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Ensuring accessibility in work and public spaces

Accessibility studies can assist design engineers as well as city and public transport planners to design spaces, offices and work environments that are accessible to all people regardless of their physical mobility and abilities. The aging European population and increasingly stringent EU regulations have placed more emphases on the accessibility of public spaces in recent times. Accessibility studies can identify problem areas during the design phase, thereby avoiding costly modifications, with clear advantages for both designers and end users alike.

Traditionally, accessibility has referred to the fact that spaces (buildings, public transport vehicles, environments) do not restrict movement. Hearing and visual accessibility are, however, equally important and integral parts of the functioning of the physical environment. An accessible environment is crucial to many groups of people and also assists other users of the spaces in question. When accessibility has been implemented different people can participate equally in different activities.

An accessible environment is functional for all users, safe and pleasant, and its implementation does not cost more than that of an inaccessible environment. Accessibility means, among others, the availability of services, usability of tools and the clarity of information.

Getting it right during the design phase

Accessibility should be ensured during the design phase to avoid costly modifications. In some cases accessibility cannot be achieved once the design has been implemented. Accessibility studies can assist designers to achieve designs that meet accessibility requirements.

Taking accessibility into consideration produces savings for society as well. The functionality of spaces increases the smooth functioning of different activities and speeds up the actions of large groups of people and moving them from one place to another. Spaces that function well allow people to live and work in a familiar environment even if their physical abilities have changed. In a safer environment the risk of accidents is reduced and people find it easier to be socially and physically active.

3D accessibility studies 

Accessibility can be studied in a virtual space or with different simulation software and applications before the physical environment has been created. This is achieved by modelling or scanning the environments in question, after which they can be studied in virtual reality 3D views. This allows designers to easily identify potential problem areas during the design phase and to base their decisions on the correct information

Accessibility simulations can be implemented with special simulation software for ergonomics. Ergonomics simulations check for possible collisions between the environment and human models during motion and illustrate the requirements and dimensions of spaces. Other visual simulations can also be implemented, which allow users to familiarise themselves with the designed 3D spaces on a computer.

Benefits of accessibility clear to see 

During the design phase accessibility studies achieve significant savings by reducing design errors and the time required for design. Planners and designers are more easily able to adhere to project schedules, while the desirability of the designed spaces is significantly enhanced.

End users benefit from good accessibility through the increased safety of environments. It is a known fact that more accessible environments lead to a reduction in accidents and a corresponding reduction in costs. The empowered users consequently require less assistance and are able to adapt more easily to changing life situations.

Accessibility study application areas

  • Public spaces
  • Meeting spaces
  • Public transport vehicles
  • Accommodation areas
  • Company work spaces
  • Living spaces
  • Functional spaces

Author: Katja Pekkarinen

Contact Katja Pekkarinen  

An accessible space enhances the safety, functionality, effectiveness and competitiveness of the environment.

An accessible space enhances the safety, functionality, effectiveness and competitiveness of the environment.

Accessibility means that different people can participate equally in different activities.

Accessibility can be verified in 3D in a virtual space already at the beginning of the design phase before the physical environment has been implemented.

An accessible environment is a necessity for many, yet everybody benefits from it.