Saturday, June 06, 2020

Coworking spaces - are they doing enough to allow accessibility for all?

by Editor (editor) , October 09, 2019

What originally started in 2005 by Software Engineer, Brad Neuberg as a cost effective way to have access to office space in San Francisco, soon became a coworking phenomenon.

What originally started in 2005 by Software Engineer, Brad Neuberg as a cost effective way to have access to office space in San Francisco, soon became a coworking phenomenon.

Working on a start up with limited funds, Neuberg was torn. He wanted the independence of working alone, but also craved the appeal of working alongside others. This is where the idea of coworking space, as we know it today, was first conceived.

Prior to this had been the inception of Hackerspace. Similar in the fact it is a collaborative workspace, but differing as these hubs are not for profit, usually industry specific and often have specialist in their fields working on extra professional projects.

2005 was a pivotal year in the shared spaced and saw the first coworking space in London open its doors. In only a few years, the UK’s coworking scene has exploded and according to 2018 data, there are more than 5,000 coworking hubs in the country.

Demand for more flexible workspaces is driving the growth of coworking, which is not only obvious in how many shared office spaces are available throughout the country, but also in the average number of members using each space and in the size of the hubs themselves.

From small hubs being sublet by other companies, to entire buildings dedicated to a collaborative incubation space, equipped with mentors and angel investors, the growth and diversity has been exponential. We’ve seen ping pong tables, beer kegs, motivational neon signs and gender specific co-working facilities.

As the number of coworking users continues to increase, requirements and demands become more diverse, which has made coworking operators become more creative in terms of the amenities, facilities, and perks offered at their hubs. This includes catering to the needs of users who may have disabilities or limited mobility issues. So how do coworking spaces fare in this respect? Are coworking hubs only Instagram-ready, or is there anything being done to make them disability friendly too?

In this post we take a look at the current trends used at coworking spaces to make them inclusive for all.

Wheelchair, Disability, Injured

Trends In Accessible Coworking Design

Wheelchair accessibility has become a key requirement in modern offices. In the UK, there are 1.2 million wheelchair users, and the numbers are also high in the USA at 2.7 million. Making coworking hubs easy to access and to use by wheelchair users is the first step in becoming disability friendly. Some shared office space operators are already making efforts to accommodate coworking users who need wheelchair accessible spaces.

One of the ways in which this is being done is by improving access to the building where the coworking space is located. For example, a well-known coworking hub in Boston (Coalition Space Boston) has made available, accessible parking areas. The hub is close to public transportation and bus and train stops that are wheelchair friendly. As for the building itself, it features a lift and ramps fitted with railings. Shared facilities like bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, and workspaces are user-friendly for those who are wheelchair bound.

Similarly, Geek Offices (also in Boston) has a number of dedicated desks and workstations large and wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users. Others, like Servcorp or Boston Offices hubs, ensure that wayfinding signs are placed at the right eye level for users who are in a wheelchair. This reflects wider trends in building design, as we’ve recently seen conversations driven around topics like navigation and orientation, and how to design workspaces based on the principles of universal design - that is, design features that facilitate essential tasks to people who may need special arrangements.

Coworking spaces built in already existing buildings may need updates to become disability friendly. Areas that tend to get overlooked and can go a long way improving overall accessibility include removing carpet with high pile (it can get caught on wheelchairs), accessible sockets, leaving wider gaps between office furniture, and adding accessible door hardware such as low-level handles, bars, push pads or levers.

Group, People, Reading, Working, Cafe

Coworking hubs describe themselves as supportive workspaces, and this idea should not only apply to the atmosphere, training, or events offered, but also to features and amenities. Some coworking operators are leading the way here, as is the case of Berlin-based Tuechtig, whose strongest point is being fully accessible and has attracted user base consisting of wheelchair users, people with hearing impairments, and other types of disabilities. Tuechtig makes a point of offering personal assistance and support to these users, setting an example for others to follow.

Despite the quick growth of the coworking model, shared office spaces are only in their infancy when looking at the big picture in terms of accessibility. But this also means that we can expect a gradual improvement in the range of amenities and services they offer, and in the degree to which they can accommodate coworking users with different needs, including those who require accessible workspaces.

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