The parameters used in designing any built environment are based on normal, healthy and active human beings. The architects as well as the end users simply do not realize that all of us will age sooner or later. We all are witness to a phenomenal advancement in medical technology in recent times. This is resulting in major demographic change in the world. Soon we will have a very high percentage of ageing population which will be forced to fend for themselves for various social reasons. And the built environment will be full of barriers for them. Barriers adversely affect the elderly. They deter them from performing physical activities and make them dependent for their very existence. The need to create a barrier free built environment for them should be addressed with a feeling of urgency. The elderly should not be deprived of full participation and enjoyment of the environment caused by barriers.

Barrier free architecture would incorporate and utilize certain design principals to create functional, safe and convenient built environment for the elderly. The principles required to be adopted while planning are:


All built environment should be designed so that it shall be accessible to all young, old and differently abled.


Provisions in the built environment should be introduced to make it reachable to all young, old and differently abled.


The design of all built environment should make it usable to all.


The design of all built environment should be such that all can easily enter and find his or her way around. Easy evacuation of all from a building is also of the utmost importance, especially in times of sudden disasters or calamities.


The design should incorporate all those principles to make the elderly work and fend for themselves.


Designing all built environment for safety will ensure that every one should be able to move about with least hazards to life and health.

A sensitively designed environment can make all the difference in making the elderly feel isolated or independent. Therefore, one needs to address the indoor built environment as well as the outdoor public spaces. An integration of design purpose between these two can produce an enabling physical environment coupled with services that allow elderly to become independent within their family as well as the community for much longer without having to recourse to institutional care. In this way the barrier free built environment can reinforce the personal environment to support an age integrated community and a society for all ages.

Each of us is going to age sooner or later and there are various factors that affect the ageing process. These are:


Genetic or inherent biological factors, acquired defects at birth, inherited or familial diseases such as diabetes affects bones, stamina, vision to name a few.


Cumulative effects caused by polluted environment and hazardous work places can affect breathing, hearing and posture.


Loss of stamina, mobility, decrease in immunity, slowing down of metabolic system of elderly can affect their daily activities. Incontinence is one of the major concerns one needs to address


Loss of financial sources, loss of work after retirement, loneliness caused by loss of spouse or friends can aggravate stress in elderly to a large extent.



Entrance and exit to every building should be easily accessible and clearly visible from the road. If the entrance lobby is higher than the road level, then ramps should be provided. For buildings having more than one floor, ramps or elevators should be provided besides comfortable staircases.


Ramps will help elderly persons with walkers or wheel chair to enter or exit any building. Therefore, the gradient of such a ramp should be not less than 1:12. The minimum width should be 120 cm and the maximum length can be 6 meters after which a landing of about 180 cm should be provided. The ramps should be provided with handrails and 10 cm high curbs on both sides.


All doors should have a minimum clear width of 80 cm to allow a wheel chair or a walker to pass. A minimum clear level space of 150cm x 150cm should be provided before and extending beyond a door. Doors and windows should preferably be of such material that helps them to operate smoothly. Opening or locking doors and windows should not require wrist action or fine finger manipulation. Lever type handles are preferable.


Stairs in buildings having risers of 150cm and treads of 300cm are comfortable even for the elderly to ascend or descend. Railings along both sides of the width of the staircase make it easier for them. Triangular treads should be avoided at turnings as they can be hazardous. Open risers and projecting nosing can make the elderly trip as their feet or their walking sticks can get caught in them. Slanted risers are preferable. Treads should preferably have slip resistant surface or at least non slip strips at the edge to avoid slipping. The treads and risers may have contrasting colours to make them clearly defined for elderly with poor vision.


In public areas, changes in levels of walkways should have dropped curbs. These walkways should have a continuing surface and should be wide enough to allow a person to pass a wheel chair. It can be wider at intervals to allow another wheel chair to pass. To assist the elderly in moving around, use of railings along the passages and corridors in the building as well as pathways in gardens and parks is beneficial. The floors and paved areas can also have contrasting borders at edges to facilitate elderly with poor vision.


Buildings should be well lighted and ventilated. The layout or planning of spaces of any building should be simple and obvious to help elderly in finding their way around as most of them can be affected by diminishing memory. Cluttered rooms and gardens, ill placed rugs or foot mats, ill located garden and street furniture, sign posts along defined routes can make elderly trip and hurt themselves. Toilets in private and public areas should be placed conveniently as most of the elderly persons suffer from incontinence.


At least one toilet in a building should be large enough to allow a walker or wheel chair user to enter, close the door and transfer oneself onto the water closet seat. A turning space of 2.25 sq.meters with a minimum space of 150 cm for wheel chair movement should be provided. Grab bars (preferably steel) strategically placed along water closets, urinals, wash basins and shower areas go a long way is assisting the elderly persons to perform their daily activities with ease. All the accessories in the toilets should be accessible to the person in a wheel chair. Floors in toilets as well as kitchen should have non slip tiles. Use of rubberized mats in shower area will minimize falls caused by slipping.


Every building should have adequate natural lighting. The windows should have well placed shades to cut off the harsh glare of the sun in daytime. Contrasts in unlit and lit areas at night time should be least. This is because elderly persons with poor vision have difficulty in adjusting their eyes when coming in from a dark area to a well lighted one and vice versa. Use of contrasting colours for electrical switch boards helps the elderly in identifying them.


As elderly persons have diminished immunity, having smooth walls will reduce the accumulation of dust, thereby reducing the chances of catching infection. Elderly will be less prone to hurts if rounded edges are provided for walls, doors, windows, and furniture.


Most elderly persons have diminished hearing sense. The use of sound absorbing materials in the rooms, like curtains, carpets, cloth upholstery, tapestries on walls etc. goes a long way in reducing echoes, thereby making it easier for the elderly to hear clearly.


Besides making all provisions for having a barrier free environment, it is of the utmost importance to have aesthetically pleasing, clean, and well maintained environs which do wonders in reducing depression in elderly persons.


It is very important to understand that designing and providing barrier free built environment does not necessitate increased overall areas or cost of construction. If these principles of barrier free architecture are adapted to any design then all will benefit as all of us are going to age sooner or later.

Mail To:Ms. Kiran Sohal->kiranpsohal@hotmail.com