South African universities are mid-cities of their own as they encompass a diverse community from students, faculty members’ contracts, and staff travelling in and out, day and night.
These universities do attempt to strive for an inclusive culture such that all individuals are catered for. However, in the case of an emergency, impaired individuals within the university space are often vulnerable and in rare situations neglected.
Multi-story buildings such as universities must have a plan in place to support and ensure the safety of the mobility impaired. It is a prerequisite for universities to have a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan for those who might not be able to reach a place of safety in time in the case of an emergency.
Therefore, universities should have different emergency tools in place to ensure the safety of the mobility impaired such that they are not susceptible to danger.
Co-founder and owner of Evac+Chair, Gavin Glass, provides insight on the necessary tools required to accommodate the mobility impaired within university spaces.
Public address and voice alarm systems
This system allows for controlled and safe evacuation as messages can be initiated. The system also provides background music and paging system solutions. This tool is useful for those who do not have a hearing impairment.
However, those with hearing impairment will be unable to respond to auditory cues thus requiring written instructions and sign language, which can also help those who struggle with speech or language. Therefore, it is important that universities have good emergency evacuation floor plans that can assist impaired individuals.
Good emergency evacuation floor plans
Emergency evacuation floor plans are specific to the building thus each university will have its own evacuation plan. This should include an emergency manager who specifically addresses individuals with impairment as he/she will direct whilst coordinating the specific campus-wide responses. The emergency manager can designate primary and alternative Emergency Assembly Points that will help the impaired individuals. However, in instances where the emergency is a fire, alternative exit strategies must take place that ensures safety for all impaired individuals in the university.
“I think having safety officers who understand the necessity to specifically cater to disabled individuals is very important such that they can be safely evacuated,” added Glass
Even though universities have elevators, during an emergency, elevators are prohibited, leaving stairs as the approved route. The use of stairs by individuals unable to traverse stairs for an emergency evacuation can be addressed through the use of an emergency stair travel device such as an evacuation chair.
An ideal one for university settings is one that is easy to use and lightweight with great comfort. Glass highlighted the importance of having effective evacuation plans in place:
“As an individual living with mobility impairment, it is important for every building or workplace to create safe spaces and ensure that they have emergency evacuation plans in place that includes people with disabilities or mobility impaired, as they are the most susceptible,” he said.