Accessibility is indeed a complex process when designing this into buildings… and particularly on retrofit basis.
Having spent over 20yrs working in the Built Environment I thought I knew what great building design was, but my last year has taught me differently.
On 12th November 2015 I fell down my stairs at home and permanently damaged my left leg leaving me with difficulty walking, using stairs and requiring walking sticks to get about.
For the first time in my career, my recent journey has made me realise that we don’t just need great buildings to admire from the path, be energy efficient and technologically advanced but we need them to be user friendly and accessible for all.
Since November 2015 I have spent many months in a wheelchair avoiding stairs, steep inclines and basically anywhere that isn’t flat. What I have realised is that many of our old and new public, commercial and domestic buildings are STILL NOT accessible for all. As a disabled person, I want to access public areas, travel and enjoy leisure activities and most importantly I still want to maintain my dignity and respect in doing so.
It would also be fair to say that prior to my accident I would not have been aware of the lack of accessibility. I regularly talk to my peers who take it for granted that our disability legislation in the UK has ‘solved the problem’ – News Flash… it certainly has not.
Over the last year I have been met with entrances with steps too steep to get into, doors that are too heavy to push open, disabled toilets requiring access via stairs, disabled car parking spaces miles away from public entrances, polished slippery floors that become lethal for me when wet and lifts left unrepaired in public places offering no alternative access.
Last month I even booked an ‘Accessible hotel room’ at a major hotel chain who provided half height hanging rails in the wardrobe because clearly disabled people don’t have full length clothing!! Plus, a hair dryer fixed to the skirting board……
When we are designing our buildings and their landscape are we REALLY thinking about those less able? Great building design for me these days is one that doesn’t remind me I am disabled, that I can access and interact with that doesn’t single me out. Please think about this next time you start to design your projects not as an afterthought!
In closing I want to draw your attention to the new Savoy Place, IET London, did you know that a proportion of the stairs mechanically tuck away with the flick of a button to provide a lift for disabled to access the venue from the front? Every time I visit it fills me with marvel and gratitude to the designer for including such an innovation.