On the Menu: Burgers, Fries, Shakes and Universal Design

The entrance to a small fast food business, with a sign over the door saying BURGERS

The concept of universal design aims to provide products, services and buildings that can be used by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

‘Universal design’, also referred to as ‘inclusive design’, ensures ‘things’ are easy to use and do not need any special requirement or modification to be usable by everyone, including those older people or those with a disability of some type.

Chances are you have experienced ‘universal design’ without even knowing… You remember when you used a ‘thing’ and thought, “wow, that was easy” – that’s universal design.

Automatic doors, lever type door handles, large light switches, sensor taps, ramps and lifts, padded seating with armrests and backrests are all examples of universal design in the built environment.

Booth seating, bar stools, hard uncomfortable chairs, high counters, overcrowded eating areas with too many chairs and tables, a lack of accessible sanitary facilities, loud music, confusing layouts, cluttered signage, flashing/changing digital menu displays, poor lighting and disengaged staff are all examples of ‘exclusive design’ (the evil and anti-universal design concept…).

Universal design goes beyond accessibility of the built environment and can extend into the delivery of services, including at your local burger joint.

Good customer service, along with considering universal design principles might actually increase clientele and tap into the ‘disability dollar’. In 2013 it was estimated that Australians with disability have a combined disposable income of $54 million per annum. More than enough for a few burgers, fries and shakes each year.

Burger and chips on a plate

Providing good access into the shop, with suitable lighting, the use of non-reflective surfaces, ease of access to service counters and the availability of an accessible toilet are all positive steps towards a universally designed cafe/burger joint.

Having clear signage, with large text in title case (not in block capitals), in a non-confusing font, and with a high-level of visual contrast between the lettering and the background – that’s universal design.

Complementing overhead menus with printed menus that can be handed out to customers – universal design again. Providing pictures alongside each item helps those people with communicative difficulties and those that do not speak English to point to their desired meal.

Numbering each menu item can help too, as it is much easier to say, “I’d like number 4 please“, than “I’d like The Triple Coronary Bypass AKA The Super Stack” (trust me, that’s a real thing).

Having a notebook and pen on standby will also be a backup for staff to pass to customers in some cases. If you really want to go all the way and provide for everyone, have some menus printed in braille text.

The availability of alternate methods of ordering food can help too, with a phone app or website to order in-house, through the drive-through or for home delivery.

It is no surprise that communication, or the lack thereof, can be a big barrier in busy and noisy shops. In some cases, it might be driving some customers away. Try to keep the noise down over customer service counters so people can hear. Not everyone has perfect hearing and background noise and reverberation will make it difficult for some people to communicate with staff. The installation of a counter induction loop system at the service counter is surprisingly not that expensive and will allow people using a hearing aid or cochlear implant to hear much better.

Payments should also be available in a range of options and for those businesses accepting cash only – you’re limiting the options for those people who prefer to swipe a credit card rather than have to produce cold hard cash, which might be difficult for some people. They might just go up the road to the next burger joint accepting a no-minimum charge, tap and go payment.

Burgers sign over a doorway

Awareness of the needs of everyone in society, all being potential customers, is important for all staff. All staff with responsibilities for dealing with members of the public should have a good understanding of disability awareness and the broader community.

Staff should do their jobs in a non-discriminatory way and effectively, patiently and respectfully communicate with older people and those with a disability. They should speak directly to the customer even when they have an assistant or carer. They should not look away, cover their mouth or speak down into a bain-marie for example. Many people rely on visual cues and lip-reading to either understand the spoken words from staff or use these cues to supplement what they are hearing.

In terms of the items on offer on the menu, please provide a range of options for people with dietary requirements. Universal design and vegan/gluten-free options go hand in hand, and without the need for any special requirement or modification (being a principle of universal design). Plus there won’t be all the fuss when ordering “the Triple Coronary Bypass AKA The Super Stack, but can you hold the cheese please and take out the burgers and replace them with vegetables” (I can say this as the vegetarian often having to ask discretely for a special dish at some eateries). A simple little legend on the menu with symbols identifying gluten-free and plant-based options will be well received by many people (including the 375 million vegetarians worldwide (as at 2014)).

