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
Central coherence, executive functioning

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

In the theme of this recommendation the wide array of experiences with stairs and corridors is summarized as: Most ‘neurotypicals’ use stairs and corridors thoughtlessly, but most people on the spectrum cannot. They notice their dimensions, materials, the lighting and the sounds much stronger and experience these more readily as oppressive, painful or disquieting. Moreover, stairs and corridors are where they get lost, where they get in touch – bodily or otherwise – with others and where a number of their senses – including the sense of equilibrium – are put to the test.
From this follows a multitude of issues which should ideally be taken into account when building stairs and corridors. (We assume a home is built for someone on the autism spectrum. If not these points may be taken into consideration when choosing a residence.)

When comparing earlier and later recommendations with the problems mentioned above, we arrive at this impression: advocating generous space standards (recommendation 61) addresses negative experiences with dimensions, overstimulation, disorientation and unwanted contact. Recommendation 63 is more specifically aimed at disorientation and seeks to prevent confusion about ones’ body in space. Staircase noise is dealt with in Recommendation 73 and lighting in 158.

Of the problems mentioned, some are still under- or unaddressed: spatial characteristics which may be oppressive or disquieting even when space and clarity exist. Additionally the applied materials, and sensory problems not already mentioned, balance in particular.

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 (future) resident.
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 general building regulations. Steps can be made substantially more user-friendly and safe by designing steps which are wider, lower and deeper than usual. (See for instance Doug Walter.)


Doug Walter

On his website (accessed in June 2016) he gives a number of tips and subtle insights for safer staircases.