Accessibility for a majority of developers is still a new concept to grasp.  It’s an ongoing, evolving, more accepting, and more sort after practice.  However, it’s not good enough to know the DDA standards word for word, we need to understand why those dimensions are “that height” or “this width”.  One of the more frequent & crucial parts of my job is culturing people on “why this is a standard requirement”. Fortunately a lot of these requirements can be broken down into a relatable situation.

A majority of people have or will be temporarily impaired in their lives by injury.  Even if they haven’t they can fane impairment by imagining a life with closed eyes or having one leg.  It would be fair to say that obvious physical impairments get a lot more sympathy and understanding than those that can’t necessarily been seen or experienced.  In this case I’m alluding to “Vertigo”.

Recently I had suffered a severe head injury that left me with acute migraines, concussion, loss of balance, head rushes and VERTIGO.  At the time it had never crossed my mind what it would be like to have Vertigo because I’d never had it.  I don’t get travel or sea sick and I’ve bungee jumped with only the natural fear of “I hope the cable doesn’t break”.  That’s not to say I wasn’t aware that it was a real condition that a lot of people suffer daily, it was that I could definitely put up my hand and say I couldn’t imagine or relate to having it on any scale that was close to what it was like.

For the next 3 weeks I walked around with Vertigo fluctuating almost randomly in intensity suddenly holding on to handrails, walls, people, and anything else I could.  One of the hardest daily paths of travel I faced was stairs, they all of sudden become very noticeable and EVERYWHERE to me.  Didn’t matter how compliant, wide, long or short they were. Navigating stairs became like trying to hit a dart board while riding a bull at the worst of times.

It all came to a climax about a week into trying to live with vertigo when I came to a staircase with open risers and a handrail on 1 side with the other an open void.  This was in a private residence and obviously wasn’t DDA compliant. The stairs were your classic art piece that didn’t close out the room too much and looked sheik.  Aside from the lack of handrail on one side that I would count on the stop me falling, the open risers were a nightmare. If I wasn’t already nauseous, as I began to climb and peer through them my brain would go into meltdown.  My toes no longer had a hard surface to plant my weight against as I climbed. I was left with stuffing most of my foot under the stair riser until it hit my leg so that my body could use that to stabilize.  This was only as good as the first step because now I had a snag point and my ankle was getting twisted because all my weight was against the handrail leaving me on an unnatural lean.  By the 5th step I called it off, whatever my friend had up the stairs wasn’t worth it.  Going up stairs with a missing handrail on one side and open risers was a health hazard.

A week following I did try open riser stairs again when I saw an opportunity.  My vertigo by that stage was decreasing to something similar to being on a boat in a rough day.  My arms sore, my ankle rent, sweat down my back, but I made the summit.

The lessons;

  • Handrails both sides, not just for those who have physical impairments on 1 side, but for those who need them to stop them falling over an edge or backwards down the stairs. They’re just as much a balustrade for fall protection as they are a grabrail. Stairs that were 1000m wide were man’s best friend as I could span the stair and pin my body in more positions.
  • Open Risers can get in the bin. Happy to talk to anyone who doesn’t understand these or thinks they’re a potential performance solution. I’m 100% for art and feng shui, but these need to be kept in privately controlled residence. Even at that I still hate them…