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Planning to build ?
Think of the handicapped.

How many of these signs do you recognise ?
Brought to you by
Dr. Partha
For more information:
  1. About this document
  2. Why plan for handicapped-accessible structures ?
  3. Some terminology
  4. Basic measurements
  5. Designing for accessibility
  6. Markings, indicators, signages
  7. Special provisions for the blind and vision impaired
  8. Special provisions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  9. Transportation for the handicapped
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. Important notes
  12. Need more information ?
  13. Want to help ?
  14. Meet the author of this web page.
  15. Please give us your feedback

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About this document

This document will give you some indications on the points you must remember when constructing any building, or renovating any existing building. The guidelines given below will help you to make these structures accessible for persons with mobility difficulties. It can serve as a checklist for ensuring accessibility. Remember that accessibility is just one of the many challenges faced by handicapped persons.

The purpose of this document is only to give you a brief idea of the various engineering considerations in designing handicapped accessible buildings. Once you have obtained a fair idea of the subject, you must consult a competent architect or engineer and also consult your local laws on accessibility. You can also obtain plenty of information from the resources page for the handicapped, created by Algologic.

Please read the IMPORTANT NOTES given near the end of this web-page.

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Why plan for handicapped-accessible structures ?


  1. Mobility-impaired persons have the right to lead a life of dignity and self-respect. They have the right to access all facilities just like any valid person.
  2. It is the moral duty of all valid persons to ensure a fair and equitable opportunity to mobility-impaired persons.
  3. Handicapped-accessible structures can be used by valid persons also. They do not pose any inconvenience to valid persons. If properly designed, they do not affect the aesthetics or functionality of structures.
  4. The incremental cost involved in making the structure handicapped- accessible is just a fraction of the cost of the structure itself.
  5. Any valid person can become handicapped (God forbid) because of an accident or serious sickness.

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Some of the terms used in this document are described below:

  • able-bodied person : one who is not a handicapped person.
  • accessibility: facility of access and usage of a structure, by a mobility- impaired person, without compromising on functionality, autonomy, and safety.
  • mobility impaired person: a person whose movement and gestures are restricted. We include in this category -- persons employing wheelchairs, persons using crutches or other support devices, pregnant ladies, very weak and sick persons, senior citizens, blind persons and persons with vision difficulties.
  • handicapped person: a person whose normal activities are restricted because of a physical or mental disability. The disability may be temporary or permanent. The disability may affect their mobility, or other faculties (e.g. sight, hearing etc.) Mobility impaired persons are therefore just one type of handicapped persons.
  • valid person: an able-bodied person.

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Designing for accessibility

General principles of accessible design
Basic measurements
Ramps || Toilets || Lifts || Passages and doorways || Parking lots
Counters, tabletops || Door knobs, handles, taps, switches and controls || Furniture and kitchen equipment

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General principles of accessible design

Buildings and structures should satisfy the following basic requirements of accessibility:

  • Functionality: The mobility- impaired user should be able to enjoy the basic functionality expected of the structure, just as well as a valid person, and with the same degree of comfort or convenience.
  • Autonomy: The mobility-impaired person should not be required to seek the help of anybody for using the structure.
  • Safety: Usage of the structure by a mobility-impaired person should not compromise on his safety. In general, objects designed for use by the handicapped must provide a much higher level of safety than those designed for use by valid persons only.

    To ensure safety, you should identify and eliminate all hazards which exist in your building. For instance, you should:
    1. identify and eliminate all unnecessary barriers and obstacles e.g. furniture, partitions, sculptures, screens, potted plants, thresholds, steps etc. Where such obstacles are inevitable, the place should be very well lit, and must be marked prominently or cordoned off.
    2. take special care to see that there are no cables and trailing wires (e.g. phone wires) which may get entangled and lead to an accident.
    3. confirm that the flooring surface is non-skid in nature. If you are using carpets or any other form of floor-cladding, make sure that it is made of a non-woven material, to avoid frayed strands getting entangled in a handicapped person's equipment.
    4. ensure that there are no open pits (e.g. open manholes, trapdoors etc.) or no soft or slushy patches on the path of handicapped persons. Such traps should be clearly cordoned off.
    5. ensure that the possible passage ways are all cleared of all hazards, to respect the minimum dimensions mentioned in the earlier section and that all essential devices and objects are kept easily reachable (see Basic measurements).
    6. mark prominently the availability of handicapped accessible facilities using signposts and indicators.

In addition to the above general observations, we will see some specific requirements in the paragraphs that follow.

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In the meantime, here is an exercise for the reader: Take a tour of your premises and check up how many of the above hazards exist around you.

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Basic measurements

Before planning any structure for accessibility, it is necessary to understand limits of dimensions for comfort and safety.

A person in the standing posture, and using crutches will need a minimum width of 0.9 m for moving around. There should be no obstacles within this width in all areas where the person is likely to go or move around.

For him to reach out for anything in the standing posture, things should be kept within a maximum height of 1.6 m and a minimum of 0.6 m as shown in this picture. This is particularly true for objects like bookshelves, stores, wardrobes, cupboards, etc.

