Why, when we have so much expertise, is access to new buildings still so problematic?
As my residency at Holton Lee has progressed, I have become increasingly interested in why, when we have so much expertise around disability access, access to new buildings is still so problematic. Thirty years ago, the problems were entirely understandable. The disability rights movement was in its infancy; the Medical Model of Disability was still dominant; and there was no legislation to compel architects and builders to make buildings accessible.
Now, though, things are entirely different. We have a body of knowledge about how to make new buildings accessible to just about everyone in the population. We have access consultants and auditors to pass this knowledge on. We have British Standards around the detail of how, for example, to fit out public toilets. We have building regulations to enforce a minimum standard of access in new and renovated public buildings. We have disability discrimination laws to ensure that even older buildings are made as accessible as is 'reasonably' possible. We have 'access groups' of disabled people who provide input to architects planning new public buildings.
And yet, despite all of this, when we go into a new public building, we inevitably still find that there are significant problems with access. When I produced my initial list of suggestions for the NDACA architects, I described a number of new arts buildings that I have experienced problems with - you can click here to read it. I know that every disabled person reading this will be able to provide further examples, as will our PAs, carers and friends - and I have certainly experienced further problems with other buildings since I initially produced the list in May 2006.
What is the reason for this continuing failure to create accessible public buildings? Is the lack of physical access to new buildings a manifestation of the continuing lack of public consciousness about disability? Are the problems caused at a particular stage in the building process, or do they occur throughout the building and fitting?
Over the next few months I will be exploring these issues further, including with the NDACA architects Sarah Wigglesworth. If you have any explanations for the continuing problems with access to new buildings, or any other points you would like to make about it, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Put 'disability access' into the subject header to ensure the spam filter doesn't delete it.) I will include email contributions here (anonymously if you would prefer me to do so), as well as continuing to explore all of the issues involved.
All contents © 2006
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