I once worked at a building where, oddly, the handicapped parking spaces were not in the row closest to the building, but rather in a long strip perpendicular to the building (simplified picture below). The row closest to the building was partly visitor parking spaces, and partly open spaces.
As an employee I didn’t give it much thought, and frankly, I was happy on the rare occasions that I got one of the coveted spots close to the door.
That was, until the day my father and I attended a Saturday seminar at the building. My father is in his 80s and walks with a cane. Getting around is slow and physically taxing for him. He had his handicap placard, and we looked for a handicap parking place. But there were no close places, and in fact some of the non-handicap places, although not close, were still actually closer than some handicap spaces!
Seeing the experience through my father’s eyes put a whole new spin on it.
I tried to imagine the reasoning of the people who designed the parking lot. Did they justify their choices because handicap spaces near a building’s entrance are often empty? Did they think the handicap places were “close enough”? One thing was clear to me: I doubt they had ever accompanied a handicapped person as they tried to find a close parking place on a busy day.
I came away with some much needed-reminders:
- Test designs with differently-abled users, and strive for win-win design.
- Frequency of use is not synonymous with importance. Even if my father only needed that parking place for a few hours on a Saturday morning, that need was very important for him.
- We can’t excuse ourselves in failing to address accessibility.
- Shortcuts and assumptions compromise user experience.There’s no substitute for understanding one’s users, and that understanding means putting ourselves in their place.