Out of Step

Through an open hatch, some light illuminates a set of basement steps.When traveling, design stands out. It reveals clues about a culture. Open or cozy. Utilitarian or funky. Built to last or cheap construction. What’s normal at home may not translate to another place’s attitudes, climate, and terrain.

When I traveled to Salt Lake City, I noticed which architecture and materials were “new to me” to pick up on local values. Also, I forgot to pack a swimsuit so Stockton and I went shopping. That’s where I found a neat design feature, at a Target. I know, another reason to love Target. It may only be new to me, but it was hard to miss. It sat in the middle of the entire parking lot.

The design element I loved was a double row of parking spots in the center aisle, perpendicular to the store’s front doors. Reserved spaces for people with disabilities claimed the first few spots and the balance remained unreserved. A concrete path flush with the paved lot bisected the rows and led directly to the main entrance. The lot’s dark pavement contrasted against the light concrete crosswalk, giving drivers an added visual cue for alertness. Parking lots can be a hazard for pedestrians. Distracted or speeding drivers barrel around corners and down lanes like it’s the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Heads up, watch out. At this Target, pedestrians could feel safer from the moment they stepped out of the car to the moment they reached the double glass doors. Good design.

Is this lot design common out west? I don’t see the concrete walkway feature too often in Baltimore and if I do, it’s usually an elevated sidewalk with a curb. With curbs, come steps. My white cane finds them and I’m on my way. Before I used a cane, steps presented a challenge, sometimes a danger to my false-message-sending eyes. I learned to appreciate places with no steps or curbs. Anywhere a shopping cart rolls, so do I.

Many places are not flat though. Americans build up and dig down. How we access the vertical spaces depends on design choices like stairs, ramps, or elevators. So, consider a staircase. Do you see the inaccessibility it presents? If you use wheels to get around, a staircase is a barrier to entry. If you have depth perception, contrast, or balance issues, stairs challenge mobility. If you have the agility of a teetering toddler, stair climbing is not a solo activity. Bum knee? On crutches? Bet you don’t like stairs, either.

When you are alone, can you navigate steps independently? Is there a railing? If needed, is there always someone strong nearby to bounce a stroller or wheelchair up or down a flight? Accessible designs like ramps instead of steps keep people moving.

Today when you find yourself at a staircase,whether it’s at home or when you are out and about, think about what those steps mean. Our society conveys priorities through design.

Do parking lots make you nervous? Do you ever use ramps instead of stairs? What do you think about accessible design? Have you bought a swimsuit from Target? Tell me about it.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Casee says:

    Between drivers distracted by their phones and also being in a hurry, crossing a parking lot puts me on high alert.

  2. Two things that bug me are elevator buttons….tasteful metal on metal which I can’t see, with Braille underneath that I can’t read. The other is, smug health and fitness people who ride their bicycles on pedestrian footways because it is too dangerous to ride in the road. As they lead their teetering children in croc formation they assure me that they can see me and I am quite safe. But public design is getting better and I appreciate that.

    1. Bridget you have a way with words! Thanks for sharing those two design flaws.

  3. I learned early on how to adapt to steps. I counted the steps in the stairwell at home, in high school and in college. I hold onto the railing if there is one, and if not, I hold onto the wall for guidance. At home, I have my guide cat Snowflake too, and he’ll hop down each step with me while I hold onto the railing. I do sighted guide with someone in parking lots and while crossing streets too.

    1. Stairs without railings definitely make me feel uneasy. Thanks for reading and sharing today!

      1. Me too! And you’re welcome! I enjoy your blog very much!

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