Inclusive Buildings: Designing a Barrier Free Built Environment

More than a tenth of the world's population suffers from some kind of disability. A well-designed environment that is safe, convenient, comfortable, and readily accessible is highly beneficial for empowering the disabled and others as well. It is awaited that design professionals, the building industry, government, the community will implement them and generate awareness about the criticality of Barrier Free Built Environment. The considerations below should be further advanced by accurate signage, braille, and tactile to completely transform the environment for the users.

A good design does not differentiate, let us investigate how to make our habitats more inclusive.

Building Entrance 

All the public domains of a building should be accessible to all as a rule and break the general notion to have a provision of steps to move across levels of buildings. The designs should be ergonomically sound, hence a detailed study of wheelchairs, height of location of handrails, material of the ramp, the capacity of the building, etc needs to be done beforehand. For visually impaired people, ramps may be colour contrasted with landing.

Minimum width of the ramp & clear landing- 1800mm (CPWD Guidelines)

Gradient- not steeper than 1:12, preferably 1:15 to 1:20

Handrails on both sides- height 900mm (children-760mm), extended beyond 300mm from the top and bottom.

Staircase & Lift 

Stairs should not be the only means of movement between floors, accompanied by lifts & ramps. Straight flights of steps are preferred by ambulant disabled people, preferably not more than 11 steps at a go without leveled landing. Treads must be consistently 300 mm deep and risers 150 mm, supported with handrails on both sides (avoid open stairs). For a visually impaired person, colour contrast between the front edge of each step to enable their vision (winder, spiral staircase, and splayed step should be avoided).

Elevators should be chosen keeping in mind, the wheelchair movement & anthropometrics of the person using them. For visually impaired people, they should be at eye level. Information should preferably be in relief for tactile reading with colour contrast & audible signals indicating opening/closing of doors.

Controls and the call button - 900mm - 1200mm from the floor.

Clear entrance width- 850 mm

Minimum Internal Car dimensions- 2000mm x 1100mm

Pathway & Lobby

Spaces to be curated such that difference in levels is avoided without proper provision of ramps. Protruding objects (signs, drinking fountain, fire extinguisher, the underside of stairway/escalator, etc.) can be extremely hazardous to the persons with visual impairment as well as the public and attempted to be recessed into the wall. Wayfinding for those with visual impairment made easier by surfaces and finishes with luminous contrast between the wall and the ceiling, and between the wall and the floor should be adopted. Appropriate lighting design with adequate illumination (30% luminous contrast) can also be implemented.

Maneuvering space not less than 1500 mm x 1500 mm (within 3500 mm of every dead end)

Minimum length of the lobby - 1200 mm (excluding space for door swings)

Minimum 900mm unobstructed open space where doors are opening into the corridor.

Toilet & Bathroom

Every public building comprises at least one WC cubical for the ambulant disabled. Generally, such users require more space for proper accessibility in such rooms. Washbasins must be mounted at 750mm from floor level with a clearance of 550mm below powered by an easily operable tap (no wrist twisting). Shower compartments (1500 mm x 900 mm) encompass L-shaped bars for support, hand-held showerheads (below 900mm), and self-draining shower seats for optimal functioning. An easily operable push button should be provided in any individual accessible toilet compartment to summon assistance at the seated position or on the floor in case of emergency.

Standard Japanese Handicap Toilet. Image credits: lulzmachine, Reddit

Minimum Dimension WC cubicle- 2200mm x 1750mm

Door- 900mm wide (swinging out)

Handrails on each side parallel to the floor- 750 mm high

WC mounting height from floor- 500mm

Flushing control (on the wide side) at height 600 mm to 1050 mm above floor level.


Doors need to be properly articulated for unaided movement of the specially-abled. The visual contrast between the door and frame with the adjoining wall or colour bands marking the frame in the case of glass doors helps the visually challenged. Public buildings should preferably have sliding automatic doors with sensors or door closing devices with a minimum time delay of 5 seconds.

The minimum clear width should be 900 mm (operable by a single effort).

Handle- 800 mm from the floor level.

Kick-plates- 200 mm high fitted on the face which swings away for wheelchair users.


The parking spaces should be calculated and reserved for persons with a disability. Proximity to the entrance and accessible route to the lobby (with an accessible lift or entrance) should be pre-planned. The parking space is marked with the international signage for disability and directional signage along the driveway showing the way leading to the reserved parking space.

Minimum width for a parking space - 3600 mm (including loading/unloading area)

Hatched loading/unloading area (common for 2 adjacent cars) – 1200mm

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