Inclusive design: access all areas

Forward-looking cities around the world are beginning to consider the needs of all their citizens, creating urban environments that everyone can enjoy. Vision finds out more

Cities can be inhospitable places for those living with disabilities. With streets, public spaces and buildings primarily designed around the needs of traffic and able-bodied citizens, many urban environments lack the infrastructure required by people with physical and neurological impairments. But policymakers in many major cities have recently begun to introduce legislation to guide architects, developers, city planners and service providers to consider those users with special needs at every stage of the design and construction process.

The key to creating an environment that is suitable for all users is to understand the common problems that affect those with disabilities and addressing them at the earliest possible opportunity. The UK’s Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) advises building designers on how to meet the conditions set out in the government’s Equality Act and promotes the use of inclusive design, which invites disabled users to participate in developing solutions that fulfil universal accessibility requirements.

Accessibility

As the official accessibility consultant for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, CAE advised on the design of the sporting venues and accommodation at the Olympic Park to ensure their suitability for competitors and spectators. Away from the Olympic Park, improvements were made across the city to make services more accessible for the millions of visitors who arrived from around the world. Buses and taxis now carry wheelchair ramps; underground stations were fitted with audio and video information; streets were upgraded with wider footpaths, ramps and lower kerbs, and a lift was installed in the Grade I listed Tower Bridge. The result was a successful, inclusive event that left behind a legacy for all Londoners and future visitors.

Factors including an ageing population and increased focus on equal rights for all citizens are prompting politicians across the world to take action to improve infrastructure and services so that everyone has access to the same opportunities. If implemented properly, these measures can exceed this basic remit and enhance wellbeing, productivity and a sense of community among the population.

In Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, recently launched an initiative called “My community... A city for everyone”, which aims to ensure that government and local businesses take the necessary steps to make the emirate a better place to live for those with special needs. “We are keen to provide various aspects of care to people with disabilities; we are working to create the best environment that is supportive to them because they are an integral part of the fabric of society,” explained His Highness Sheikh Hamdan.

“We are keen to give equal opportunities for all and we want all members of society to be partners in the development process,” the Crown Prince added. Service providers in the public and private sectors have been instructed to identify ways to facilitate better access for those with mobility issues and other disabilities by providing qualified staff who understand the needs of disabled users.

Other recommendations include training employees in sign language so they can provide better services to the deaf, and translating all necessary information into Braille so it can be made available to those who are blind or partially sighted. By outlining minimum standards that local businesses must adhere to and taking positive steps to outlaw discrimination, the government is setting in motion a process that will make Dubai work for the population as a whole.

Human rights

If any city is looking for inspirational and intelligent ways to improve inclusivity, it would do well to follow the example of Swedish city of Gothenburg. As the recipient of this year’s Access City Award, which recognises a European city that takes significant steps to improve access for the disabled and elderly, Gothenburg is on the way to achieving its motto of “A City for Everyone”.

Policies introduced by the governing Green Party focus on upgrading infrastructure to make transportation, public spaces and amenities more accessible, as well as improving employment opportunities for those with disabilities. “We have a human rights approach to this work, and we have pointed out the importance in specific documents adopted by the city council and the city executive board,” says Deputy Mayor Thomas Martinsson. “Saying this, we are aware that accessibility isn’t easily described, as it depends on each person’s specific needs.”

Although it’s definitely on the right track, even Gothenburg has some way to go to become fully accessible. However, with proactive policies being put in place, attitudes towards disability improving, and new technologies and inclusive design principles helping to resolve problems through a participatory process, many cities are gradually taking the sorts of steps needed to make them accessible and enjoyable environments for everyone.