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Watching Out for Hazards in Parking Lots and Buildings

February 25, 2018

Another Way for week of February 23, 2018

Watching Out for Hazards in Parking Lots and Buildings

We all know about ramps to help make buildings more accessible for those with mobility problems. Architects and building designers have gone to great efforts to make their creations easier to navigate for millions of folks of all ages.

But until recently, no one was even cognizant that building design can be a big deal for those who are not blind, but cope with low vision. It is a problem affecting at least 19 million people in the U.S. and many more millions worldwide with specific medical problems like glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa.

The fact is, more of us are living longer and longer lives (yay) leading to more people having vision problems (boo). Which means we need to plan for and include thoughtful and caring building design as a way to create spaces that are—visually and physically— not a problem for millions.

Are builders, architects, and administrators up to the challenge? At first they may squirm: no huge light-filled, airy atriums at hospitals, universities, and businesses that cost zillions and cause glares that blind some users. Atriums are particularly onerous if the light is not directed with some nifty fixes, so say members of the Low Vision Design Committee of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Two things prompted me to write about this: my own mother’s increasing difficulties with vision in terms of light glare from glaucoma (which is well managed with medical supervision and various prescription drops and medications). My husband and I recently also attended a Lions Club regional meeting where Vijay Gupta, a retired mechanical engineer, has been lighting fires under designers and architects to improve design environments to help people with low vision live independent lives.

We’re not talking about complete blindness here—and we are talking about issues for the over-65 population. As we age, our eyes are less able to respond quickly to changing light conditions so we enter a hall or artistically designed atrium we can be completely blinded as eyes adjust, and suffer confusion and falls if we’re not careful.

Good example of well marked steps at the newly expanded MCC Gift and Thrift Store in Harrisonburg, Va. Most employees, volunteers and many customers are in the above 60 age group and appreciate this great marking.

So simple a thing as crazily patterned carpet on a stairway may make it difficult for some to see the edges of steps—they blur together; marble floors may be pretty to look at but cause glares that confuse or blind. For myself, in the last 3 years, I have fallen twice over stumbling hazards: on cement steps to a third floor balcony where edges were not painted, and once at a new garbage drop-off site (below) that had unpainted concrete parking blocks in the path between vehicles and the garbage chute. I tore some pants and crunched my big toe but it was a wake up call to stay more alert. I also try to focus on lifting my feet—not scuffing along— whenever walking over uneven surfaces. No reading the phone or sending texts!

The parking blocks are well painted now.

Since about 2012, the design committee I mentioned has done diligent work preparing complete guidelines to help designers and builders, called Design Guidelines for the Visual Environment. I won’t go into detail here, but if you’re part of a church, school, business, or medical care facility planning new space, it behooves your group to check it out. The “Design Guidelines for the Visual Environment” to find a free 80-age PDF is found here online.

A few difficulties this guide points to are:

  • Glare from windows and light fixtures
  • Confusing reflections in polished wall and floor surfaces and stairs
  • Optically misleading geometries in floor patterns and stair finishes
  • Inadequate lighting on vertical surfaces, walking surfaces and stairs

In outside space and parking lots, watch out for curbs that pop up from nowhere, drains, and unmarked balusters. I drove into a grocery store parking lot recently that had red curbs blazing everywhere and I thought, wow, can’t miss those and wondered if there had been a recent unfortunate event there.

Ultimately if all of us paid more attention to where we are going (if sighted) and work to see that hazards are removed or well identified, we will reduce falls for everyone. Accidents happen but awareness and better building design can reduce the risk for us all.


Bad fall? Or was it mainly embarrassing? One where you should have known better but weren’t paying full attention? Or, perhaps, it was life changing, and not it in a good way.
Too many older people end up dying from all kinds of household falls.


Or air your gripe about a local building, parking lot, staircase, atrium–you name it–that is difficult to navigate safely!

Share your stories and take aways so we can all learn from each other! 

Comment here or send to or Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22850.


See here for more about the National Institute of Building Sciences, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Another Way is a column © by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication. 

  1. No gripe here. But moving from a tri-level to a one-floor living space over a year ago, I missed the one step down from laundry room into the garage. My back suffered wash-board-like bruises, but no broken bones, thank God!

    I put blue painters’ tape at the accident site. Lesson learned!

  2. Sorry to hear about mishap, ouch! Putting blue painter’s tape to work that way was an excellent idea inside the home.

    When we started looking for a floor plan for our home-to-be 10 1/2 years ago, the builder took us to one he’d finished–with a sunken living room. We scrapped the change in levels but otherwise kept most of the plan; one of the wiser things we’ve done and could immediately agree on! Thanks for sharing, Marian.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    I last fell about 4 years ago at work. Pretty much stepped crooked, my ankle flipped and I fell. It was onto carpet and just banged up my left wrist. They did not see fracture at first, so was called back for a splint the next day. Unfortunately a CD jewel case was in that hand and it dug into my palm so I think they were paying more attention to that and sewing up the laceration.

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