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Handles, Switches and Controls

Imagine a world where anything could be redesigned so that it requires little or no effort to use.

Your socks would be rigid to slip into them and then soften to conform to your feet. Who needs keys? Just talk to the mechanism and it will recognize your voice even if you have a cold or aren’t wearing your teeth.

In fact, there are ways to minimize effort in many common elements of a building. Design options like the height of things, the distance travelled to access items, control options, and storing materials where they can be easily seen and reached are all considerations

Designing for minimal effort is an important principle of inclusive design because everyone benefits from it.

Planning for efficiency considers the location and relationship of each major element within a given space. Generally, things that are similar or related belong in the same location and where they can be easily seen and reached.

In the kitchen, for example, emptying the dishwasher is easier if the dishes and glasses are stored nearby. Baking is easier if baking supplies are close to a work surface and the oven.

Flexibility and efficiency of storage options can be achieved by ensuring they are planned at a variety of heights.

Handles, pulls and knobs

The type of handles, pulls and knobs that are used on doors, cabinets or anything else that must be pulled to open for access can be a help or a hindrance.

Any function that requires two hands to achieve may be a barrier.

Sometimes, the issue on difficult doors and cabinets is a badly-functioning hinge or swollen wood that causes a door to stick. In either case, it’s a problem that should be addressed.

The type of handles and pulls that are easiest for anyone to use will allow a hand to “scoop” the pull, making it easier to open without having to grasp it. These are sometimes referred to as “D-type” handles and there are probably thousands of styles and finishes available.

Any opening device that requires even the slightest amount of human strength to operate should be considered for change.

For that reason, round doorknobs, that require a “grab and turn” motion should be replaced with lever-style passage sets which require little exertion to operate.

Controls and Switches

Any controls or switches that are used routinely should be installed no higher than 47-inches (120 cm) from the floor

Switches and controls should be easy to operate. Any control that requires the use of two different motions to operate will be difficult for anyone with the use of only one hand; a wheelchair-user, a person carrying a baby, using a cane for support, or a person who has only one arm. Here’s something you probably don’t do everyday: Think about all the switches and buttons you come across at home, in a typical day.

There are light switches, of course, and duplex receptacles (electric outlets). There’s the doorbell or intercom or perhaps an elevator button.

Every sink has a faucet to control the water and a drain to discard it. The toilet has a flush control and you might have a button to activate the exhaust fan. Ceiling fans generally have remote controls, as does the television and other electronic devices.

Both the landline and the cellphone have buttons to push. In the kitchen, every appliance, from the refrigerator to the toaster, has a multitude of buttons, switches and dials and some have them both inside and out.

The heating and cooling system has an operating pad that is likely operated by press-button. The washer and dryer, garage door, the hairdryer and beard trimmer all have switches and controls that must be manipulated to activate them.

And there are many, many more when you go looking.

Now, think about the switches and controls that you don’t have, but wish you did. Motion sensor lights that go on right before you enter a room and off shortly after exiting? A hands-free soap dispenser or a “touch” faucet?

Now, dig deep in your imagination and think about those switches and controls that would be great to have, but that are unlikely to ever be a part of your home. An elevator that takes you to your new roof deck? A remote control that operates the escalator to the upper floor? A refrigerator control pad that creates a grocery list for you based on what it detects missing from the fridge? A machine that folds the laundry after the dryer has done its job?

The fact is, each of the previous four products exist. It’s now up to the manufacturers to convince you that you can’t live without them.

But the real point of this exercise is to draw attention to the importance of the switches and controls that we use every day and, frankly, take for granted.

Now, finally, imagine for a moment that grasping and moving the toggle of the light switch, pushing the plunger on the soap dispenser, or accurately adjusting the dial on the thermostat control pad was virtually impossible because of a physical limitation.

Think about how much easier it would be if you just had to put a little pressure on the light switch to turn it on or off, or better, that it automatically turned on when you entered the area. Think about how convenient it would be if an electronic eye activated the soap dispenser simply by placing your hands near the light control beam. And how great it would be if you just had to tell your thermostat to lower or raise the heat by a number of degrees.

Each of these examples are products that are readily available on the market and for no greater cost than any quality product.

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