Publicly open buildings - accessibility requirements - elevators

Today I would like to remind you of the urgent need for accessible emergency call systems in elevators, in particular the obligation to offer visual emergency calls so as not to endanger people with hearing and speech impairments. Current emergency call solutions in most elevators are usually limited to solely acoustic communication, which prevents people with hearing or speech impairments from accessing the control center in an emergency.

This inadequacy not only violates the German General Equal Treatment Act, but also various building regulations and standards. The Basic Law and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are clear with regard to the non-discrimination of people with disabilities. The disability equality laws enshrined in the German federal states reflect these requirements.

They emphasize that accessibility is crucial in all publicly accessible buildings, regardless of the nature of the service. The Model Building Code and DIN 18040-1 indicates that accessible elevators require two-way communication.

Germany follows the EU standards, which state that emergency call systems and voice communication must be both audible and visual. Accessible elevators must comply with the multi-sensory principle, especially for people with hearing or speech impairments who are dependent on visual communication.

Many manufacturers already offer visual emergency call systems that enable communication via touch displays or smartphones. These solutions support multiple languages and ensure that individuals with hearing or speech impairments can also communicate effectively with the outside world in an emergency.

It is obvious that the exclusive use of audible emergency calls is a clear violation of legal requirements and restricts the equal use of the elevator for everybody. The responsibility for the correct implementation and functionality of the emergency call system lies with the manufacturer of the accessible elevator, and non-compliance may result in legal consequences and liability in the event of incidents.

How to avoid additional costs for inclusion

I have been regularly involved with cost issues for over 13 years and have implemented many projects. Most of the consulting and design projects have been for museums, but also in the wider education sector or in architecture and product development. In recent years, the implementation of inclusive goals has gained momentum. As a rule, it succeeds best where diversity is demanded as a matter of course by one decision-maker person in the company or institution with commitment. The reaction of the uninvolved is quite openly or in thought almost always “ well, for these few people we should spend so much money? Who pays the costs for inclusion?“.

I have an answer for that. It’s below, but you have to read the few lines in between to interpret it. I thought about it for a long time and finally found the clue to the problem within the question itself. After all, inclusion is not actually in question because of the cost, but, and this is my analysis, because it is not taken for granted. By „taken for granted,“ I mean something like laying power lines when you build a house. You use it to make sure the building is accessible, in some sense barrier-free, through lighting – especially if you’re going to use it at night. And you use it to operate your assistive devices, such as washing machines and heating, for people whose own energy is not sufficient for all tasks. So without electricity, the people who use the building would be very handicapped.

For the following reasons, among others, Germany is probably also in last place in the EU comparison when it comes to the implementation of the specifications by the EU and the UN. We usually don’t live with our parents or grandparents in the same house and experience every day how exhausting it is to get old once our legs and eyes don’t work anymore. We did not go to the same class with the (10%!) children who were and are sent to „special“ schools simply because of physical characteristics. That’s why we don’t know them and aren’t friends with them. That is why we have not learned to consider that they also are part of us and that it must be indisputable that all people can live as self-determined and cohabited as possible. We have not learned this. We have to make up for it, and we have a lot of catching up to do.

Now to the answer promised above, where does the money come from?
You will find it in the total budget (and not even hidden). Here’s how: When you cost a project, you require all service providers and internal project participants to „think of the power lines for your house up front.“ You will rightly expect this of all professionals in every trade involved in building a house. It’s unthinkable to do otherwise.
Expect it just as naturally that your partners think inclusively and with everyone in mind; that they already set the course in the conception and – if necessary with the involvement of consultants and experts – revise the non-inclusive ideas, because insufficient, once again to find better solutions.
If your calculation exceeds the budget as a result, the budget is set too low or elaborate creative solutions together to make changes to material, scope, size, execution, duration, etc., in order to achieve your goal.
That’s the way it’s always been. In the past, however, it was usually because you didn’t take various things into account (see above). You will all agree that human rights are non-negotiable, but maybe other things are.

And it works! With fantastic and unique results that inspire project participants and users. I know, because I have accompanied some teams in their work to the goal with team meetings, workshops and conception as well as consulting.