A person in a wheelchair needs unrestricted clearances for moving around, turning and manoeuvrability (see these pictures ). And for reaching out to objects, they should be placed, not more than 1.30 metres above ground level or lower than 0.70 metres above ground level as shown in these pictures .

If these dimensional limits are not respected, the structure becomes extremely inconvenient for handicapped persons.

General principles of accessible design
Basic measurements
Ramps || Toilets || Lifts || Passages and doorways || Parking lots
Counters, tabletops and controls || Door knobs, handles, taps, switches and controls || Furniture and kitchen equipment

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Ramps play a very important role in enhancing the accessibility of buildings. They need to be designed with great care. Remember the following points:

  • Where a difference of level is unavoidable (e.g. door frames, thresholds), keep the difference to less than 30 mm. Whenever a change of level of more than 30 mm is encountered, a ramp must be provided.
  • Ideally, the slope of the ramp must not exceed 6 %   and it should not be more than three metres long. If it is not possible to construct a single ramp to respect this limitation in slope and limitation in length, you can make a ramp with more than one run.
  • The surface of the ramp must be made of a rough and non-skid material.
  • Keep adequate landing space at the start and the end of every ramp.
  • If the ramp is more than three metres long, split it into a ramp with more than one run. Each run should not be longer than three metres. Ensure that there is adequate landing space at each end of each run of the ramp. This landing space is necessary in case the person wants to stop and take rest, or wants to turn back and return midway.
  • If the person has to open a door, provide adequate space for the door to be opened.
  • For ramps longer than 1 m, a balustrade/ hand rail is essential. The balustrade /hand rail is also useful as a protective barrier, to avoid falling off the ramp.
  • A ramp is not very appropriate or convenient when a mobility-impaired person has to move from one floor to another. Think of constructing a lift whenever such a situation occurs.

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Many of us do not realise this: toilets fulfil a very important and indispensable role in our lives. Just try to resist entering one whenever you feel the urge, and you will realise how difficult it is to live without one. Yet, we often neglect providing this minimum amenity in a form suitable for handicapped persons.

Remember the following points:

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When there is more than one floor in the building, it is strongly recommended that a lift be provided. A ramp is extremely painful and tiring for the wheelchair-bound for moving between floors.

When selecting a lift, ensure that:

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Parking space

Every public building must have a sufficient number of places reserved exclusively for parking of vehicles by handicapped persons.

handic3 Take care of the following:
  1. The parking space must be at least 3.50 m wide, to let a mobility- impaired person enter and leave from the car. Make sure that there is enough free space available for movement with a wheelchair.
  2. The parking space must not be on an incline.
  3. Mark prominently that the place is reserved for parking by handicapped persons.
  4. Make sure that there are no obstacles on the way to the parking space, or that no other vehicles can block the way.

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Counters, table tops, door handles, taps, and control switches

Counters as well as table tops which the mobility-impaired should use (such as in banks, post offices, schools and other public places) must be designed with the basic measurements in mind.

The basic measurements also apply to all kinds of control devices like: doorknobs, door handles, window latches, electrical switches, taps and valves, telephones, audio /video entertainment equipment, cooking ovens, post boxes, computer keyboards, and all other similar appliances or devices which need to be operated by hand. You must also ensure that there is enough clear passage available for the handicapped person to reach these devices and objects.

Not only is the placement of these devices important, they should also be easy and safe to operate. Door and window handles, pulls, latches, locks, and other operating devices on accessible doors shall have a shape that is easy to grasp and operate with one hand. They should not require tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate.

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Furniture and kitchen equipment

Special care must be taken to design furniture adapted to the needs of mobility-impaired persons.

  1. Place furniture such that they do not restrict free movement of mobility-impaired persons.
  2. Avoid furniture with sharp edges and pointed accessories.
  3. Furniture should be sufficiently heavy or protected by non-skid feet (or even fastened to the floor or wall), so that they do not slide away when a handicapped person uses them (transfer from or to wheelchair). Sometimes, mobility-impaired persons tend to lean on furniture, or use them as a support. So it is important that furniture should be made immobile.
  4. Sofas and seating furniture should not have armrests, so that the mobility-impaired person can easily slide into (from a wheelchair) or slide out (to a wheelchair).
  5. Computer furniture must be specially designed considering the basic measurements given earlier. They should also allow the person to work directly from the wheelchair. Accessories like printing paper, diskettes etc. should be easily accessible from the wheelchair.

Kitchen equipment (e.g. stove, sinks, shelves and cupboards) should be laid out for easy and safe access.

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Passages and doorways

All passages, doorways, corridors and alleys must be:

To be able to ensure easy movement, a few simple guidelines must be followed.

Provide adequate space in front of the door, for the door to be opened comfortably.

