Steps and Ramps
Steps can be the biggest barrier to independent access for people with mobility impairments. Safety and ease of use are important considerations when designing and detailing flights of steps.
The application of highlighted nosings on stairways assists, in the main, people who are blind or partially sighted. The highlighted nosing is used to indicate the location of the nosing or leading edge of the tread to ensure safe movement up and down the stairway.
Blind or partially sighted people may not be able to locate the edge of the tread on a stairway if the top of the nosing does not have adequate highlighting to distinguish one tread from the next, thus making it extremely difficult for them to use the steps safely. To many people who are blind or partially sighted the stairway without this application will look like a ramp or shaded section of a walkway.
Open risers in stairways cause particular access difficulties for people who are blind or partially sighted, especially if there is a light source coming from behind the stairs. Open risers or overhanging treads that result in lips on each step also make upwards movement very difficult for people with physical disabilities who are able to use stairs.
Open risers can cause people with certain types of visual impairment to experience vertigo as they ascend a flight of stairs due to the strobing effect of the stair treads and the light between each tread. People using walking sticks can also experience difficulties if their stick slides from the step into the opening. People who have a prosthesis or a disability that limits limb movement face a much greater risk of catching their toes under the lip and losing balance when trying to retrieve their foothold.
People who have difficulty negotiating changes of level i.e. people who are blind and partially sighted, people who have a physical disability but are able to use the stairs and people who have a cognitive disability, need the support of handrails.
Handrails are used to steady and provide guidance to ascend or descend stairs. They should be provided in conjunction with changes in level, flights of steps and ramps.
To ensure the stairway is as accessible as possible two handrails are required. This assists those people who don't have the use of both hands, in which case thay may need to use either the left or right hand handrail as they ascend or descend.
Effective handrails are ergonomically designed so that they can be used by all people, especially those with an impairment to their hand or arm function. Continuous handrails that allow a user’s hand to maintain a hold on the handrail without the fixings breaking the grip assists in safe transition throughout the complete journey either up or down a stairway. The ends of handrails must be designed to reduce the incidence of injury to pedestrians.
Where level access is not achievable, ramps enable wheelchair users to overcome level changes.
Handrails and kerb rails on ramps
Handrails and kerb rails on ramps are important to people with a range of disabilities, for example, people who are blind or partially sighted, people with a physical disability and people who have cognitive disability.
Two handrails are required as some people may not have the use of both hands in which case they may need to use either the left or right handrail. Kerb rails are required to reduce the chances of people who use wheelchairs running off the edge of the ramp or catching their toe plate behind the handrail supports and as a result tipping out of their chair.
The specifications relating to the ergonomic design of handrails ensure they can be used by all people, especially those with a disability that affects hand or arm function. Continuous handrails that allow a user’s hand to maintain a continuous hold on the handrail assist in safe movement throughout the complete journey either up or down a ramp. The ends of handrails must be designed and constructed to reduce the incidence of injury to pedestrians.
Points to be considered include:
- Level access preferred but ramp acceptable. Where a ramp is available, provide stepped access also
- Maximum of 3 steps. If more, maximum of 1 flight of stairs (average flight 12 - 16 steps)
- Landing at least 1.2m between sets of steps
- Height of steps to be uniform and not exceed 170mm high
- Depth of steps to be uniform and not less than 250mm (depth to be more than the height)
- Width of steps more than 750mm
- Provision underfoot, at the top of the flight, of a timely warning, that there is a change in level i.e. bobbled paving, corduroy carpeting, contrasting nosing
- The top and bottom of the stairs to be easily distinguished
- Establishments to use a contrasting colour/tone for stairs compared to the approaching floor finish
- The correctly installed handrails firmly fixed
- Contrasting but not projecting nosing on each step
- All steps/stairs must have closed in risers
- The area underneath stairs must be closed in or protected to at least an adult standing height (2300mm)
- Lighting must be balanced and effective around steps/stairs
- Visitors made aware of where steps and stairs are located
- A ramp with a gradient not steeper than 1:15 to be provided with stepped alternative. Gradient of 1:12 is acceptable when under 2m long
- If the ramp is not a permanent fixture it must be available throughout the visitors stay
- Unobstructured width at least 1.2m. Width of 750mm for short distances up to 2m
- Individual flights no longer than 10m or rising more than 500mm. Total series of ramps rising no more than 2m
- Top, bottom and any intermediate landings must be at least 1.5m long and clear of any door swing
- A raised edging, of at least 100mm on any open side, is used to determine boundaries and a tapping rail is required in addition as users of white sticks may not all tap at ground level. A tapping rail or lower rail must be positioned so that the bottom edge is no higher than 200mm above ground level
- On permanent ramps a continuous handrail must be provided
- Top and bottom of ramp to be easily distinguished by contrasting texture and colour/tone e.g. a contrast strip
- Lighting must be balanced and effective around ramps
- A continuous handrail on both sides of the ramp (of contrasting colour/tone) where practical (a handrail must be provided on at least one side)
- A continuous handrail must be provided on both sides of open steps and ramps where practical (a handrail must be provided on at least one side). A single step to have a grab rail
- All handrails must be of contrasting colour/tone to the framework or building
- The handrail must be positioned between 900mm and 1000mm above the surface of the steps/ramp and between 900mm and 1100mm above the surface of the landings
- Where a ramp is more than 2 metres long, or if there is no alternative stepped access then hand rails should be provided on each side, where practical, if the ramp is less or there is an alternative stepped access a handrail should be provided on at least one side
- Handrail to extend horizontally 300mm minimum beyond either end of the steps/ramp and terminate with a closed end that does not project into a pedestrian route
- The handrail must be a shape that is easy to grip e.g. tubular or non-circular with a broad horizontal face and a diameter of 40mm to 50mm maximum. This must be supported on brackets that do not obstruct continuous contact with the handrail
- If a handrail runs beside a wall, the gap must be small enough to prevent an arm slipping through - between 50mm and 60mm
- Handrail to be formed from materials that are not cold to the touch (more essential outdoors than in heated areas) and provides good grip e.g. nylon, powder coatings or wood, not polished metals
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