Designing Healthcare Facilities For Physical Disabilities

by JRSBlogWriter May 5, 2014

Designing Healthcare Facilities for Physical Disabilities

Designers and architects are more than familiar with designing buildings to meet ADA guidelines. They are also well versed in state and local requirements. However many architects and designers feel these codes and guidelines are merely a starting point. They and their clients feel more should be done to accommodate physical disabilities and they are setting the bar higher.

While it is impossible to anticipate or even design for every possible physical disability, there are best practices that will help you design a building that is far more inclusive to people of all abilities.

wheelchair sitting in hallwayUniversal design (or inclusive design) has become a standard practice in many communities. Many of the universal design principles are already being carried out in healthcare facilities, but some areas in healthcare facilities have their own unique challenges.

Jeffrey S. Monzu, Vice President and Senior Project Manager at Leo A. Daly did not see surgical suites as being a challenge given their open layout, but he did see a challenge in radiology where the equipment is so specific.

Workers in radiology are often more comfortable standing when performing certain procedures. Their environment is designed to accommodate them with counters at different heights. Remember, you are not only trying to accommodate people with disabilities, but you are also trying to prevent workplace injuries due to bad ergonomics.

Monzu said that you could at a future date provide ramps and platforms to accommodate a new worker confined to a wheelchair, but only if you have the space available.

Yes, space is a premium. It may be unlikely that the facility would be called on to make reasonable accommodations for a hypothetical future worker confined to a wheelchair. But compare the cost of planning for an unlikely event, to the cost of construction to expand the space at a later date.

Not only are the construction costs higher but there is also the loss of revenue to consider when the equipment in that space is not being used for a longer period.

“You have to do your best to allow for the possibility of modifications in the future if they are necessary. It just becomes another design parameter,” says Monzu.

Jean Hansen, Sustainable Interiors Manager at HDR Architecture sees a need to go beyond ADA standards when it comes to how bathrooms in healthcare facilities are designed.

“In the future I think we’ll see a lot more guidelines that get into more details as to how you design a show that gives more assistance for people to shower on their own or for room for a caretaker to help them.”

Hansen suggests having experts review your design before you even complete it. She recommends inviting people who typically help bathe seniors in showers and bathtub settings to review your plans and get feedback from them.

Hansen also recommends creating a physical mockup of a room and test it. Have experts or people with disabilities try them out. That way you can be sure these areas will meet the needs of a very specific population.

“Building mockups into the timeframe is important,” says Hansen. "It takes some time and money obviously, but the savings would really pay for itself in a short period of time.”

Scott Combs of Clark/Kjos Architects said, “If we were asked to design a facility to accommodate a disabled person specifically, our process would be to meet with that person and learn what features might be impediments to them and what features we could add to increase the functionality of the building and building elements.”

Combs also finds mock-ups to be a helpful tool in fine-tuning a design and a practice that is not at all unusual in healthcare projects.

Combs says that architects can be advocates and supporters of efforts to make buildings even more accessible. However architects and designers are not the only ones with responsibility.

“I believe medical equipment manufacturers will need to be part of the discussion as well, and possibly develop more tools and equipment, since this may well be more of an impediment (or provide less accommodation) to disabled workers currently than the buildings themselves, due to the effectiveness of the adopted building codes,” said Combs.

We could not agree more. We will continue to create new products and modify existing products for the healthcare market to accommodate workers, patients and family members with disabilities. Whitehall Manufacturing has one of the only ADA scrub sinks available on the market today. We also have an ADA compliant infection prevention sink and many other products manufactured to accommodate physical disabilities.

For us, it is not just about keeping up with standards, but it is about leading the industry towards creating a more inclusive environment for people of all abilities.

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