Bermuda Architect hopes to help improve accessibility

Americas, March 27 2011

Mar 27: Bermuda is praised for its beauty and unique architecture, but many residents and tourists face problems getting around.

Disabled people in wheelchairs, moms with strollers, those with sight and hearing impairments and people with crutches often face obstacles in accessing buildings, bars and restaurants or even just heading down the sidewalk.

As the U.S. brings its 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design into force, an architect has taken the time to compile a booklet and set of drawings to encourage Bermuda’s designers and contractors to take on universal design and ADA standards.

Although Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, we comply with a lot of the American standards and codes.

Vanessa J. Daniel, a Senior Architectural Technologist at OBM International, produced the guide and AutoCAD drawings independently, out of an interest in disabled people’s rights.

“Returning back to Bermuda after working as an architect in New Mexico, I wanted to get this information out there,” she said.

“From the designer, architect and contractor side of things, there just isn’t the information and drawings available in Bermuda.

“It is about making the built environment more accessible for everyone.

“It’s not just people with physical disabilities, it’s also for the elderly, pregnant women.

“Even mothers with buggies walking along Front Street face different levels and trip hazards.

Miss Daniel has given a copy of her booklet and drawings to Keith Simmons (pictured), accessibility officer at the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged.

The guide features everything from grab bars and clearance space for wheelchairs in toilets, to sink height and the need for braille on signs.

“It’s an excellent resource and tool for designers, architects and anyone in construction,” Miss Daniel said.

“While the (booklet) information may initially help those in the construction industry, it is also useful to all Bermuda citizens as they plan how to upgrade homes, offices, public spaces and so forth.

“It will help them to get Planning approval.

“I can provide the drawings and booklet to anyone who wants them. This could be architects, interior designers, contractors and sub-contractors, anyone in construction.

“They will also help Mr. Simmons to increase awareness of accessibility in all building design. If it helps him in his efforts with Government, then I am happy to assist.

“It’s about making the community better for everyone.”

Mr. Simmons told the Bermuda Sun Government has almost finished a review of the Residential Building Code and will then upgrade its Commercial Building Code. The new ADA standards would therefore make a difference.

“Once completed, it (the Residential Code) will have accessibility codes and also green building codes, so that’s a step forward,” said Mr. Simmons.

“Government looks to upgrade standards every few years and to adopt some of the international building code standards. These include the latest accessibility standards.”

Mr. Simmons said Bermuda’s use of CABO (Council of American Building Officials) and BOCA (Building Officials Code Administrators) standards was now out of date.

Government has adopted the ANSI A117.1 (American National Standard Institute) standards but will be looking at the latest international guidelines in its review.

He said the new 2010 ADA standards would “keep Government in line with any upgrades”.

“There’s one or two changes from the ANSI A117.1, so this will help us move forward in adopting new accessibility legislation,” he said.

“It will bring us up to date in 2011.”

“For example, BOCA requires 50 per cent accessibility in buildings but the new codes have gone up to 60 to 70 per cent of your building accessibility.”

Mr. Simmons said: “Miss Daniels’ booklet will help us in changing the mindset, because unfortunately we still have some architects who are not taking on accessibility.”

In Bermuda he said people not only had problems with buildings and sidewalks, but that, “a lot of the car parks need to be changed, as the entrances are pitched too steeply”.

There were also problems with restaurants and shops.

“A lot of them have poor access. There are some proprietors working to make their premises more accessible, but some just don’t seem to be interested.”

The Bermuda Sun asked for an update from Government on its building standards and the review but received no response at the time of going to press.


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