New Eye and Ear facility designed around patients’ needs

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary’s new facility at 800 Huntington Ave. was designed with accessibility for its patients in mind.

Mass. Eye and Ear treats patients with limited vision and hearing, and the designers of its new building went above the call of duty in creating an environment the patients can navigate more easily.

The Gazette received a tour of the premises to see first-hand what adaptations the building’s designers adopted.

Elevators have large numbers painted in high-contrast colors outside their doors. The flooring has high-contrast stripes built into the wood, directing patients to reception and check-in desks. Carpeted areas mimic the technique. Handrails add further guidance to those same spots.

The floors under exam room doors are crescent-shaped, using the same high-contrast wood as the stripes, and exam hallways are color-coded.

“We take it for granted, seeing subtle color differences,” said Chu Foxlin, senior interior designer at Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, the building’s design firm.

“We worked with a visual specialist to figure out the ideal contrast,” Mass. Eye and Ear Public Affairs Coordinator Vanessa Carrington told the Gazette during the visit.

People with limited vision are usually able to navigate spaces with high-contrast edges, a technique employed throughout the building. The walls are also kept free of busy patterns, an accommodation for vertigo patients.

“All these visual cues are there so people can navigate the space much more easily,” Foxlin said. It was important to get the contrast just right, she added, so patients understand there is a change in surface but not a hole in the ground.

“When we got this job, we knew we had to do a lot of homework to get it right,” Foxlin said. “We did a lot of research about what it means to be visually impaired.”

The Perkins School for the Blind arranged a visit for the designers of its new campus in Watertown and lent the designers a special kit of glasses—each pair mimicked the effects of different visual impairments—to aid in their research.

“I was this weird creature, walking around the office, wearing different glasses, testing out designs,” Foxlin said. “I loved that experience. I learned so much. You relate. That was a turning point for the [building’s] design.”

The building also incorporates other, more common accommodations. The exam room doors are wider than normal to accommodate wheelchairs and power scooters. All exam equipment sits on adjustable tables to further accommodate patients with limited mobility.

Large windows flood every floor with natural light, making the medical environment much more welcoming than usual.

“It’s easier to see in a building that’s not dark,” Carrington said. “It also contributes to the building’s environmental sustainability.”

“When you’re able to serve a population and restore their sight or sense of smell—that’s a gift. That’s their quality of life. It’s very gratifying,” Nurse Manager of the Surgical Center Alan McGoldrick told the Gazette. “There’s almost immediate satisfaction.”

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