Tall tables and booths on platforms get a rating of… #fail.

So a man in a wheelchair, his wife, and a group of business people walk into a bar…

No wait – well how about a local Jimmy John’s, but it might as well have been a bar… you see because ALL (well, most of) the tables were tall, just like you’d see in a bar.

See, the man in a wheelchair and his wife were here to hang out with the group of business people, but they couldn’t because all the seating for large groups looked like this.

tall table

Yeah yeah so the person in a wheelchair can sit at the low tables/booths you say?

True – but the low tables for four people do not work if you’re here to hang out with a group.

Tall tables though, yeah – they seem pretty cool in theory, so why not do the same for booths???

booths up on a platform in a restaurant


This is not functional. Try feeding a baby in a high chair sitting at this booth. Try sitting in a wheelchair at this booth and not have a surface to set your food and drink that’s in a reachable spot. What’s the purpose of putting all these tables up on a platform?

This is a pet peeve of mine, but one that’s important to note. I’m not the only one that has an issue with these tables on platforms. My mom even had an incident with a friend who tripped and fell on the ground getting out of a booth like this because she forgot it was up a step and it was really dark in the restaurant (click here for the full story).

Universal design is important in restaurant design too. Design the space for a variety of people so they can sit wherever they want! Plain and simple.

Maybe next time we’ll get to meet the group of people we went to have lunch with!

Universal design doesn’t use ramps, but they are common for accessibility.

We are working on a new resource that highlights how important it is for people to understand how others function when building or designing things, specifically in various parts of a building. We’re hoping to finalize the resource in a few months, but I wanted to discuss a few things about ramps.

Please recognize that when we say that “universal design doesn’t use ramps,” we’re speaking to the nature of ramps typically being disability-specific, often alongside a set of stairs. Universal design is about design that functions well for as many people as possible, regardless of one’s ability level, without being disability-specific, and thus segregating. In other words, universal design promotes ease of use for everyone. Continue reading “Universal design doesn’t use ramps, but they are common for accessibility.”

Our Top 10 Most Viewed Blog Posts in 2012

So we’re not out of January yet and I still know some people are taking down their Christmas decorations so I figured it wasn’t too late to do a Top 10 List of our most viewed blog posts! Continue reading “Our Top 10 Most Viewed Blog Posts in 2012”

Practical experience on why universal design is needed in restaurants.


I received a phone call the other night from Janice Coffey, and her story related so well to our business that I wanted you to hear the experience in her own words. No shameless plugs here, but she did think of us directly so I thought you’d like to hear the story!

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On Monday, November 12, 2012 a couple of friends invited me to go out to enjoy dinner with them at a local steak house restaurant. (Just to mention, my friends and I are in our late fifty- years- YOUNG age group!)

A little background… let’s step back a few months.

I would also like to mention, that in August, I had brain surgery to remove a tumor. Due to post-operative problems (some double vision, numbness on the left side of my head, seizure medicine), I am currently not allowed to return to work or drive for a few months. Also, since I have trouble seeing clearly because of the double vision, especially when I look down to walk, at times, I need to hold on to someone’s arm to make sure I do not stumble or fall.

Now back to the story…

I am not allowed to drive at the present time because of the surgery, so one of my friends happily volunteered to pick me up, and we headed down the road to pick up our other friend so all of us could enjoy an evening out together.

Once we arrived, one of my friends asked the hostess, who kindly greeted us as we entered the restaurant, if we could be seated in a quiet area near the bar so we could talk and catch up on things. The hostess was very accommodating and suggested that we sit in the back corner in the bar area. My friends and I agreed, that was a quiet place to visit with each other, and that would be fine.

As we approached our table, I noticed two of the chairs on the floor in front of the table were tall chairs and you had to step up on a step on the other side of the table to sit on a padded bench. Plus the lights were dim to create a “cozy” atmosphere.

