Mobility is the ability to move around in the environment. Activities such as walking, getting in and out of vehicles, moving on and off furniture and maintaining balance are affected by loss of mobility. Products and services may be more difficult to access or use for people who have difficulties with balance or who use a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair or walking stick.
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This page highlights factors to consider when designing or assessing products, and provides some useful suggestions, but the advice should be followed within the context of an Inclusive design process.
In order to move around, we require adequate muscle strength, motor control and balance. Mobility includes the ability to sit down and stand up, to balance and to move around in an environment by walking and using steps.
Muscle strength gradually deteriorates with age, while degenerative conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson’s disease further limit joint mobility and muscle control. The arms are also more likely to be employed to compensate for impairment of strength and balance.
Many people use mobility aids. Walking aids, such as crutches and walking frames, allow the arms to help with balance and weight support. This improves walking speed and stamina for those with limited strength and mobility. A wheelchair can assist those whose capability is further impaired.
Temporary loss of mobility can occur due to issues such as sprained ankles, knee problems and falls. Longer-term loss of mobility may be caused by lower limb amputation, immobilisation or a stroke. While intense training and assistive devices can help to gradually improve mobility, a return to full function is unlikely.
Reducing the muscle strength and flexibility required to use a product or to move around in an environment helps to include those with reduced mobility.
Movement affects the use of many products. Some products are specifically intended for use while on the move, e.g. mobile phones, cameras and MP3 players. Others are not, but their operation may involve some movement. For example, using a kettle involves transfering it from countertop to sink, which often involves some walking.
Many people need to hold onto something to maintain balance. Others use mobility aids, which often occupy the users’ hands. Both of these reduce the availability of the hands to hold and operate a product. These issues also apply to people who are carrying shopping or luggage, pushing a buggy or holding a child’s hand.
Using a product while moving is typically more difficult than using one while stationary. Users need some of their attention and concentration for walking and navigating their environment, and have less to spare for using the product. They cannot focus their vision on the product to the same degree as when stationary, and pressing buttons is harder while walking or on moving transport. Products need to be simpler to use, and their interfaces need to be easier to see and manipulate than products intended for use while stationary.
These problems are even greater for people with reduced mobility. Such people need to concentrate harder on walking and balance, and have less attention to spare to focus on products. Trying to use a product at the same time may distract them and cause confusion or a fall.
Important things to consider in design are to:
- Reduce all demands. Reduce attention, vision, dexterity and other demands, because moving around reduces the capabilities that are available for interacting with a product.
- Reduce demands on the hands. Consider whether it is possible to use the product when one or both hands are occupied with a mobility aid (or by carrying items such as shopping). Consider ways of reducing the demands on the hands.
Loss of mobility has a great impact on a person’s ability to use the built environment. Many guidelines are available for making the built environment accessible (see the section on further information). We recommend looking at these guidelines to find out more. Just a few headline suggestions are given here:
- Provide adequate seating. Provide seating at regular intervals in public spaces, such as parks, airports and shopping centres. This helps people with reduced mobility, but can also be useful for those carrying heavy bags or who need to rest.
- Provide handholds. Assist balance by ensuring that something is available to hold on to, especially for any situation involving steps or standing for a long period.
- Provide alternatives to stairs. Provide ramps or other alternatives to stairs to allow wheelchair users and others with limited mobility to access the environment. This will also benefit people with push-chairs, bicycles or suitcases on wheels.
- Consider door design carefully. Doors that open outwards automatically can knock over people who are blind or have limited mobility, while doors that need to be held open can be difficult to manage with a mobility aid or while pushing a buggy.
- Consider mobility aids. Consider the use of mobility aids such as walkers, wheelchairs and scooters when setting the dimensions of doorways and passages. Allowing enough space for these can also be beneficial to other users, such as those with luggage.
- Use tactile paving carefully. This is a textured surface often used on footpaths, stairs and platforms to assist pedestrians who are blind or partially sighted. However, inconsistent use can be confusing. Furthermore, tactile paving can also cause difficulties for people with poor balance or who use certain mobility aids.
Many of the suggestions for the built environment apply to the design of transport. It is also important to consider the difficulties involved in getting on and off transport, and in moving between a standing and sitting position. Being in a moving vehicle presents additional challenges to balance and mobility.
Important things to consider in design are to:
- Consider balance. Be aware of the additional challenges that transport presents to balance and mobility. Providing adequate seating and balance aids is even more important in this setting. Someone who can stand unaided on a stable surface may need to sit down on a moving vehicle.
- Consider entry and exit. Provide ramps, lowered floors and handles to help with getting on and off transport.
- Provide handholds. Provide handles or surfaces so that the arms can be used to assist in transferring the body between different positions (such as sitting and standing).
- Consider wheelchairs. Provide adequate space for a wheelchair to navigate corridors and to be positioned safely on moving transport.
Demands on mobility affect a wide range of design areas, in addition to those mentioned above. In all design, try to be aware of the following issues:
- Reduce the need to stand. Consider whether the product or service requires the user to stand for a length of time. Examples include any service that involves queuing and cash machines or touchscreen kiosks with a lengthy interaction sequence. If so, consider whether this requirement could be reduced, e.g. by providing something to hold on to, changing the product’s position or changing the order in which events take place so that less standing is necessary.
- Consider mobility aids. Be aware of the impact of mobility aids. They can limit reach capabilities, reduce the availability of the hands for interacting with products and services, and may require extra space. For example, someone in a wheelchair may struggle to get close enough to a counter or touchscreen kiosk or to reach the controls on a product.
- Integrate accessibility options. Ensure that options designed to support those with mobility loss (e.g. ramps) are integrated with the overall design aesthetic.
The graph on the right shows the proportion of the British adult population living in private households who would be excluded by tasks with the following levels of mobility demand:
- No demand: No need to see anything
- Walk 50m: Walk 50m without help and without stopping, with aids if needed
- Walk 175m: Walk 175m without help and without stopping, with aids if needed
- Walk 350m: Walk 350m without help and without stopping, with aids if needed
This graph was derived from the Disability Follow-Up to the 1996/97 Family Resources Survey, see the page on Assessing demand and exclusion for details. At the time of the survey, the GB adult population living in private households was 43.3 million.
Statistics on the numbers of people in Great Britain with different levels of mobility can be found by using the Exclusion Calculator at calc.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com.
More information on mobility can be found in:
- Rose J, Gamble JG (1994). Human Walking. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore USA
- Levangie PK, Norkin CC (2011). Joint Structure and Function: A Comprehensive Analysis. F.A. David Company (publisher)
Examining catalogues of mobility aids can provide an insight into the types of aids people are likely to use. For example,
- Better Life Solutions is an online healthcare aids shop with a wide variety of mobility aids.
There are many building accessibility guidelines focusing on mobility. For example: