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December 15, 2010

New Central Library

Page 6 of the architect's final presentation of November 4 promises a fully accessible building.

So pardon our skepticism when we looked carefully at all 74 pages of the presentation and did not find a single wheelchair, stroller or person with a cane.  In fact, amid all those healthy Haligonians, there is virtually no visible minority.

Pshaw! you say.  This is merely an oversight, an artifact of the available selection of images for dreamy architectural renderings.

Well, architects who make oversights commit errors we have to live with for years.  And pay for!

On page 38 we are treated to a panoramic view of the first floor interior.  The information desk at lower left (information being what a library is meant to dispense) is in the form of a high counter, way taller than a person in a wheelchair, or a child for that matter.  There are loads of specifications for including low sections in counters, but the very idea of a counter runs, well, counter to the precepts of barrier-free design:
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University identifies the following principles:
  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use
So a tall counter for regular people and a short counter for kids and wheelchairs offends principle 1, 2 & 7

On page 40 we have an image of what is surely the main index to the collections.  What used to be a card catalogue is now a bunch of computers.  The architect has outdone himself by putting the computers way out of reach atop those self-conscious bar tables you find in trendy restaurants.  Likely, wheelchair users and other non-gymnasts will be off in a corner at an ordinary temporary desk. 

Principles 1,2 & 7 again.

On page 39 we seem to be looking into the cafe, which presents a long counter too high for a wheelchair user.  Doubtless the cashier will be elevated at some distance above a customer, and wheelchair users will have to fumble with the credit card machine and won't be allowed to see the register screen.

1,2 & 7........

Finally. on page 42, is what we hope architects learn in architect school.  A seamless blending of a ramp for accessibility and stairs for seating.  Wheelchairs can get to the lower level and virtually any seating level.  Bravo!

For this one act of inclusion, all is not forgiven.  Don't you believe the "oversight" excuse.  Disabled folk are invisible in Halifax, just as they're omitted in these 74 pages.  Clearly, this architect doesn't know from accessible.

Gus Reed


David MacLean said...

The accessibility of the seating area does blend very well. I would, however, like to see high curbs and/or handrails on the the leading edge of the upper ramp level. This could be a nasty spill waiting to happen if a wheel should slip off the edge!

Anonymous said...

Hi Library Fans,

Haven't been able to attend the meetings but am hoping that the new library will integrate the latest architectural thinking about accessibility for those who are "other-abled" - folks who use walkers, wheelchairs, canes, those who are blind and low-visioned and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. (I'm sure I've left someone out) Seems that the on-line planning docs, which state only that the building will be barrier-free, are a little thin. Halifax, indeed the province, is not famous for its accessibility and its old-fashioned by-laws and antique building codes haven't kept up with forward thinking communities in this area so observing minimum standards set by these laws and regulations won't be enough to make the new library as inclusive as it should or can be. Stairs are not inclusive but ramps and elevators are - wide doorways, automated doors, seating areas and meeting rooms that have room for everyone (and their equipment), low check-out counters for seated patrons, excellent lighting and equipment that is available to and easily usable by everyone is best. Our city has many places, including some libraries, that are simply off limits to people with disabilities - this library should break that mold and set the standard for the future. Canada recently ratified the United Nations Charter on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so its time to stop blaming hilly terrain and lack of funds for its failure to be inclusive. Seek out disabled patrons and groups and get their views - folks may be too shy or simply not be able to get to your meetings. Parents of disabled children should be consulted too. This can be simply the best library ever! Good luck.