Stairs and corridors: finishing touches

Recommendation 64
Additional suggestions for pleasant, quiet, fall-proof and safe stairs and corridors

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (stairs and corridors)

Because of
A large number of autism characteristics

In order to
make stairs and corridors more pleasant, quiet, fall-proof and safe.

The theme of this recommendation explains the wide range of difficulties stairs and corridors can cause for people with autism. In recommendation 62 these are somewhat focused on the school situation. Their dimensions, materials, lighting and noise can be painful and confusing. In schools unwanted (bodily) contact with other students is more taxing, in addition to the pressure of changing classrooms and having to be on time. Both can make the experience of stairs and corridors extra stressful.

For these reasons relatively many recommendations are aimed at stairs and corridors. Advocating generous space standards (recommendation 61) addresses negative experiences with dimensions, overstimulation, disorientation and unwanted contact. The more radical solution is to try and avoid stairs and corridors if one can: recommendation 62. Recommendation 65 is more specifically aimed at disorientation and seeks to prevent confusion about ones’ body in space. Staircase noise is dealt with in Recommendation 73.

Some additional recommendations can be made under the heading of ‘finishing touches’. Even when the dimensions and the clarity are satisfactory, stairs or corridors may still feel oppressive or eerie because of other spatial characteristics which McAllister & Maguire have dubbed ‘volumetric expression’. (See the theme of this recommendation.) In each case one should consider whether stairs/corridors have characteristics which may be particularly disquieting to the autistic student.
As for the materials: overstimulation may easily occur when the walls of stairwells or corridors are decorated in a too colorful or loud manner.
Furthermore, walls of stairwells or corridors are better not be plastered too coarsely in order to prevent extra risks when falling or bumping against them. This risk is greater in case of problems of balance and/or motor awkwardness.
Around corridors a case is to be made both for rounded edges and for sharp ones. The former are more pleasant, less easily soiled or damaged and less hard. Sharp edges on the other hand stand out better visually, aiding orientation. This is one of the dilemma’s one encounters in autism-friendly design for which there are no ready solutions.
Problems of balance on stairs, will often inspire arguments for going beyond the minimum standards of school building regulations. Steps can be made substantially more user-friendly and safe by designing steps which are wider, lower and deeper than usual.