One of my friends decided to sit on one of the tall chairs, and the other friend decided to sit in the booth instead. She felt she would have trouble getting on and off the chair due to arthritis problems in her lower back. I too decided not to sit on the tall chair because of my double vision problems. I was afraid it could prevent me from seeing clearly to get on the chair and I may have trouble getting my footing and balance to reach the floor when we were ready to leave the restaurant. So I decided to sit on the padded bench on the other side of the table. I sat near the wall after a bit of help up the step, and my friend with arthritis sat beside me.

After enjoying our meal and a wonderful time together, we decided it was time to leave. When my friend, who was sitting on the end of the padded bench next to me, got off the padded bench first to leave, she did not notice the step and lost her footing and fell on the floor on her backside. As she was falling, she tried to grab the table to stop her fall, and in the process, knocked over her water glass and spilled water on the table, on the step, and spilled water on me as I was making a move to exit the table as well. Our waiter rushed over to help, and our other friend also helped to get our friend up off the floor as quickly as possible. A “female employee”, I presumed, (possibly one of the managers), also came over to see if our friend was “all right”.

After my friend was helped and was able to stand up, I noticed the” female employee” repeatedly asking my friend, “Are you all right?” My friend answered, “Yes”. However, my friend that fell was more concerned about me getting out of the booth without falling; not only because of my vision problems, but also because of the step and there was spilled water on the step and on the floor as well.

As I was helped out of the padded bench by my other friend, I noticed the reason my friend fell was probably because she did not see the step right away, due to the fact that the step was dark brown; and, that there was not anything on the edge of the step to warn her that it was there and to be careful (like a yellow strip or yellow paint).

My friend that fell did say to our waiter that she was more concerned about me being safe because I recently had brain surgery and she wanted to make sure I didn’t fall. I also thought if I had been sitting where she had been sitting, and I had exited the bench first and did not see the step and had fallen, I could have fallen on my head, which could have been very serious. I mentioned to our waiter and the “female employee” that they need to put yellow paint or a yellow strip on the step to draw attention that there is a step there! Then we left the restaurant and walked out into the parking lot there weren’t lots of lights for safety out there either!

It was also at that time that I immediately thought of the business, Universal Design Partners. They help businesses and other establishments make their environment safer and more comfortable for anyone. They are very helpful and professional, and would be great in advising this restaurant on how to correct this situation, and any other safety issues. They would even see other ways to make improvements to the restaurant to make it more comfortable for any individual no matter what their age, or medical/physical problems a person may have.

Even though we enjoyed the evening so much, it was a lesson to my two friends and me to always be aware of your surroundings no matter where you go to make sure you are safe and secure at all times.

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A few more thoughts about Janice’s story. Two out of the three ladies had something going on with their body that was “invisible” and not seen by the waitress. Had they walked in with a walker or been pushing a wheelchair they might not have been seated at a table with tall chairs and a step to get into the booth. Well, we hope not. Yet, they were seated in this area. Even more reason for restaurants and other places in the community to rethink the way they design their spaces and incorporate universal design into the mix. Here’s another post we wrote about restaurants.  Yes, putting a yellow strip would help people notice the step is there if tall tables/chairs remain in the restaurant, but many individuals just are uncomfortable or unable to safely use these tables, young and old.

At Universal Design Partners, we like to look at things in a way where the space can be flexible and safe to use by a variety of users, no matter their level of ability. Low tables and chairs at this restaurant would accommodate more people and be safer for the majority.

Thanks so much to Janice Coffey for sharing her experience!

Photo Credit: (danielhedrick)


Calling ALL PARENTS! We need your input!

I’m writing a few things for something new we’re working on, and wanted to ask those of you who are experienced in raising kids a few questions.

1. What about restaurants makes it easy to eat out with kids, and what makes going out to eat with one or multiple kids super frustrating? What would you change to make things better? 

2. What issues do you have with public bathrooms in regards to the toilets, stalls, changing tables, and sinks?

We’d love to know your thoughts! Please leave a comment in the section below!