Lastly, if you are the owner of a burger, fries and shakes joint and have trained staff in disability awareness and universal design concepts, or employed people with disability, have taken steps to make your establishment more accessible, non-discriminatory and enjoyable for everyone – then boast about it:

  • Tell people.
  • Display stickers on entrances, such as “Assistance Animals Welcome”, “Seniors Card Welcome” etc.
  • Sponsor a local charity.
  • Put it on your website.
  • Post about it on social media.

You might just be surprised at how your business improves.

Please contact Access Central if you have any questions about this post.

The AFFECTED PART: Do Not Lease a Commercial Tenancy Without Reading This!

Man looking at camera with finger pointed out.

A Costly Mistake

As an access consultant with many years experience, I have lost count of the amount of small businesses who have leased a commercial space, only to find they are forced to undertake extensive and costly building upgrades.

This not only causes a lot of stress for a small business owner, but may potentially see their fit-out budget go through the roof after seeing quotes from builders for upgrades.

In particular, this has been a very common issue for tenants of shops along strip shopping precincts, which historically all had stepped entrances and narrow or recessed doorways.

A gentlemen pushing a lady in a wheelchair past a shop that has two steps and a sign in the window saying NO DOGS

In this post, I share two key things a small business owner really needs to consider before signing any lease:

  1. Building and disability legislation may require you to remove existing stepped entrances into shops and provide new ramp access and possibly a new doorway; and
  2. If you change the use of the tenancy space then building legislation may require you to upgrade existing toilets, corridors, doors and parking spaces and a passenger lift may be required between levels of a building.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires that equitable access into premises is available. In 2011, the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 or Premises Standards for short was introduced, which outlined prescriptive requirements for new building works with the Standards (detailed in Schedule 1 – Access Code). At that time, these prescriptive requirements were also mirrored into the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Therefore, any new work you are undertaking in an existing building/tenancy under a building approval (construction certificate/building permit etc., depending on what State or Territory you are in) must comply with the Access Code and BCA.

The Premises Standards refers to this new work as the ‘new part’ of the building. The new part must comply. So if you are planning on making changes to the entrance door, this would then form part of the new part and require some thought to how you will deal with the step and provide access for wheelchair users.

However, if you’re fitting out an area that might be considered inappropriate for access for people with disability, then there might be an opportunity for an exemption under Clause D3.4. You can read this post to understand more about Clause D3.4: Commercial Kitchens and BCA / Premises Standards Clause D3.4

More significantly though, which is the cause of much stress for many startups, is the concept of the ‘affected part’. The affected part may be triggered for upgrade in any existing building.

The affected part is defined as the pathway from the new part building works to and including the existing principal pedestrian entrance, and this is generally seen to include any ramps, stairs and step structurally attached to the entrance and forming part of the entrance arrangement.

So if the work is being planned for a small private dining room at the back of a restaurant for example, the affected part would be the pathway from the door into the private dining room back to the existing entrance into the restaurant. Any steps, narrow corridors or doors within this affected part would also technically need to be upgraded too (unless they are managed through the use of a Performance Solution). This may result in the need for some structural work to the entrance doorway, or even automation of the door to offset any reduced circulation spaces around the door.

The Premises Standards does include a concession for some scenarios. This is referred to as the Lessee Concession and would be applicable where the tenant is leasing the tenancy/building, the tenant is planning the works and is making the application for the building approval and the tenancy space is within a building with at least one other tenant.

An example would be a small juice bar or cafe on the ground floor of  a three-storey office building. The Lessee Concession allows the tenant to complete the new part works without upgrading the affected part.

Garden cafe building with extensive glass windows.jpeg

Lastly, if you change the use of the tenancy space then building legislation may require you to upgrade existing toilets, corridors, doors , parking spaces and a passenger lift may be required between levels of a building. This is certainly the case in Victoria and some other States, where you might need to provide a new accessible toilet, ambulant toilets, new accessible car parking space or even a passenger lift between levels in some cases.

The solution is do your homework before signing a lease.

Discuss your planned use and works with a building surveyor/certifier and an accredited access consultant to help identify any project risks (i.e. time delays, cost blowouts and your own health).

Please contact Access Central if you have any questions.

DeafSpace Architecture Moves into the Mainstream

Business man standing in front of a whiteboard looking at two people

The Deaf community live in a world designed for people who can hear, but a new design movement challenges how buildings should be built, where sensory experiences and interaction with the fabric of the building takes precedence.

