The Grand Design: Universal Access

It was just last year that the Cayman Islands’ first Mobi-Mat was unveiled at the Seven Mile Public Beach, enabling people of all abilities to access the white sands and turquoise waters for which the country is known. The result of a partnership between Rotary Central and the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, the roll-out beach access pathway was also the first of its kind in the Caribbean. Since the launch of the first Mobi-Mat, a second pathway was installed at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, and the country’s third Mobi-Mat is slated for installation at Coral Beach, a new food and beverage amenity scheduled to open in July at the Camana Bay Beach.

Decco Senior Design Manager James Lunn says connectivity and accessibility are hallmarks of Camana Bay’s master-planned, mixed use design. As one of the first examples of the New Urbanism design movement in the Cayman Islands, Camana Bay encompasses all the amenities necessary to live, work and play, all accessible by foot, bicycle, wheelchair, skateboard, and even Segway.

While the Cayman Islands Building Code establishes the American National Standard for Accessible and Usable Building & Facilities (ANSI A117) as the minimum requirement for new developments, Lunn says the minimum standard is not always enough to ensure a cohesive experience for different users.

“The code might specify a corridor wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, but what about two wheelchair users being able to cross each other? We always try to go above and beyond to ensure the space accommodates all users,” he says.

Many instances of accessible design in Camana Bay are so finely woven into the overall design that the majority of people will hardly notice them.

“Aspects of universal design like no-step entries, avoiding level changes, incorporating ramps throughout the development instead of as an afterthought, providing adequate door thresholds, to name a few, solve access problems in subtle ways,” Lunn says.

When changes in elevation are required, however, as is the case with the Rise at Camana Bay which climbs to approximately 30 feet above sea level, the design team had to ensure the slope was gentle enough to be used in a wheelchair. To accommodate persons with visual impairments, the Rise also includes “rumble strips” to indicate the transition from the slope to the plaza.

“The changes in texture indicate a crossing point,” Lunn explains. “The rumble strips are composed of a material that can be crossed over easily even on wheels but it’s a big enough change in texture that the person will know they are approaching a crossway.”

Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa

In keeping with this philosophy, the development team went to great effort to ensure universal access at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa so that guests of all abilities could enjoy the luxurious appointments and amenities.

Senior Development Manager Nick Dimling, who oversaw the design of the resort, says the team went to great lengths to mindfully weave accessible features throughout the hotel.

“In most hotels, accessible bathrooms feel like an afterthought but the design team took great care in making necessary adjustments to showers and vanities, selecting custom light fixtures to match those in other guestrooms, and thoughtfully locating switches throughout the guestroom, not just checking the box for code,” he says.

The development team did not limit their efforts to the interior of the resort either.

“Where accessibility requirements stop at the building threshold, we went even further throughout the property to ensure disabled persons have equal access to all amenities,” he says, noting that the resort features grading and ramping from the lobby to the beach, a walkway to the beach bar, and access to beach wheelchairs.

Beach access for all

In addition to featuring the country’s third Mobi-Mat, Coral Beach also includes accessible pathways and handmade picnic benches from Her Majesty’s Prison Service that are also suitable for wheelchair users.

In a simultaneous project to enhance the recreational areas at Seven Mile Public Beach, the Decco design team included accessible paths and a new restroom cabana featuring the country’s first adult changing tables. The US$3 million enhancement project was included in the Third Amendment to the National Roads Authority Agreement between the Cayman Islands Government and Dart, and is expected to reach completion by the fourth quarter of this year.

“As designers, everything we do is driven by a passion for design and the positive impact successful design can have on people’s lives,” Lunn says. “Universal design means ensuring our developments are accessible to all people, regardless of ability or age.”

For the Decco design team, the satisfaction comes from seeing people of all ages, abilities and interests using the spaces they envisioned.

“No one sees anything but the built product and they assume the physical space will be what we are most proud of but it’s the community that bring that space to life,” Lunn says. “What makes our jobs meaningful is seeing the positive impact that universal design can have on people’s quality of life.”

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