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Universal design on the high seas!

There was great excitement in Rogaland when a new call for tender went out for high-speed passenger ferries in Ryfylke. One of the key criteria was that the ferries should be universally designed.

However, there were no national or international recommendations for ships carrying less than 400 passengers, so specifications had to be worked out on the job. This was a detailed, comprehensive project that lay the groundwork for the design of the popular catamaran we see today.

A good start

Ivan Fossan, CEO of the shipping company Tide Sjø, talked about the good level of cooperation between themselves, the client Rogaland Kollektivtrafikk FKF, Kolumbus and the shipyard Brødrene Aa in Hyen.

“When the tender contract was signed we built an excellent rapport with the client,” explained Mr Fossan. ”It was important that we worked closely with the yard already during the contracting phase. We held meetings with both the yard and representatives from the client to discuss universal design and ensure that we were all on the same wavelength. The yard has subsequently used its experience from this pioneering work in other projects, which we feel is very positive.”

Listening to users

Kolumbus prepared the design specifications and ensured that organisations such as the Norwegian Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted and the Norwegian Association for the Disabled, who represented different user groups, were consulted. Compromises often had to be made, since the regulations were too general in their nature. However, Ivan Fossan explained that each compromise was individually considered and the resulting solutions always aimed to make things better than before.

Successful design

The high-speed passenger ferries have been in service for four years to date and the results are extremely successful. Passengers find the boats easy to travel on as everything on board is intuitive and almost no one encounters difficulties. Embarkation and disembarkation is done efficiently, saving time for everyone.

The gangways have been redesigned so that people with disabilities can get on and off without assistance. These gangways can be adjusted hydraulically allowing the crew to change the length, height and angle of inclination. They have non-slip surfaces, no steps and no transverse steps. The handrails are positioned at two heights along the entire length for added usability. Not only do these gangways ensure easy access to the ship for wheelchair users and parents with strollers, but also for service trolleys.

Inside the ships, all the colours, patterns and flooring have been selected to make it easier for visually impaired passengers to orient themselves. All lighting points have also been strategically positioned to create natural ambience and atmosphere, or to provide dedicated task lighting. Signage and plans throughout the ship are tactile and provided in 3D for people who navigate using touch.

The ships have induction coils, so all information given on the loudspeaker system can also be heard by passengers using hearing devices. All safety information is also shown on monitors around the ship to reinforce the message. The ship’s position is shown in real time on the monitors in the passenger salon. Prior to docking the name of the port is displayed on the monitors, something which also makes it easier for passengers who do not speak Norwegian. The ships are also equipped with external electronic destination signage. And last but not least, all construction materials and textiles used were selected with regard for people with allergies or hypersensitivity.

All these criteria have been taken on board to become a standard for ships built in this shipyard, including a number now being exported to Sweden.

Visionary thinking

Tom Tvedt is County Mayor in Rogaland. He has been highly involved in universal design for nearly twenty years.

”Universal design is about people with functional disabilities,” says Tom, “But we all have some kind of functional disability in different aspects of our lives.” For example, we might break an arm or a leg, get a sporting injury, fall sick or simply get old. This is why universal design encompasses everyone.”

He goes on to say that when he began this mission there were few architects who had the vision of universal inclusivity but this is now changing.

”The most common argument against universal design is that it is expensive. But this is not the case. If such considerations are not taken at the earliest stages of a build, then you face expensive alterations at a later date. And the costs soon rise. These costs can be avoided if universal design is considered right from the start. At the same time, an inclusive solution will almost certainly give a competitive edge, expand the customer base and make those customers more satisfied, thereby increasing market share and improving results. The customer of tomorrow will demand universal design. This means that public and private companies will increasingly seek such services,” says the mayor enthusiastically.

The best solutions

Ivan Fossan agrees with Tvedt and highlights the fact that expressing the demand for universal design is essential during the planning phase of any project.

“When we all have the same focus on the work to be done and the same shared goals, then all aspects of the process are made easier. And even though universal design can present challenges, it does not cost any more. It is all about getting the design right first time. The most successful universal measures are those that no-one sees. That is, those that are naturally inclusive of all.”

PUBLISHED 14.10.2011 16:40

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