Speaker at the Baukulturkongress 2022 - Building Education

Today’s children are tomorrow’s planners, decision-makers and clients. I explain on the podium how to make inclusive thinking a topic in school, for example, via the topic of inclusive planning and building culture. In the audience are architects, teachers, educators. By raising awareness of open and broader thinking at an early age, they can transfer knowledge they have gained themselves to other areas of life and apply it later in their careers.

November 17/18, 2022
Hans Sachs House Gelsenkirchen

Finally a standardized and tactilely and visually understandable symbol for escape routes and emergency exits for tactile plans.

No question, the challenge is immense and so is the responsibility. An internationally understandable symbol was sought that speaks for itself tactilely and also visually. Orientation plans are a shared aid for both sighted and blind people. Particularly in an emergency, information must be grasped quickly. Until now, a sign has been missing from industrial standards and current draft standards. Thus, we have developed a new sign in recent weeks and submitted it to the commission.


Symbol für Fluchtweg Notausgang taktile Pläne
The possible new international optical and tactile symbol for tactile orientation plans in buildings.

It plays a significant role for the speed if symbols are already learned and do not have to be reinterpreted. The symbol for the emergency exit and escape route must indicate a clear direction and it must be possible to distinguish it from the ordinary exit. Even illiterate people and people speaking foreign languages should have no difficulty with this.

Thus, we have used the X for “ exit“, „out“, „away“ as the lowest common denominator, and the large directional arrow on green, which is also known from the visual world. In the application in the plan, the symbol is placed rotated in the direction of escape. The white elements are tactile and the green area is to be printed visually only. The minimum height is 12 mm (green frame)!

One of the most inclusive museums in Germany is being planned

Since the beginning of 2022, I have been consulting on the reconstruction and the conception and implementation of the new permanent exhibition with neumann schneider Ausstellungsarchitekten for the Cologne City Museum. In many parts, concerning the several hundred tactile and inclusive components, I am also involved in realization.

The exhibition content is made accessible through all media and senses. A multimedia guide with several specialized tracks leads through the museum. Exhibition content – from A-text to C-text is simply worded and available in Braille and audio and large print with excellent contrast on walls and tables. In addition, there is subtitling of videos, audio description of videos and objects, videos in DGS (German Sign Language) and the most important info also in pyramid writing. Of course, a floor guidance system leads through the exhibition. This is both a visual guide for the sighted and tactile for the blind visitors. On each floor there is a floor map that is visually and tactilely appealing. Very many of the exhibits are free to access and, of course, may be viewed with the hands. All floors are accessible by elevator.

The contract with the City of Cologne includes consulting on the selection of exhibits and the implementation of content according to inclusive aspects and curatorial objectives. Examination of the educational goals for feasibility. Concepts and drafts for alternative forms of presentation. Broadening and balancing the individual experience as part of an overall experience with all visitors. Consulting with the designers and architects involved and designing inclusive forms of presentation. This includes texts, graphics and alternative presentation of artwork. Implementing Braille and Profiled Lettering on exhibits and panels.

Rad also (German):

„Die Erarbeitung der neuen Dauerausstellung war ein spannender, intensiver Prozess” von Kurator Sascha Pries

„Wir wollen Geschichte erlebbar machen” – Ein Interview mit Silvia Rückert

why you need an accessibility consultant

Accessibility is known to be mandatory for public buildings and buildings with public access.

It is often mistakenly assumed that this refers to wheelchair accessibility, but of course it goes far beyond that.

About 30 % of the German population (and this is calculated conservatively) are not within the „norm range“ of DIN, but depend on accessibility of various kinds. These 30% are extremely diverse. This shows that attention is required if one does not want to risk that many people feel excluded or are actually physically excluded. In the ideal case, however, we are not talking about corrections or additions being adapted retrospectively, but about an awareness being developed during the design process in order to produce good, aesthetic and impeccable „design for all“.

Of course, we know accessibility in everyday life without perceiving it: The seat and steering wheel position of a car can be changed for accessibility only. The typewriter, the straw, the bicycle, the touch screen, the pizza cutter, audio books and much more are based solely on considerations to support people with handicaps in an activity.

