Isaac Harvey: Inclusive design is for everybody

Inclusive design is for everybody

As a designer and manufacturer of deluxe inclusive washroom accessories, Fitzroy of London is very much at the forefront of accessible design.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve learned a lot about what makes a space accessible, including the aspects that go over and above just ‘compliance’.  

But whilst we are increasingly involved in consultancy work and the development of turnkey projects that exceed expectations, we also frequently come across accessible interiors that, whilst compliant, fall short of the mark on true accessibility – and it’s always frustrating to see, especially when a lot of time and money has been invested in the design and finish.

While there are plenty of regulations for designers and architects to follow, what’s missing from the guidance are the voices of disabled people.  These are the individuals who know what ‘inclusive’ truly means, and we’re committed to centring their experiences in all aspects of our work.  

That’s why we were so delighted to catch up with content creator, campaigner and disability activist Isaac Harvey, to find out more about his experiences with accessible facilities, and learn about what really makes a difference for people with a disability.  Here’s what he had to say…

Isaac, it’s great to meet you again.  As a wheelchair user who travels extensively, you know more than most about what makes a great inclusive washroom.  Based on your experience, what are the most common fails you encounter in these spaces?

Yeah there’s a few things!  Space is a big one, there doesn’t seem to always be a big space for any sized wheelchairs.  Another major problem is in some places the accessible bathroom is shared with the cleaning equipment so it’s a bigger space but it’s got people’s locker room stuff in there so it’s not really respectful to call it an accessible room.  

For me, I don’t need hoists and things because I get lifted onto the seat, or if I’m having a shower someone would lift me in, so I don’t need the extra equipment. But grab rails are important, and having the emergency switch in a good place, because sometimes they have it hung up so it’s not in the way but if someone needs it then they can’t reach it.

What the worst experience you’ve had in an accessible toilet?

One of the worst ones was actually in London, a café near Waterloo.  I went in and you could see the staff locker room and all their clothes and changing and all the cleaning equipment and I just thought this is ridiculous!  I didn’t complain – I wish I had, did but you’re so in shock you just can’t believe it.  I should have said something.

What annoys you the most – are there avoidable things that would just never happen in a normal toilet?

Like I said, for me I get lifted in and I’ve had some really tight spaces in toilets where I’ve had to leave my chair outside and someone carries me in.  I can do that, but it’s annoying that whoever is with me has to carry me all that way when I could just drive in or use my manual chair to get in.  I can only talk from a wheelchair user’s point of view but having that space in the toilet is important, and it annoys me when there isn’t that space.

What about good experiences – have you encountered places where you felt the venue had gone the extra mile?

Yeah, there’s been some hotels where they have extra things, like you can ask at reception for a shower chair and they’ll bring one up which is helpful.  There’s been some really spacious ones in hotels where you might not expect, like budget hotels.  I can’t speak for all budget hotels but I find Premier Inns and Ibis hotels are very good.  But I went to a different one only a month ago, which was very cheap and it was only for one night – but my goodness it was so small! The room itself was tiny and the bathroom was non-existent.  It was a bit of an experience with two wheelchairs!

The thing is with so many different disabilities I think it’s hard for any hotel to have it perfectly right, but I think every hotel should be following a standard.

I went to New York once and that had a really good shower chair that I’ve not experienced in any other hotel that folded down from the wall, so that was really good.  Once you make an inclusive design like that it can be used for everybody.  Inclusion is for all.

Is it common to experience a luxury feel in an accessible washroom?

Not in my experience. Most places look like you’re in a hospital and usually have the white rails.  The thing is, seeing it from Fitzroy’s point of view is really cool.  I’m so used to it I don’t really recognise it [the lack of luxury] now but when I saw [your work] I thought that’s really cool to have the rails in the same design as the room.  It’s nice to have that.

What message so you think that sends?

I mean, it’s just makes you feel included.  Can you image a 5-star hotel and you go in there and it’s got the same white rails?  Like ‘I’ve paid the extra amount but I’m still getting the same treatment as every day?’  To be honest I think they should have those rails in any hotel, budget or not, the design should be the same.  A disabled room should look like an inclusive room. It should just be the standard for everyone.  That’s why I like what Fitzroy is doing, paving the way for more people around the world to take on the same initiative, and make rooms inclusive for all.

We’re really grateful to Isaac for his time and for sharing his experiences – his feedback really motivates us to keep innovating, but also to keep challenging other design professionals and venues so that disabled people can continue to feel more included and considered when it comes to accessible design.

If you’re planning a construction or refurbishment project and looking for a partner to help you deliver accessible washroom design that doesn’t compromise on style, get in touch with the Studio Fitzroy team today! 

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