As new night clubs, restaurants and bars pop up around town, with funky wall murals, modern bar stools and high tables, one may be captivated with how the design brings people together and influences the way people interact in the space. The intent of tall tables and bar stools is often to encourage patrons to stand, lean in, perch on a stool, walk around, and mingle. The other reason to include bar style tables and stools is to avoid the perception that the establishment is full, when all the seats are taken, and instead invites more patrons to consume and join in, backed by the idea that "Standing room only" can translate to it being a hot and happening scene!
Unfortunately, sometimes accessibility gets sacrificed when style is the focus and people can overlook the barriers that this stand-and-perch environment creates. Building Codes vary by region, and although most require the inclusion of at least 5% of the tables to be accessible at 28-34 inches high, just imagine the segregation experience of patrons at a small venue sitting at one of the only low tables, when the majority of people are milling about, leaning or standing at their high tables. Further, take notice of height of the service counter at your favorite night spots, as I would suspect few have a wheelchair accessible counter where a patron can order a drink and pay without having to wheel around the side of the bar or have a friend order for them.
The wonderful thing about inclusive design is that barriers can be removed without sacrificing style, intent or feel of the environment. By including a good mix of high and low tables, considerately distributed throughout, with spacious passage areas, patrons can mingle at varying levels without creating high/low, us/them segregation. This provision is, in many cases, easy and inexpensive to meet, also by removing some of the fixed seats/booths (but leaving the tables) and replacing them with seats that can be removed for a customer who uses a wheelchair. This measure also creates aisles wide enough to people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to negotiate.
Using the principles of Universal Design, business owners are beginning to understand the benefits of designing spaces where their patrons cab access their services in the same manner and will hopefully start to include an accessible service counter not only for those who are shorter, or in wheelchairs, but for all to use, without barriers.
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