they ARE excluded due to socioeconomic reasons!
In this case, wheelchair users are left out because of their physical disadvantage and for argument sake, exclusion shall mean unequal opportunities with regards to access to public areas.
It is not uncommon for able bodied people to underestimate challenges that wheelchair users face when accessing public areas. They take accessibility for granted, so much so that they may not even aware of the difficulties that their fellow countryman in wheelchair face when commuting between two places. Do take a look at the physical barriers people ignore most the time. Some are so subtle; perhaps it is not really their fault that they are ignorant beings.
Curbs are everywhere. They are so common that able bodied people are always oblivious to it and that wheelchair users never go out without being troubled by it.
If you have ever tripped on a curb, then perhaps you will understand how nasty a small elevation in ground level can be.
Be surprised, even the most insignificant curb can stop a wheelchair in its tracks. Click here to view a video.
The ground is never level so stairs are integral in our physical environment.The problem that stairs pose is much greater than that of curbs. Most of the time, if wheelchair users are accompanied by a friend, the curb can be easily negotiated with the some help from him. The amount of strength needed to pull a loaded wheelchair up in the reverse direction is tremendous and even if he is strong, his hands would hurt badly from the tight grip on the wheelchair’s handles.
The United Nations Manual for a Barrier Free Environment recommends that unobstructed pathways should have a minimum width of 0.9m (3ft). Wheel on a pathway narrower than that and risk having one wheel on stuck on grass or mud.
Objects causing obstruction
Any kind of obstruction on pathways that cannot be removed easily by the wheelchair user will mean that he cannot pass. In such situations, he will have no choice but to take alternative but very inconvenient routes to get past the obstacle.
Indiscriminate parking by ignorant drivers is really a big headache for wheelchair users.
Objects causing obstruction is not only restricted to pathways, as shown in the picture.
The United Nations Manual for a Barrier Free Environment recommends that ramps have a maximum gradient of 1:20. This means a one-unit-height increase for every 20-unit distance. Moving on anything steeper than 1:20 may require assistance (unless the user uses a power wheelchair) and anything greater than 1:10 (i.e. 1:7) will be hazardous as the wheelchair risks falling backwards.
This 1:20 ramp is acceptable.
This 1:9 ramp is not acceptable.
There are exceptions of course. In special cases where ramps have to be steep, they are required to be shorter in length.
For example, a ramp can have a gradient of 1:8, but the maximum rise should be 0.06m (0.2ft) over a maximum length of 0.5m (1.6ft)
Absence of Ramp Landings
Ramp landings are areas on a ramp where the ground is flat (gradient 0). They allow for wheelchair users to stop and rest before pushing the next segment of the ramp. Can you imagine a man aged 50 having no rest while pushing himself up a 15m slope?
Lack of Signage
This problem is as serious and common as that of curbs and stairs. Signage tells wheelchair users the location of ramps, wheelchair parking lots, accessible pathways, lifts, etc. The lack of signage translates to wheelchair users moving around randomly in frustration and impatience, while trying to find wheelchair friendly facilities. Such unnecessary wastage of time and energy is the direct result of the lack of signage.
Location of “wheelchair friends” (Ramps, Lifts, etc)
To cut costs and effort, planners may tend to built ramps only in “strategic” spots where one ramp on average can serve more wheelchair users from the surrounding area. The lack of ramps and lifts in other places means wheelchair users have to make detours and cover extra distance to get to his destination. It is human nature to pick the shortest route and to deprive the wheelchair bound the freedom to do this is of great inconvenience and frustration to them.
Spring doors have the auto shut feature which makes it very difficult for the wheelchair users to pull it open while steering their wheelchairs single-handedly. Imagine sitting on a wheelchair and having to push or pull the door with one hand and pushing yourself into the toilet with the other. Click here to view a video clip on the point illustrated
Unless a wheelchair user sits on an iBOT, an object too high up would be unreachable. It is as simple as that.
Wheelchair unfriendly surfaces include sand, grass and tiled pathways with wide gaps in between. It is possible for such surfaces to immobilize the wheelchair when the wheels get caught.
Do you know that curb ramps (where part of the curb is slopped to create a ramp) can pose a hazard to wheelchair users too? That is if the curb ramp is eats into the minimum width of 0.90m (3ft) that a wheelchair friendly pathway should have. A the wheelchair might topple sideway due to the sudden drop in ground level on one side.
Lack of Wheelchair dedicated areas
Whether on trains or car parks, wheelchair users need adequate space to maneuver. The lack of wheelchair dedicated parking lots is a very good example. For helpers, they need extra space by the side of the car so that the wheelchair user can be easily carried out of the car and helped onto a wheelchair. For wheelchair users who drive, they need the extra space by the side so that they can transport themselves directly from the driver’s seat to their wheelchair.
PeoplePeople who do not make way for wheelchair users are as good as unmovable objects. It is understandable if the people are unable to do anything in crowded areas but if the people have the choice but choose not to give way (i.e. ignoring your very presence by rushing to enter the lift.), then that is really a problem.