"Universal access" is the term applied to built environments based on "universal design". The term universal design does not imply that everything built must be fully usable by everybody, but simply that design solutions will attempt to address the needs of the widest possible range of the population in a reasonable manner. Universal design objectives are not pursued to the point that the viability of a project or the programs for which it is intended would be threatened.
In performance terms, a "universally accessible environment" is one in which those who wish to use it are able to do so without difficulty. Striving to meet this ideal will create environments that perform better for all users. This is understood to include wheelchair users, ambulant mobility impaired, hard of hearing and deaf persons, blind, visually impaired and people with low vision, and people with perceptual or cognitive differences.
See also Vancouver Campus Plan, Part 3: Design Guidelines, Section 2.2 Universal Accessibility.
Basic Universal Access Issues at UBC
To assist in defining what this means in practical terms, the basic issues and positions pertaining to the implementation of universal access at UBC are outlined below.
- A coherent, barrier free system of paths and sidewalks connects all buildings within the campus core, and links the core to the other sectors of campus and to the adjacent community. External infrastructure elements such as parking, bus stops and landscape features such as gardens are included. Smooth pathway surfaces without abrupt level changes, adequate lighting and clearly legible signage make primary routes accessible to persons with mobility or sight impairment without the need of assistance.
- Pedestrian crossing signals are audible as well as visual.
- All buildings are accessible at grade or via ramp or elevating device, preferably via the principal entrance(s).
- It is important that circulation within buildings can be freely achieved without having to use stairs. Elevators are the preferred alternative in overcoming significant changes in grade, but ramps are preferred for shorter distances, as they are fail-safe. Lifts are only acceptable as a last resort and only in renovations.
- Building fire safety and emergency systems should not rely on hearing alone, but should take into account the need to alert deaf people. Signs that alert people to hazards should incorporate tactile information perceptible by blind people and use large print in clearly contrasting colours for those with low vision. Eye wash stations and emergency showers in labs should be accessible to wheelchair users.
- In addition to at least one wheelchair accessible washroom for each gender, any major building should have an additional accessible unisex unit washroom for purposes of privacy and/or assisted use.
- In classrooms and lecture halls the teaching podium area and at least 2% of seating spaces should be wheelchair accessible. In teaching laboratories, adaptable workstations are recommended to allow for greater variety in use of the space.
- Attention must be paid to the accessibility of furniture and equipment. Lower wheel-under fume hoods in labs and adjustable tables in libraries are examples.
- Interior lighting in classrooms and teaching labs should facilitate access for people with hearing or visual disabilities.
- Acoustics should be of appropriate quality in classrooms, teaching labs and other learning venues to facilitate communication, particularly involving people with hearing disabilities. HVAC noise must not be excessive.
- Controls and hardware used by the public, such as door locks and keypads, elevator controls and switches, should be at wheelchair height and designed to not require fine finger dexterity. Such fixtures in private work areas can be replaced on an as required by a particular employee.
- Telephones that can be used by deaf and hard of hearing persons should be included with banks of public phones. Emergency telecommunication equipment should include audio amplification, hearing aid compatibility, and visual confirmation of signal transmission. Emergency phones connected directly to UBC Campus Security should be installed in all new elevators.
- Alarm systems and safety feature should be accessible to all users, including persons with hearing and visual disabilities.
- All ground oriented or elevator-serviced dwellings should incorporate features of adaptable or visitable design to allow persons with disabilities a wide range of housing options, as well as the ability to visit and mingle with neighbors.
- Venues of a ceremonial nature that host official university functions must be accessible in an integrated, dignified way. Wheelchair access should be incorporated in the primary access route to the stage and any other important areas. Sound systems and acoustic conditions must be of a quality to allow hearing access. Wheelchair accessible seating in such venues should exceed code and be readily available in a variety of locations in the audience. Such venues should have assistive listening capability.
- Way finding systems should be simple and intuitive, and use non-text cues to advantage. Signage needs to be designed so people with low vision can read it and located where a person using a wheelchair can easily see it from a distance.