A society is defined by how well it cares for its weakest citizens, and Denmark is, year after year, rewarded as the happiest country in the world. We’d like to think that one of the reasons for this is that people here feel that they will always be taken care of and treated with dignity, regardless of ability and age.

In Denmark there is a common understanding. The Danish government and the citizens want a society where children, youths and adults with disabilities have the same opportunities to fulfill their potential as everyone else. They envision an inclusive and diverse society based on respect where people receive support based on the individual’s resources and opportunities. A society where responsibilities and opportunities balance, and individuals can both participate and contribute to the community. In short, a society where the starting point for the disability policy is the individual’s encounter with the surroundings – not the disability.

The impressive headquarter of the Disabled People’s Organisations Denmark, the DPOD, bears evidence to this spirit. Completed in 2012, the building aims to be the world’s most accessible while serving as the political representative of 32 different Danish member organisations, covering all types of disabilities.

A key point is that the building is not specifically built for people with disabilities – it is supposed to be a building for all – an equal construction. The fundamental belief of the organisation is that you are never more handicapped than the limits of your physical environment.

The focus of accessibility is described on the website of the DPOD, and we have chosen to translate their list of focus points as an inspiration to everyone in the international society working with planning, constructing or utilizing buildings and rooms for people with special needs.

Equality for all
The aim for the building was, that it, as a whole, would have to be equal for all. The house is supposed to be easy for all to use in daily life, and therefore we believe that short distances within the house are important. This is achieved by centering the features of the house around a small atrium. This way, the distances between offices and other features are shorter and informal meeting areas naturally rise. At the same time, you always move the shortest way around the atrium, and from there to the function you are looking for.

Universal design
When designing and building the house, DPOD chose to work with one solution for all users. They wanted to incorporate beautiful universal solutions from the start, and have thus avoided barriers both inside and outside in everyday use. Generally, they have prioritized low-tech rather than high-tech solutions, as they are an integral architectural solution which, in principal, is no more expensive than other inaccessible solutions.

Overview and orientation
The orientation concept of the building makes it intuitive to navigate in. There is a connection between what you see from the outside and what you experience inside the house. The house “speaks” to several senses and is therefore accessible to all 8 primary disability groups. The cognitively impaired, for example, will be able to orient themselves by getting simple instructions such as:

1) Take the stairs to the 3rd floor
2) Go to the red zone
3) Take the door to the right.

This provides a peace of mind when you move around in the building and increases freedom of movement.

Social inclusion
The DPOD wanted to create a friendly and welcoming house. There are visual connections between all levels and organizations, so that you can keep track on what is happening in the building. Similarly, joint functions are shared around the house, which this way becomes social meeting places where interaction and knowledge sharing across organizations can emerge.

Respect for diversity
The house has a bright interior with plenty of daylight and bright friendly materials that reflect light without glare. All corners one can bump into or move around are friendly rounded to take into account all users of the building.

The headquarters of Disabled People’s Organisations Denmark has already attracted international attention, and visitors from around the globe enjoy exploring the office for inspiration and knowledge about accessible and equal construction. The building has become a great beacon – both in terms of concrete solutions and as a social signal reminding the world, that Denmark wants an accessible and equal society for all and that we are on the right track.

At Pressalit Care we are very impressed with not only the accomplishments in the new headquarter, but also with the DPOD’s ambitions on the matter of being a first mover. We know it takes vision, integrity and a steady focus on what is ahead of us all to not just be in business, but to make that change we all want to contribute to – especially when it comes to designing accessible offices, private homes and institutions.