How ‘disability-friendly’ is your business? Understanding Universal Access
Content provided by a guest contributor.
Although universal access is a large part of modern infrastructure design, few businesses know how important it is to implement this way of thinking.
With Cape Town enjoying the honour of being the 2014 World Design Capital, it is important for South African traders to be at the forefront of progressive design thinking. The good news is implementing universal access in your business doesn’t have to be complicated.
What is universal access?
Very simply put, universal access is a broad spectrum term used to describe design catering for individuals with any disability or physical limitation.
The simplest example of this is overcoming the challenges a lot of older people and paraplegics face when they have to function within a multi-floored environment. Even a single step can pose a challenge great enough to miss out on job opportunities or independent quality of life. Yet the answer can be as simple as installing a ramp.
Usability for every disability
You might think an elevator solves accessibly problems automatically, but what if the buttons cannot be reached from a wheelchair, or there is no method for a visually impaired person to operate its controls?
Making your working environment user friendly for everyone requires a lot of planning and thinking. Thankfully there are specialists in universal access who can audit your building for you and suggest improvements in all areas.
Public institutions like schools and hospitals have to carry certification to prove they have been audited and comply with all the requirements for universal access. A large part of this is ensuring the building provides enough emergency exits for its human capacity, is equipped with fire extinguishers and other emergency gear, and has adequate access to water and sanitation.
Signage for every language
Although illiteracy is not seen as a disability, individuals who can’t read signs must still be able to navigate their way around an institution. Facilities like bathrooms, prayer rooms and emergency exits therefore have to be indicated with universally recognisable icons.
In South Africa we often neglect to provide signage in all of eleven of our official languages. Governmental institutions especially have to ensure all information they expect to be public is accessible to every native tongue. Besides our official languages, information has to be available in braille and sign language to truly be considered open to everyone.
What else can I do?
If you are concerned about your product or business services being accessible to everyone, a good place to start is your online presence. Luckily there are institutions that can do everything from an Afrikaans to a Sesotho translation of your web content.
Since the internet is a highly visual tool, applications like Fotobabble can significantly increase a blind person’s ability to go online by explaining images with audio. The reverse can also be implemented where any video content on your website is accompanied with a transcription or a clip of the information explained in sign language for the hearing impaired.
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