The Impact of Building Design on Evacuation of Persons withDisabilities

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Individuals with disabilities represent a significant, although often overlooked, portion of the population in emergency evacuations from buildings. Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines require that provisions for accessible evacuation or exit must be made; however, failures in meeting the evacuation needs of individuals with disabilities continue to occur (Christensen et. al., 2007). These failures may be attributed to evacuation policy and planning that emphasizes helping an individual with disabilities adjust to the environment, rather than adjusting the environment to accommodate the individual (Hahn, 1985). During evacuations, it is the design of the environment that creates the majority of evacuation barriers. For individuals with disabilities, their families, and service providers, it is important to evaluate environments for clear and easy movement to safety during emergencies. Universal Design is a useful tool for evaluating and designing buildings to better support the emergency evacuation needs of individuals with disabilities. Universal Design is an approach to make buildings usable by the broadest group of users possible, and is based on seven design principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use (Story et. al., 1998). The list of suggestions in this article incorporates Universal Design principles and can be used by individuals, their families, and service providers to evaluate buildings for clarity and ease of movement to safety during times of emergencies.

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