Designing for Disabilities: Findings, Learnings, and Decisions

Meeting with experts, conducting “Potty Lab” exercises, and general field research led to key insights and corresponding decisions across several facility components:

One of our major learnings was, though a lower-height western-style WC might be an ideal choice in terms of comfort, there was a fair bit of resistance as it differed from their preferred habit of squatting.

The reasons weren’t hygiene-related as we had previously believed, but about ingrained behavior and the belief that squatting would help with bowel movements.

From a design perspective, this left us with an interesting dilemma: how could we provide support through a western-style WC and keep it high enough for wheelchair users to side-transfer to while also allowing other users to squat? After some discussions within the team, we realized that the best solution was a ‘low height hybrid WC’.

Unfortunately, this solution excludes wheelchair users, and we found that our idealism in designing a truly ‘universally accessible’ toilet stall had to be tempered with the reality of the context, including robustly accommodating the needs of as many user types as possible.

Though a difficult decision, it was substantiated by Prof. Abir’s research, through conversations with users regarding current wheelchair proliferation, and the fact that, for wheelchairs to be truly used, homes would have to dramatically increase in size and have better road access to the community toilet facility.

Something we observed that surprised us during the sessions was that all the users really liked the raised seating in the bathing area, but refused to actually bathe there. Users preferred using it for changing their clothes and as a storage shelf while they squatted and bathed on the floor.

An important piece of feedback we received was from a user that crawls and another who uses crutches: we must try and keep the entry area of the toilet dry so that they don’t get dirty or slip, respectively.

Hooks, Handles and Grab-bars
Though small, details around storage and safety bars really enhanced the experience of each user that interacted with the stall. We were quite happy with the feedback we received, which helped us determine the staggered position of hooks and handles.

In the case of grab-bars, the positions from Prof Abir’s research was spot on: all feedback indicated that users preferred them on the right.

Resolving the final design
While sharing our findings with the architecture team, we were told to look at making the design flexible since the stall was going to fit into different-sized facilities in different modalities.

The stall was broken down into 4 discrete zones in order to accommodate this:

1. Entry zone
This comprises the door with long handles and two latches at varying heights, accessible for both standing and crawling users. Along with this, an important feature is a slightly raised floor gently sloping into the toilet to keep undrained water away from the entry and exit zone.
2. Defecation zone
This is the WC (which in our case is a low-height hybrid WC) itself with a long vertical grab bar to the right. Also, this zone includes a tap for anal cleansing.
3. Raised seat zone
This space is a seat (akin to a small bench) with a wrap-around, grab rail that is raised off the ground. The seat has easy access to hooks at varying heights to be used for hanging buckets, along with wet and dry clothes. The hooks throughout the facility will be made in stone and fixed in the masonry.
4. Squatting bathing zone
This space features a small portion of the floor which is raised (to an inch) to keep the user out of standing water yet to drain. The main criteria was to keep this zone away from the entry to prevent that zone from getting wet.

This concluded the activity of testing and designing the stall for disabled access, and we handed over the design guidelines to the architectural team at Anagram Architects. Having done that we are going to work with them, giving feedback on individual site-specific configurations that they have made from the modular design.

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