Unique situations can necessitate a rethink of accepted beliefs and processes. The Gallaudet University is one such case where accepted design concepts have been questioned. In fact, the university challenged the principles of architecture in terms of how deaf people communicate within space and have since developed a new understanding of how a person’s sensory experience can be enhanced within the built environment.

Founded in 1864, the Gallaudet University is located in Washington, DC, USA. It is the only liberal arts educational institution totally tailored to deaf and hard of hearing students in the USA, with a school motto that says “there is no other place like this in the world“. This is certainly the case, not just for the unique learning environment that has been created, but for the design concepts that have developed from this environment.

Whilst students include those that are profoundly deaf, they also include those that have various levels of reduced hearing or hearing loss and those who may have cochlear implants or hearing aids. The form of communication used across the campus is primarily American Sign Language.

Researchers involved in this growing design movement created the DeafSpace Project in 2005. The DeafSpace Project is a partnership between the Department of ASL/Deaf Studies at the University and the campus architect, Hansel Bauman, from hbhm architects.

The DeafSpace Project adopted a new approach that looked at the ways Deaf people use and occupy public space, which can be uniquely different from how those who can hear use the same space. Together they developed best-practice principles which catalogue over one hundred and fifty distinct architectural patterns.

The Project has now been codified into the DeafSpace Design Guidelines that are being used to design new buildings and upgrade existing buildings on Gallaudet’s campus. These principles align very well with the principles of ‘Universal Design’ and like many of these design aspects, they not only benefit the Deaf community, they provide great benefit for everyone.

The DeafSpace Project has also been recognised for their general contribution to accessibility and the universal design movement and won the Gold Award in the Category of ‘Regional Planning’ from the International Association of Universal Design in 2015. It’s obvious that consideration of these Guidelines will extend far beyond the boundaries of the Gallaudet University in the future.

The Guidelines consider five basic design principles:

  1. Space and proximity;
  2. Sensory reach;
  3. Mobility and proximity;
  4. Light and colour; and
  5. Acoustics


Space and proximity: Space is particularly important for people communicating by signing to each other. Therefore, people need to maintain a clear line of sight to each other to read facial expressions and sign language. This means that group spaces, classrooms and lecture rooms are arranged in semi-circles or ‘U’ shapes so that all students and lecturers can see each other. It relies on creating public space environments with good wayfinding and visibility over other areas.

Sensory reach: Awareness of ones’ surroundings is essential for people who are deaf. The fabric of the building can play an important part in how people can sense their environment through other visual or tactile cues. For example, mirrors and reflective surfaces help a person perceive movement within their immediate environment. Transparent or opaque doors and walls help to identify changes in lighting, movement, or shadows outside the confines of a room.

Mobility and proximity: People who communicate by non-verbal means need a wider ‘signing space’. This means pathways need to be wide enough for two people to walk side by side, with sufficient space to sign to each other and enough visual field or distance. If they were to approach a door or other obstacle, the two would move around or through the obstacle together which means someone might be walking backwards or sideways as communication continues. For this reason, the use of stairs is avoided as they require more care and attention, therefore, wide ramps are preferred where there is a change of level. Good design of circulation spaces makes it easier to communicate and safer as people signing can move without being distracted by hazards.

Light and colour: When the built environment has poor lighting it restricts the ability to communicate well. People who sign or lip read need lighting conditions that reduce shadows, visual confusion and glare on surfaces. Colour and lighting are key features of providing an environment for good non-verbal communication, with diffused lighting, contrasting colour schemes and suitable backgrounds that reduce eye strain.

Acoustics: Spaces should be designed to reduce background noise and reverberation. Many people with reduced or residual hearing may use assistive devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to enhance the sound around them. However, these devices will also amplify background noise too which could interfere with the ability to hear, understand, and pay attention. It can also be uncomfortable and lead to great frustration. Therefore, the use of these devices can prove ineffective in environments with a building fabric that allows sounds to echo or reflect off surfaces.


DeafSpace is a great initiative that challenges perceptions and presents being deaf as a positive that can help bring about new perspectives in life. This is certainly the case with the ideas presented in DeafSpace. The application of the DeafSpace principles not only benefits the proportion of society with reduced or no hearing, but can benefit everyone in society throughout all stages of a person’s life – this is true universal design.