Barrier-free designs do not require any compromises in aesthetics (unfortunately this is a widespread prejudice). Accessibility is not ugly but a concept and design tool and design basis.

My task is to be a motivating contributor of ideas and a point of contact between clients, architects, interior, product and graphic designers, who has an eye on the diversity of the people out there and thus makes comprehensive solutions possible. Ideally, I’m involved in the design process at an early stage in the meetings – to bring in the idea and the enthusiasm for the project. A kick-off meeting to raise awareness in advance makes a lot of sense. During the actual implementation there are always a lot of questions and a learning process starts.

Factors for accessibility are cognitive understanding, optics and blindness, age, mobility, height, acoustics and hearing impairment or deafness, mobility, phobias, orientation and much more. Of course, this also applies to living spaces, housing estates, public squares and parks, museums and exhibitions, schools, event rooms, malls, hospitals and much more.

I hope to have clarified the idea and the background. Design and architecture without this background is not really possible and is hardly welcomed in the current competitions.

Therefore every architecture and design office needs knowledge and empathy to create good solutions.

Current references:

  • Museum Lichtenberg;
  • Senate of Berlin, public park and nature park exhibition;
  • German Museum of Technology, accessible art education,
  • AOK Nordost, accessibility and orientation system in counselling centres and medical centre;
  • Prevention centre VBG BGW Hamburg Accessible guidance and orientation system;

Consulting mandate for the new construction of the VBG BGW Prevention Centre in Hamburg


(Foto: Auer Weber Assoziierte)

The Ippolito Fleitz Group GmbH Identity Architects commissioned Steffen Zimmermann as a consultant for accessibility for the planning and design of the new centre of excellence in Hafencity of the two associations VBG and BGW

The new centre is to be a beacon project for accessibility and future and trend-setting preventive work.

The Berufsgenossenschaft für Gesundheitsdienst und Wohlfahrtspflege (BGW) and the Verwaltungs-Berufsgenossenschaft (VBG) are the building owners and operators in Hamburg HafenCity. From 2022, they intend to launch new qualification, event and consulting services there, among other things, and make it possible to experience both healthy and safe working in theme worlds. The two associations are two of the largest in Germany.

Inclusion is a priority right from the conceptual approach

The building is to be highly accessible and exemplary in the way that training institutions can be designed to be inclusive. In addition to model workplaces, the planned Prevention Centre will feature theme worlds and exhibitions that make the prevention of occupational accidents, occupational diseases and work-related health hazards tangible. The services will also be available in part to the general public. In addition, individual advice and training for insured persons with work-related health problems is planned. My expertise is particularly evident in the orientation and guidance system as well as in the information services, whether digital, passive or active. This also applies to the revision of the house font for a tactile typeface, which is used in the guidance system as a raised relief font. Furthermore, all elements of the system are equipped with Braille (braille for blind visitors) and high-contrast large print. Orientation in the building and guidance through the building is supported by a floor guidance system. Everything is wheelchair accessible and conveniently accessible for people of all ages.

Untersuchungen zeigen, dass inklusives Design die Kundenreichweite um das Vierfache steigern kann

Studien, die vom Centre for Inclusive Design in Zusammenarbeit mit Adobe und Microsoft durchgeführt wurden, haben ergeben, dass Produkte und Dienstleistungen, die auf die gesamte Breite der Bedürfnisse von Menschen zugeschnitten sind, das Vierfache der Zahl der Nutzer erreichen können.

Inklusionsdenken früh in die Konzeptphase einbeziehen, verhindert Zusatzkosten

„Untersuchungen zeigen, dass inklusives Design die Kundenreichweite um das Vierfache steigern kann“ weiterlesen

AOK Nordost builds on inclusion - consulting contract

Who if not the AOK? All future buildings and conversions of AOK counselling centres will be considerably more barrier-free than all previous ones. As a consultant, I will accompany this transformation. In future, all aspects of accessibility will be considered, expertly discussed and, if possible, implemented at every location. We are talking about the whole canon of possibilities for accessible construction, design and service. What is planned today will be implemented in a few years in over 100 counselling centres.

