I am a happy closet dancer who lives by herself in a small apartment. My apartment was my stage. I would always be prancing away to glory in that little space. Just being myself.
But one day I happened to meet with an accident and fracture my foot. It was a bad fall. Coming back to my apartment in crutches didn’t feel right. I kept knocking things down and it got super uncomfortable. My centerstage was now a nuisance.
Our home is the centre of our universe. We tend to get too attached to our humble abode. When we grow old our house grows with us but it doesn’t meet our very needs efficiently. Those lovely corridors become too long, the kitchen cabinets become too high to reach, the bathroom floor becomes slippery all of a sudden.What if we welcome someone with any physical challenges, our home never welcomes them with open arms.
What if our house responds to our ever changing needs?
The aim is to create a universal home that can be perceived in the same manner by any user devoid of their physical or social limitations.
After having an idea on the problem I would like to solve, I had to understand users more how they function within their house to validate my problem statement further.
I conducted a diary study for a span of four days (Thursday to Sunday) with a known family (two working individuals and two old aged people and one homemaker) to see which rooms in the house they use the most based on their lifestyle.
This is an activity timeline of a busy working woman. From this, spaces like living kitchen and dining are used the most during the day.The design needs be efficient to meet her busy needs.
For an old aged woman, The kitchen and the bathroom spaces are of prime concern. The design needs to ensure her safety.
From this homemaker’s timeline, the most used spaces are the kitchen and dining both on weekdays and weekends. There is a need to understand her functioning with these spaces and how comfortable it is for her.
From this, the working man uses his house for recreation and relaxing. Hence a sense of comfort combined with luxury is to be provided.
Similar to the old aged woman, the old aged man needs spaces which are functional and compact enough for him to use.
Building Design Standards and Codes do cater to wheelchair users requirements, visually impaired users separately. Just by adding a handicap sticker to spaces doesn’t mean the environment is inclusive.
Using the standards,I decided to validate various volumes within the house from a challenged user’s perspective. I got an opportunity to discuss these standards with visually and physically challenged individuals at National Association for the Blind,Bangalore to get a better understanding.
Porches play a crucial role in sheltering the entrance hall from inclement weather conditions. The key rooms with highest level of circulation(corridor) should be immediately accessible from the hall, especially the stairs to give the user a seamless journey within the house.
On comparing various corridor widths and the tactile zone spread, a corridor width of 1.6m should be apt for physically, visually and a non challenged individual.
On superimposing a wheelchair on these spaces, entrance door being adjacent to the porch was ideal. This made the space more safe, confined and easy for physically, non-challenged and users wit sensory disabilities.
From all the above research, The key areas in a house that needed utmost attention were the Kitchen and Bathroom.
On mapping the various activities within the kitchen, there is a standard level of circulation to make functions easy and comfortable.
The kitchen layout focuses on a compact work layout including the stove, sink and refrigerator. If the work triangle could be expanded by providing an additional lower preparation surface, it would maximise the users independence to use the space in a convenient manner.
It is important to have a number of grab bars for support and slip-resistant and resilient flooring, hands free faucet, better storage space with pull out shelves.
In an individual house, the public and the semi private spaces have been segregated and connected by a corridor, creating a clear axis for circulation.
Change in flooring material- a wooden strip about the edge of the room indicated to help a visually challenged individual to sense the approach to a room. When on the central ceramic flooring, it would indicate the linear path.
Steel projections which would serve as an indicator on the walls, help wheelchair users and individuals with sensory disabilities. The interplay with dots and lines while approaching a door are braille scripts indicating the function of the room, ie. B-Bedroom, T-Toilet, L-Living room etc.
This would help visually challenged individuals identify the function of the room and would help them move comfortably. For a non-challenged user, this is a piece of art on the wall. A mark of luxury.
Bringing universal design into practice is a never ending process. With retrofitting, renovating the space and the use of technology, We can create an ideal home that works just fine for all at all times.
This process of understanding various user perspectives on a home was exciting and valuable. I loved it.
I understood the importance of the interaction between people and people, people and service, which made me take my career forward in the field of User Experience Design.