As an architect I find it very important to integrate accessibility for disabled into the design process from the start. Architecture is for the user and the user is everyone.
‘Regular people just don’t really realize that, you know that as well’, I was told a while back. And my opinion on this, is that it is right. ‘Healthy’ people often don’t realize how complicated it is for physically disabled people to perform everyday actions. They are often not only limited by their handicap but also by the lack of accessibility on several scales within architecture and urbanism. A lack that, in my opinion, could be overcome by implementing accessibility within the design process in a different way than is often the case and directly from the start. Due to my background and personal experience in this area as a ‘regular’ person I tend to have developed more insight on accessibility and hope to offer my expertise as an architect on this topic.
Contemplating about adjustments for disabled persons, I frequently notice people tend to think about adjustments for elderly people, disabled people in nursing homes or accessibility in hospitals. Another misconduct is that disabled people always have someone accompanying them to open a door or buy groceries. Disabled people don’t want to hang around all day, they want to participate in society, have a job, a social life, a relationship, travel, go on holiday and have their own house. Just like anyone else. Off course there will always be obstacles for people with disabilities and hopefully ‘healthy’ people will be there to support them in these situations. Ultimately we are one society together. But very often problems are created by people, mind-set, attitude and design.
Accessibility goes further than just implementing the rules within the Dutch building regulations (Bouwbesluit). This really is the minimum of accessibility that can be offered. Architecture is all about the experience of the building on the outside and inside. How does a user experience a building when approaching, while using, being inside, functional use, routing? All users should be able to enter a building on an equal level. A different routing is perhaps sometimes necessary, especially within redeveloped existing buildings, but it still has to offer a true and great experience. A disabled person shouldn’t have to enter the building through the back door, use the goods elevator in the warehouse or wait in front of the stairs. And honestly this happens, I have experienced this several times. The main goal, especially within new buildings, should be an accessible entrance, routing and building for everybody and offer an accessible experience to all users.
This discussion is not only about the current disabled persons. The people that are born this way, had an accident in the past, or got ill. It is also about people getting older or getting into an accident tomorrow. Think about how you could manoeuvre through your own house, use you toilet, get into your bedroom, go to work or visit a restaurant or cinema when this happens? What would your life look like if something happens like this? I have often noticed that my fellow students and even teachers had no awareness about this topic. Something that was visible in the designs around me. But people are getting older, the pension limit is extended and social security is cut back. If architecture would be more accessible and offer different typologies, older people could work longer. And disabled people could be less dependent on society, relatives and friends and live their own life.
Offering more accessibility and independence for everyone through integral (re)design. Perhaps my idea/opinion is regarded idealistic, but I can think of many far more idealistic causes people tend to invest in. The ideal world and society doesn’t exist, but if we don’t try and don’t want to…..
Lee-Anne Schoneveld van der Linde