Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Price Maccarthy tells us about her experience of using elevators in the Middle East and suggests ways the experience can be improved for people of determination
When I walk into any office building as a visually impaired person, my first instinct is always to find the nearest elevator should I have to make a trip up the multiple floors that cover an establishment. On a lucky day, the search for an elevator is quite brief: I find the lift upon arrival, either by the main entrance or a few steps away from it. On a semi-unlucky day, I would have to manoeuvre a labyrinth of meandering passageways to get to the lift. On an unlucky day, I take the stairs due to a lack of elevators in a building, gripping the railing and doing my best to gauge my next step with a cane so I do not fall to my death.
The presence of accessible elevators in any building is important because it does more than just provide convenience for commuters who might have difficulty traversing floor lengths in very high-standing buildings. It can also be a very powerful tool for people of determination to have access to services in a building safely and holistically and an avenue of empowerment for the visually impaired/blind who want to move about a building independent of assistance from others. Below are three ways I believe elevator accessibility could be reimagined to improve its usage among the visually impaired.
Make Elevator Locations Easy To Get To
This point is quite self-explanatory but often elusive when considering building designs in many offices I have visited in Abu Dhabi: most buildings are built to be navigated by those with high vision. Though blunt, this statement rings through for every time I have had to ask around for kindhearted people to point me in the direction of a working elevator or have had to myself explore the length of a building to find one. If buildings are to be truly inclusive, I think a way to do so would be either to factor in having elevators in easy-to-spot locations when considering architectural designs, or putting up very visible signs that visually impaired people could follow to spot an elevator. These steps, though minuscule, make a big difference in how visually impaired people approach navigation.
On an unlucky day, I take the stairs due to a lack of elevators in a building, gripping the railing and doing my best to gauge my next step with a cane so I do not fall to my death.
Guarantee Elevators’ Functionality
I can not stress this enough but there is more to accessibility than just having accessible tools. Establishments must ensure that these tools are fully functional and in-service, otherwise, their purpose is almost decorative. As a person with very limited vision, it is quite frustrating when I chance upon an elevator in a building, only to be told by those around me that it is out of service. This realization is often infuriating because while people with normal vision would find no inconvenience taking the stairs in a situation of elevator disservice, doing the very same action without an ability to determine depth perception or distinguish stairsteps could result in me potentially hurting myself should I make an error. Buildings could benefit from being more accommodative by regularly conducting maintenance on their facilities to ensure that they are in their best condition for use.
Train Staff In Buildings To Know About Accessibility Features
This could apply to more than elevators but I think offices should invest in training their staff to be knowledgeable of the positioning of accessibility features in a building like where wheel-chair friendly toilets are or how close by an elevator is. I have had more than one instance where my navigation of a building was hindered by the inability of staff to ascertain if their building had a functional elevator or where I could find it. These instances could have been less time-consuming and anxiety-inducing if I had met someone cognizant of the facilities in the building they worked in. Human memory can be very malleable and I understand that there should be a margin of error for situations of forgetfulness by one staff member of building amenities. However, a systematic unawareness of accessibility features by a majority of staff in a building is where I think the line has to be drawn. Establishments need to do better in making accessibility more than a corporate catchphrase by practically embedding it in training sessions, some of which could be as little as an introduction to the features of a building and its elevators.
Accessibility in the 21st century is a dynamic and often evaluative concept that should not be treated in isolation from society. It is more than just reading an article on how to be inclusive through elevator usage or analysing if one is ableist in their day-to-day activities. It is also a constant reassessment of whether our surroundings are structured to support the differently-abled in living fulfilling lives. The next time you walk into a building, ask yourself a very important question: would I be able to navigate this place as a visually impaired person? And if not, what can I do to make it better? Then act on it.
Price Maccarthy is a Ghanaian-Nigerian student at NYU Abu Dhabi majoring in Legal Studies with minors in Psychology and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies. She is very passionate about early childhood education, advocacy, and content creation. In her free time, she published articles for the women of color website, Wellspring Words.