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Special provisions for the blind and vision impaired


Designing accessible structures for the blind and for persons with very weak vision is a very great challenge. It requires the greatest care and thoughtfulness. The following guidelines will be helpful:

  • Take extreme care to ensure that there are no obstacles in the passage which start from above the ground level. Take special care about heights of indicator signs, staircase landings etc. which may not be sensed by a blind person using a cane.
  • If you are placing any object temporarily, which may come in the way of a blind person -- make sure that the object is cordoned off. This situation occurs often when there are repairs or temporary reorganisation (e.g. shifting of furniture, ladders, temporary scaffolding). A blind person gets used to the positions of fixed and permanent obstacles, he cannot anticipate when new obstacles come up.
  • Whenever there is an abrupt change of height, or the possibility of entering a hazardous area, or an unavoidable obstacle, give enough tactile warnings sufficiently in advance.
  • Provide a barrier or railing to prevent the blind person from straying away inadvertently.
  • For the weak sighted, lighting can provide an important directional cue.
  • It is important to clearly mark transparent glass partitions and doors. Use markings and indications which are visible even in very poor lighting conditions.

A few other suggestions for assisting visually-impaired persons:

  • Use labels printed in Braille, to indicate floors, on the control panels of lifts. Stick a Braille label next to each floor button. The person can then select a floor by feeling the corresponding Braille label. Similarly, a Braille label near the landing door will help the blind person recognise the floor he has reached.
  • Use audible warnings and announcing devices wherever possible.
  • Put up clear warning signs (for the visually healthy) wherever blind persons are likely to be moving in the vicinity, so that they (the visually healthy) can take care not to cause any harm to blind persons.

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Special provisions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons suffer the disadvantage of not being able to follow aural cues, and instructions. A few points to be kept in mind for assisting this class of persons:

  1. In public places, announcements and messages should be provided not just by voice (e.g. public address systems, pagers, sirens, alarms), but also by visual indicators. Textual messages are best displayed using some large screen displays. Other kinds of indications may be given with bright red lamps, and annunciators panels.
  2. Telephones should be provided with an indicator lamp which shows when they are ringing. A special telephone with built in amplifier for use by hard-of-hearing may be provided.
  3. Special-purpose telephones with voice-to-text display, and keyboard inputs may be provided.
  4. Valid or healthy persons have an automatic mechanism of being able to orient themselves with noise. Thus they can realise when they are getting dangerously close to some moving machinery. Special precautions must be taken to ensure that deaf persons are protected from such dangerous sources.
  5. The availability of such facilities and their location must be indicated prominently with well-lit signboards.

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Transportation for the handicapped


Design of transport vehicles for the handicapped is a very specialised subject, and is NOT covered in this web page. However, all facilities and buildings from where the handicapped will take a transportation should be made accessible according to the guidelines given in the earlier sections of this web page. This precaution applies to: railway and subway platforms, bus stops, porticos, driveways, sidewalks, footpaths, zebra-crossings etc.

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The figures used in this web-page have been reproduced from "SN 521 500 Standard and Guide" . The following organisations have very kindly granted us permission to use the material:

This document has been prepared and put up on the world-wide-web by Algologic Research & Solutions.

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Important notes

  1. In accordance with international practice, all measurements shown in the diagrams are in metres.
  2. Please note that the measurements are official Standards in Switzerland, and may differ from standards of other countries. Consult your local standards organisation.
  3. This document gives only a few guidelines and that too in a highly simplified and informal form. You should refer to, and follow, more formal and official documents and standards, for legal conformance.
  4. You can also get plenty of information from the world-wide-web. A good starting point would be:
    the resources page for the handicapped, created by Algologic.
  5. You are encouraged to add HTML hyperlinks to the present top-page from your web-pages. The URL of this page is:
    You will then be sure that your visitors get access to the most recent and updated version of this document.
  6. This document is likely to be updated regularly. Please make sure that you have the latest version of this document. The date of last update to this document is given in the Administrivia section.
  7. Rights:
    • All the rights for the diagrams are held by: You should not copy or reproduce the diagrams, without the express and formal permission of the above agencies.
    • All rights to this web-page and related web-pages (created by Algologic) are reserved by Algologic Research & Solutions. You should not copy or reproduce these documents, without the express and formal permission of Algologic Research & Solutions.
  8. Disclaimer:
    • Please read the disclaimer and warning notice of Algologic
    • The Ingenieur-and-Architekten Verband (SIA) and the Schweiz Invaliden-Verband (SIV), do not assume any responsibility for the contents of these web-pages.

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Need more information ?

  1. You can obtain plenty of information from the resources page for the handicapped, created by Algologic.
  2. Contact Algologic Research & Solutions at if you need further assistance, or have any specific queries.
  3. Know the author :

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Want to help ?

  1. Inform all your friends, colleagues and relatives, about this web page. Make them feel responsible for ensuring accessibility.
  2. Act today ! Do your best, to improve accessibility at your home, at your place of work, at all public places.
  3. Add HTML hyperlinks to the present top-page from your web-pages. The URL of this page is:

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About this document | Why plan for handicapped-accessible structures ? | Some terminology
Basic measurements | Design considerations
Ramps | Toilets | Lifts | Counters, tabletops and controls | Furniture and kitchen equipment | Passages and doorways | Parking lots
Special provisions for the blind and vision impaired | Special provisions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Transportation for the handicapped
Acknowledgements | Important notes
Need more information ?
Meet the author of this web page. | Please give us your feedback
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