Older condo buildings constructed in the 1980s and earlier 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, condominium boards and managers have been increasingly 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.
With planning most of the upgrades can be done economically. Many accessibility deficiencies can be addressed alongside existing maintenance activities or current improvement projects with informed product choices.
There are some simple choices that can make a big difference for liability and service through the course of common projects undertaken in condo buildings to improve flooring, doorways, lights, and wall/door finishes.
Flooring must be durable and not show dirt easily. Two things to consider for seniors and people with disabilities when it comes to carpeting are design and contrast.
Look for simple rather than complex design patterns that follow the natural flow of the hallway and lead to elevators and exits. Also use a proper light/dark contrast so people with low vision can easily navigate hallways. Make sure the contrast is near enough to the wall so someone with low vision or blindness can easily walk with their hand on the wall for support and identify any signage, door handles, etc.
It’s common for condo buildings to have raised transitions in doorways of all condominium units. This is an unfortunate case where the fire code and accessibility/safety are in conflict. The transition itself is part of important doorway designs that 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.
If the transition is removed, the door must be replaced — a major expense. But there are products such as fire-rated door sweeps that allow the transition to be removed without compromising the fire safety elements of the doorway. Before embarking on a replacement project consider which products work for a particular building and whether they are approved by the local fire inspector.
When considering lighting upgrades, look at ways to improve light diffusion while also eliminating shadowed areas. Poor lighting in common halls has resulted in 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 door finishes
Common areas should look great. However, the importance of wall finishes in improving accessibility and safety for seniors often gets underestimated.
There are a couple of simple and effective rules of thumb to keep in mind. Ensure the wall surface helps to properly diffuse light to minimize shadow. Also ensure the wall colour contrasts with the floor as well as door frames, condo units and elevators. And make fire exit doors a different contrasting colour.
The key to success is making sure lighting, flooring and wall finishes work together to deliver an enjoyable design experience while making the halls safe and easy to use. Improvements that benefit both seniors and residents with disabilities can be quite simple and inexpensive with simple choices that can be made during regular upgrades.
Jeff Wilson is founder and CEO of Adaptability Canada, a national provider of accessibility solutions for the residential, commercial, non- profit and public sectors.