How to universally design your parking lot & building entrance so it’s not an obstacle course.

door with step to get insideMy husband will not even think twice about going to an establishment by himself if it looks like the ramp is too steep or if there are steps to enter. If a parking space is on a hill, there is a greater chance for his wheelchair to roll away and it makes the transfer in and out of the car more difficult. He will park in a non-accessible spot at the far end of a parking lot to make sure he can get in and out of the vehicle safely. More businesses need to understand the impact their parking areas and storefronts have on potential customers. This doesn’t just impact people in wheelchairs. It impacts parents with small children and those pushing strollers, it also makes a difference for individuals that have trouble climbing stairs or get tired easily. Making something accessible and useable for a wide variety of people is what universal design accomplishes.

Parking lots should be flat as a pancake.

  • Parking spots are best negotiable if they are flat. Putting accessible parking spots on a slope, even a slight one, makes it difficult for individuals to get in and out of their car safely.
  • Remember… strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, shopping carts, and anything with wheels will roll on a slope. You know you’ve at least seen one run away shopping cart in the parking lot at some point in time, cringing before it rams itself into the side of a car.
  • Think your parking lot is okay? It might not be. Grab an office chair with wheels or borrow a wheelchair and seebuilding inspector's parking lot how it rolls in one direction or another in your parking lot.
  • This is an example of a parking lot that is not flat. See where the accessible spaces are? When it rains all the water is pooling right in the access aisle which is the route to get to the sidewalk. Scott recently wrote a post about our transportation infrastructure.
  • You may need to consider changing the location of your “accessible” parking to a different place in your lot to make sure those spaces are on a flat surface.
  • A more expensive option may be to resurface and change the grade of your parking lot. Sometimes starting from scratch is easier than trying to make what you have work.
  • Parking lots are also easily manageable if the surface is smooth. Gravel and cobblestones are hard to maneuver through if someone has issues with their balance, or uses a device to get around.

Create a space outside to help people get into your building with ease.

  • Build up the landscape around the building to create an easy sloped sidewalk to enter a door that originally had stairs to enter. This makes the entrance look classy and less “institutional”, plus more welcoming for a wider variety of people.
  • If building up the landscape to your entrance is not possible due to the location of your building, creating a not so steep ramp using concrete, or wood, allows more individuals to get into your building without climbing stairs. Integrate it into the look of your building so it doesn’t look like an add on, but part of the existing structure.
  • If a ramp or gradually sloping surface is needed to reach the doorway, provide a wide platform at the base of the doorway. This platform should be wider than the doorway at flat. This is helpful so individuals do not have to stand or sit on a slope while trying to open a door at the same time. A flat surface creates a safe place for individuals to concentrate on opening the door without trying to keep their balance on a sloped surface.

Clear outside pathways of any obstacles.

pathway blocked with tables to get inside building

  • We recently did a post about this same issue. Outside sidewalks often have decorative items and/or informational signs to attract individuals inside. Outside tables and chairs are also placed outside cafes and coffee shops. Sometimes where these items are placed, blocks the route into the building. Often times we have to move outdoor advertisements (specials listed on easel like chalk boards), wet floor signs, or even potted plants/decorations to get through the walkway because it is blocked.
  • Don’t forget about snow! Shoveling the walk on all pathways to your building allows more people to enter in inclimate weather.

Deal with doorway dilemmas

  • Widen doorways to accommodate a variety of wheelchairs, body types, and strollers. At least 32” would be great, but 36” would be even better.
  • Reduce the threshold to get into the building by installing a threshold ramp to bridge the gap between the floor and the top of the threshold. If you are unable to roll a marble over the threshold it is probably too tall. The height shouldn’t be greater than 1/4″.
  • Use offset hinges to widen doorways a few inches if money is tight and you are unable to do construction on the doorway.
  • Swap out door knobs for lever handles or bars/handles that do not require pinching, twisting or gripping.
  • Keep the door as light as possible by releasing the tension on doors. The general rule is that it should only require someone about 5lbs of pressure to open a door.
  • Automatic doors eliminate the above issues, but can be more expensive.

All in all these are some things we’ve run into that could use a little change in our communities. What else would you suggest?

(Photo Credit: The U.S. Army)