Stairs convert to a ramp on demand

Accessible design is a lot more than just a building trend: it’s a necessity. Making sure that everyone can access spaces regardless of their physical abilities is just a no-brainer. Proponents of “universal design,” as it’s called, are calling for architects, urban planners, builders and interior designers to adhere to a set of seven principles that could help make accessibility a reality, including eliminating unnecessary complexities and making sure the design can be used efficiently with minimal physical effort.

Building brand-new interiors or spaces that work for people of all abilities, like a modular kitchen that accommodates wheelchairs, is a lot easier than retrofitting a space, like adding elevators to homes with stairs. One concept by designer Chan Wen Jie hits on an interesting solution to the problem of stairs in older buildings, though it’s not exactly perfect.

Convertible stairs make use of a simple mechanism

The idea is quite brilliant: an add-on that converts stairs to a ramp reduces the amount of space that needs to be dedicated to either function, letting the same footprint serve both needs. There’s no need to demolish the existing stairs or segregate disabled users with a separate entrance.

In theory, a switch flips from ramp to step mode and back, allowing someone in a wheelchair to change it as needed. In practice, we see the first problem: if the ramp is kick-activated, it is not exactly wheelchair-friendly.

Ramp appears on demand when activated

The larger issue, though, is one of slope – a typical wheelchair ramp needs to be much shallower than a normal staircase. Still, you could imagine extending the ramp out past the stairs to ease that slope, or evolve the design in different directions. As a starting point, it does raise good design questions, even if it doesn’t present all of the answers. It’s great to see people thinking about accessible design and how it can be incorporated into spaces all around us.