The „Centrum für Gesundheit“ in the Müllerstraße in Berlin will be a unique project in Germany. This medical and consulting center will be implemented – supported by the Executive Board – as a lighthouse project for inclusion and accessibility. 

It pays to be involved as a consultant in the projects as early as possible. The early planning phase for architects, interior designers and graphic designers is the best time to get started. Here, thinking can be steered in the right direction without additional costs and decisions can be corrected before implementation.

Humboldt-Forum beauftragt inklusive Exponate für die Dauerausstellung „Berlin und die Welt“

Gemeinsam mit dem Stadtmuseum entwickelt die Kulturprojekte Berlin GmbH eine Ausstellung über Berlin und die Welt im Humboldt Forum.

Auf einer Fläche von 4.000 qm verknüpft die Berlin-Ausstellung anhand verschiedener Themenaspekte die internationalen Verflechtungen der Stadt und befragt ihre Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Im ersten Obergeschoss des wiederaufgebauten Stadtschlosses fügt sich die Berlin-Ausstellung räumlich wie inhaltlich als Bindeglied im Humboldt Forum ein. Sie soll zeigen, wie die Welt Berlin beeinflusst, aber auch, wie Berlin auf die Welt wirkt.

Einzelne Ausstellungsflächen werden Künstler*innen, Vereinen und Initiativen für themenspezifische Präsentationen zur Verfügung gestellt.
Zum Anschauen, Anfassen und Zuhören entwickelt, wird die Ausstellung auch integrative und partizipative Elemente einschließen, die Besucher*innen teilhaben lassen.

Für die Entwicklung dieser Stationen, die als inklusive Ereignisse für alle geplant sind, wurde ich beauftragt. Die Vermittlung mit allen Sinnen für ein großes Publikum soll in dieser Ausstellung eine besondere Rolle spielen.

Instant audio guide. Information on the object itself provides orientation and information for everyone

TellDing ist ein "instant Audioguide" und Orientierungssystem in einem.

TellDing® is a system that provides visitors to a building or exhibition with individually adapted information about the object via audio. This audio information can also be used for orientation towards the object. An elevator or a staircase will therefore speak „Stairs to floors 2 to 8“ from any distance that can be preset. A blind visitor can then orientate himself and move precisely. More information at

TellDing is an „instant audio guide“ and orientation system in one.

Hidden or exposed, it uses a proximity sensor to provide information in the language and depth of the visitor’s individual needs.

TellDing as an orientation system provides blind visitors with acoustic guidance to the object.

Auszeichnung durch den Bundespräsidenten Frank Walter Steinmeier

Ich freue mich, daß heute meine Initiative #goinclusive auch von ganz oben, also vom Bundespräsidenten anerkannt wird und ausgezeichnet wurde.

Gutes Design, gute Architektur, gute Wissensvermittlung ist immer für ALLE Anwender verständlich und nutzbar. Dazu haben wir (schweizergestaltung, Werk5 und ich) uns zusammengeschlossen und beraten und unterstützen Unternehmen, Designer, Museen, Institutionen, Produkthersteller und die Politik dabei, diese Aspekte ohne ästhetische oder inhaltliche Abstriche umzusetzen.

Auszeichnung: ausgezeichnete orte

Was sind rote Zugänge? Lernen Sie mit und helfen Sie mit.

Screen-Shot Wheelmap

Design for All, das bedeutet schlicht Nutzbarkeit von Design, Produkten und Architektur. Man denkt, das sei Standard, aber weit gefehlt! Nicht jeder Kreative und Architekt denkt an alle Nutzer. So kann man auf der Wheelmap sehen, welche Orte nicht für → alte Menschen, → Kinderwagen, → Lieferanten und → Rollstuhlfahrende geeignet sind. Zum Glück sieht man auch die, die erreichbar sind. Das ist der Sinn der Wheelmap. Darunter sind auch so existenzielle Orte wie → Schulen, → Supermärkte, → Ärzte und → Behörden.