Disabled access for gardens, along with horticultural therapy and associated elements of introducing gardens and gardening for disabled, elderly and less able as well as recovering patients, is far from a new trend. The NHS and other Health organisations have long been keen to promote the recognised benefits that flora can achieve for health and well being. Unfortunately it is not and cannot be regarded as frontline and is very much an area readily exposed to budget cuts and changing policy. Numerous charities
, national and local exist to provide facilities and funding to enable access for all in this regard in the UK and across the EU.
On larger projects the designer will (or should) work in tandem with the Occupational Therapists thus producing a plan which when constructed will bear all relevant specific points in mind. The specialist landscape teams will be able to identify the needs easily, but when faced with the fact that in Europe, smaller landscaping businesses are the majority it is essential that a basic list of principles is available in order to allow potential clients to be able to chose an outfit local, cheaper and altogether more approachable for small scale or domestic clients who face access problems.
This is not and never should be considered a niche market - but when faced with the disability of the client it is worth considering and approaching the subject bearing in mind several factors to ensure the design and construction of the garden is suitable for purpose.
Many on line and published data cannot be specific towards disabled clients with regards their exact physical range. And as such bespoke work is essential, whilst still combining the overall points to be considered. The first and most important being the approach to the client specifically and treating the client as the client, even though someone else may be footing the bill. Direct engagement with their specific desires is essential and should you come across as being unable to understand their principle needs, which is very easy to do, you will lose their confidence and ultimately the garden will fail. Consider this: If there are three quotations being made - and one of those arriving for the initial site visit is also disabled - they are likely to win the contract, as the understanding of basic needs will be pre emptive.
On discovering the disability, try to place yourself in their shoes, (or literally in their wheelchair), to ensure the dimensions needed are fit for purpose.
The key element of such design for an individual disabled client has to be 'bespoke'. Unfortunately whilst there are many suppliers of equipment for the disabled garden, it will habitually use dimensions for all wheelchair users and capabilities and as mentioned above the individual may well have a more or less limited range than these products.
The consultation time prior to the design and build and continual consultation during the construction will ensure the disability, the assigned equipment by the Occupational Therapist and the personal taste and desire of the client are all matched.
All of the following will have their own specific needs and risks associated with mobility.
1. Wheelchair, self propelled
2. Wheelchair, attendant
4. Walking frame / Rollator
5. Orthopaedic conditions – Elevating leg rests
, visual impairment and Tripod use
7. Visual impairment
8. Mental impairment
The obvious issues to be considered and remembered at all times.
A. Access. Doorways into the garden, Ramps and slopes, Paths,
B. Ability to work in the garden. Raised beds, vertical gardening, Watering facilities, shed access, tools.
C. Shade vs light
D. Types of plants used. Non toxic, low maintenance, interesting in shape texture sound.
E. Plenty of rest areas for ambulatory clients and wheelchair users.
Solid, even and fairly smooth but allowing traction for wheelchair use. Must be well drained with no pooling of water in bad weather.
Turns should try to be gradual whenever possible, avoiding sharp right hand turns, curves are preferable.
Edging to paths is preferable if clients with CVA’s or visual impairments will be using the garden.
Also for those with visual impairments – changes in the texture of the path can be used it act as an indicator for something of interest such as a seating area.
The absolute minimum for path width should be 800mm but 1000mm is preferable
Remember to allow enough space for turning if you use a wheelchair - a manual wheelchair has a turning circle of 1.6m (1525mm absolute min) and a powered wheelchair may need as much as 2.4m.
1.2m will allow a 3 point turn of a manual wheelchair.
The use of crutches will need a wider path than the use of a wheelchair.
The minimum width for 2 passing wheelchairs is 1525mm. It is a good idea to have passing areas within the path design.
Surfaces to avoid
For wheelchair users, chippings, gravel, bark , cobbles or anything uneven
and yielding make very poor surfaces that are difficult to use. Also, in the
UK turf is a poor surface unless reserved for a resting/sitting area, but
even then, it will be unusable for a wheelchair user in spring/autumn/winter
or any time it rains.
Ramps and Slopes:
The use of Wheelchair or disabled access ramps is governed by British Standards BS 8300:2001 and can be accessed via the government websites or www.wheelchairramps.co.uk
The general principles are as follows:
1. Non slip surface
2. 1.5m wide unobstructed
3. Gradient of 1:20 if longer than 5m, 1:15 if longer than 2m, 1:12 if shorter than 2m although this is the max gradient and is quite hard work for those self propelling.
4. Top and bottom landings of >1.2m and intermediate landings of 1.5m every 10m.
5. Raised kerb edging of 100mm to any open sides of ramp or landings.
6. Continuous suitable handrail each side.
7. Hand rail should commence 1 m in advance of the ramp or slope.
8. Remember to allow for door opening space on the top landing
9. Make a transition of the angle of ramp into landing at the bottom to avoid forward tipping of the wheelchair as it hits the bottom.
10. Also remember to place door thresholds in and out of the garden.
Ability to work in the garden:
Ability to reach from the wheelchair should dictate the dimensions of the beds.
Forward reach max height 1220mm, lowest height 380mm
A side reach will give a max reach of 1370mm and min reach of 230mm.
Usual measurements are 750mm wide if reachable from one side and 1500mm if reachable from both sides.
As a guide,height from the floor should be no less than 500mm and no higher than 700mm.
A higher bed may be more suitable for those with back pain – 900mm.
The paving should go right to the edge of the bed
Clever designing can ensure that all are able to participate, walls or sturdy fencing can house half boxes of shelving ranging from 500mm to 700mm for good access. Hanging baskets can be put onto a pulley system to allow access for work.
Watering facilities, tools and sheds.
All of these need to be accessable. Watering cans will not be able to be lifted or carried so frequent tap points will need to be incorporated if clients are to assist in this.
The use of appropriate tools will depend on the clients involved. Tools with larger grips, light weight, long handled, fore-arm attached can all be found at various websites ie Nottingham Rehab
, North Coast Medical
and the Disabled Living Foundation
are just some examples but there are many other outfits across the EU.
SHADE vs LIGHT
This is a consideration if patients of mental impairment, perceptual or visual difficulties are using the garden.
Protection from the sun and wind is important all year round but particular care to give adequate shade or dappled shade in working and rest areas as certain medications will mean a greater sensitivity to sunlight – for example Largactil (thorazine) and Melarill (thiorizidine).
Avoid dark shadowing areas as people with Alzheimers or dementia can mistake it for negative events.
Too much light reflection or dark areas are not helpful to older people who can have problems with their sight, a number of degenerative eye conditions are common in old age.
D & E
Both these elements of consideration are what determines the good designer or practitioner with regards the final design and construction. The amount of plants suitable is an almost inexhaustible list, but will often stray away from the fashionable and architectural plants. With regards the additional resources that could create added access value and user value to the garden there is a real need to utilise the space to the maximum availability. Any planting too wide for access, any structures created which cannot be touched, any barriers at all will have much more effect to a person who will be viewing the garden in terms of accessibility as well as visual aesthetic.
For further reading:
Lindsay Dinan Howard