Applying Universal Design to Emergency Evacuation

by Lee Wilson, (March 17, 2015)

One important principle within a social model of disability is that of universal design. Universal design is defined by the United Nations as the “design of products, environments, programs and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” Applying the principles of universal design to buildings during emergency situations is the challenge addressed in this article, authored by a disability access and egress consultant with experience in the property and construction industry. The author points out that as our population ages and we extend our working lives, the need for universally accessible exit routes from buildings becomes more of a priority. The article explores the need to consider universal design principles to ensure the safety of all occupants, particularly during emergencies. For example, emergencies may require building evacuations, which can be especially challenging for people with disabilities – elevators might be out of service, and the stairs will not be an option for a wheelchair user.

The article provides some basic steps for applying the concepts of universal design to the emergency planning for buildings. These include creating personal evacuation plans tailored to specific residents, installing evacuation chairs or evacuation lifts (elevators), installing accessible handrails on both sides of all fire stairs, identifying exit doors with contrasting colours, installing accessible door handles, and providing clear and unambiguous exit signage with Braille and tactile characters. Read the full article on universal design for emergency evacuations here