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i really admire the design for these stairs and how they incorporate a wheelchair access ramp. in a world were barrier free design is essential to living a full and happy life, its amazing to see landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander has taken literal steps to design stairs AROUND a ramp, instead of the other way around.

This is beautiful.

Form AND function excuse me while I die


[Image description from the original poster: photo taken from above of a broad flight of stairs in three levels, leading up from a public lobby into a functional part of the building, only partially visible. A long wheelchair ramp zigzags across the steps, leading up from the lobby to the top level, creating a striking visual impression. The steps, walls, ramp, and lobby floor are all a similar shade of sandy beige. Description ends.]

Excuse me, but –

As a wheelchair user, when I first saw this photo a couple of years ago, my first reaction was:

Ahhh! Nightmare Fuel!

Think about it: in order to get from one level to the other, a wheelchair user has to cross back and forth right into the paths of the ambulatory. And I don’t mean to offend (some of my best friends are bipeds), but you lot are clueless. 

There’s something about our culture that makes wheelchair users invisible in a crowd (people have no trouble making space for little children to pass freely through a public space, so it’s not a sight line issue). I have had to fight for space grudgingly given on public sidewalks, where everyone is going in the same direction. So imagine the angry, resentful reaction I’d get crossing into the path of someone checking their phone, or engaged in conversation with a companion.

Also, that design means that for most of that area, there are no handrails. What if someone tripped? And there’s no contrasting color between the ramp and the main flight of steps. What about people with low vision? That thing has so many trip points.

Seriously. I have had nightmares where ramps like this showed up.

No handrails, no colour contrast… and the terrain switches between steps and a /sloped/ flat surface. That’s a more complex task than going between stairs and flat landings – for the brain, and for the ankles. I can see myself tripping easily on these stairs.

I can also envision a wheelchair getting the wheels of one side on a step running parallel to the ramp and starting to tilt.

Oh, yeah. I’ve had that happen to me, a couple of times, when I’ve been careless enough to take a curb cut in a rush, and my motor chair tipped over completely, and I ended up on the ground.

And a motorized chair can weigh as much as 400 pounds. When I’ve tipped over in my chair, before, it’s taken the help of three or four people for me to get upright again.

Now: imagine that happening in a crowd. Where there is no flat space for any would-be helpers to stand.

Like I said: nightmare fuel.

Frankly, this is typical of abled people rushing in to offer “help” in order to earn praise, and make themselves feel better (look at how pretty I made it), without actually asking what sort of help we need.

Bad architect! Bad approval committee! No cookies for you!

I am not a wheelchair user, but I used to push wheelchairs around a hospital for a living. 

Looking at this, I see multiple points where a wheelchair would have to make a sharp hairpin turn or wind up going straight down a flight of stairs. 

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like straight down is the better option: if you hit at an angle, with one side still on the ramp, you could just tip right over and wind up rolling down those damned stairs, with or without your chair.

“Please correct me if I’m wrong …”

You are not wrong.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Why the hell put the steps in at all? Why not just make the ramp path wider, to accommodate more people – with an elegant, decorative, handrail along the ramp’s entire length?  That could be just as visually striking (in a different way) as this Escher-esque abomination from the depths of Creepy Valley.

But, actually, I know why: it’s because a “grand entrance staircase” is what’s expected for “the general public,” and the ramp is included as proof that “We also welcome those Others.”

This is a prime example of people trying to be “inclusive” without actually getting input from those they are “including.” And why you need to actually LISTEN TO THE DISABLED about accessibility instead of using them as inspiration porn for silly ideas that look good on paper (if you don’t think too hard) but are useless for practical application. 

And then, when the Disabled don’t use the thing the professional Inspiration Junkie put So-Much-Work into (because it’s not usable), city planners and business owners have an excuse to say: “Accessible Design is a waste of resources” and not bother enforcing the laws that are already on the books.

While I’m here, I’d like to point out two things:

1) The handrails that are there are the ugly, generic, kind you see in hospitals. They definitely don’t fit the architect’s Artistically Clever Aesthetic. How much do you want to bet some city or state Safety Inspector took one look at the building and said: “You are not allowed to open until you put some safety rails in. No, I do not care how much this project has already cost you.” So they had to figure out how to put something up at the last minute, after their budget was already shot.

2) I honestly worry about bipedal people coming down those stairs, because every single step on the far side of the ramp path sticks up above the walking level. I can’t judge by how much, from the perspective in the photo, but my guess is at least a couple of inches. That’s definitely an accident waiting to happen.

Like omfg how long will it take people to just realize a ramp only needs to be a ramp? Just put it strait up the middle or whatever!

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