Condominiums are not just for young people, there are many elderly condo residents that bought their units in the 1980s. Many early construction condo buildings are now facing challenges of providing amenities to owners who are 65 years or older. These buildings often lack accessibility and safety features now common in new buildings.
In recent months, Adaptability Canada has been increasingly approached by Condominium Boards and Managers seeking advice on how to make accessibility improvements. These Boards and Managers are interested in limiting their legal liability, but are primarily motivated to enhance the overall living experience of owners. We have found that with planning most of the upgrades can be done economically. Many of existing accessibility deficiencies can be improved coincident with existing maintenance, current improvement projects that consider informed product choices.
However, there are some simple improvements that can make a big difference for liability and service. For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on common projects typically undertaken in towers to improve flooring, doorways, lights, and wall/door finishes.
Flooring must be durable and not show dirt easily. Two things matter for seniors and people with disabilities when it comes to carpeting:
- Carpet design – Ensure simple design patterns that follow the natural flow of the hallway and leads to elevators and exits. Avoid complex patterns.
- Carpet contrast – Using a proper light/dark contrast enables people with low vision to easily navigate down hallways. This should be designed to allow someone with low vision or blindness to run their hand along a wall, so make sure the contrast is near enough to the wall so they can easily walk with their hand on the wall for support and to identify any signage, door handles, etc.
Raised transitions in condo doorways
Without exception, every condo building we’ve visited has had raised transitions in doorways of all condominium units. This is an unfortunate intersection where Fire Code and accessibility/safety are in conflict. The transition itself is part of important doorway designs to control the spread of fire and airflow between hallways and units.
At the same time, these transitions can pose a significant tripping hazard to seniors, particularly those with vision loss and/or progressive age-related mobility disabilities.
The big driver here is cost. If you remove the transition, you must replace the door – a major expense. But there are products such as fire-rated door sweeps that can allow you to remove the transition and ensure the fire safety elements of the doorway are not compromised. Before embarking on a replacement project consider which products work for your building and whether they are approved by your local Fire Inspector.
While you consider your lighting upgrade project, look at ways to improve light diffusion while also eliminating shadowed areas. In many common halls, you’ll find alternating light/dark patterns on the walls which can be disorienting and confusing for seniors suffering from low vision or early cognitive disability symptoms.
The selection of wall sconce and light intensity makes a big difference for diffusion and light levels so ensure proper testing is done to measure adequate lumens and minimize shadows. Lighting upgrades can also pay dividends in energy savings.
Wall and doorway finishes
Décor matters. We want our common areas to look great and often we underestimate how important wall finishes are to improving accessibility and safety for seniors.
The simplest and most effective rules are as follows:
- Ensure your wall surface helps to properly diffuse light to minimize shadow
- Ensure the wall colour contrasts with the floor
- Make door frames, condo units and elevators a contrasting colour to the wall
- Make fire exit doors a different contrasting colour
The key success factor is making sure your lighting, flooring and wall finishes work together to deliver an enjoyable design experience while making the halls safe and easy to use. Big improvements that benefit both older residents and those with disabilities can be quite simple and inexpensive.
Jeff Wilson is Founder and CEO of Adaptability Canada, a national provider of accessibility solutions for the residential, commercial, non- profit and public sectors. From consulting to construction, Adaptability Canada is the first company in the space to offer comprehensive accessible construction solutions that meet or exceed federal, provincial and municipal standards for accessibility. For more information, visit adaptabilitycanada.com