INCLUSION AND UNIVERSAL DESIGN
Inclusion is a complex issue, with physical access being only one of the prerequisites. Another is presuming you have access, what do you do when you get there, does it actually work for you? But most importantly, inclusion requires you are made to feel welcome, and treated with dignity. Inclusion is therefore a three dimensional social compact, and is a measure of a compassionate society; while Universal Design is the framework around which you can build the inclusive environment.
Universal Design is the design philosophy which leads to the creation of environments which can be used by everyone, across their entire lifespans. It is not only the physical, but it also includes soft infrastructure which are the programs and policies of government, down to the attitudes which create the welcoming and friendly social environment which encourages the involvement of everyone.
So Inclusion and Universal design go hand in hand, and it is probably true to say that the more emphasis on Universal Design the more inclusive will be the environment. In a perfect world our facilities would be truly universal and we wouldn’t have to adapt or modify anything to include everyone.
Why, in a world where some people are born with a disability, where others acquire it along the way, where everyone else will become disabled before they die; why don’t we simply agree that disability is just another normal variation in the human life experience?
Disability is not an oddity, but an aspect of our normal progression through life. So why don’t we consider this when we design and build our infrastructure and social programs? Instead we create facilities, and foster attitudes which segregate or exclude those people who are experiencing, often temporarily, an ability, or mobility dysfunction.
It is like an added punishment for something. On one hand we are struck down with an ailment, or fall off a ladder and break a leg, which we call an accident, but then we have man’s contribution which adds an unnecessary level of discomfort and disadvantage. This added penance is not related to the accident, but caused by us building to Standards which allow obstructions like narrow doors and steps to stop our wheelchair, or scooter, or even our pram. Maybe we should consider the relevance of the adage, “disability is God given, but the handicap is man-made”.
So the question is why not just build accessible facilities which allow people with a disability to fit in and feel normal. Is it because:
we have never thought this through,
we prefer to turn a blind eye so we aren’t reminded that disability might be just around the next corner, or, simply the financial imperative is to take the easy way and build to a short sighted plan. Built to cater to the needs of the majority, even though we can all join the minority at any time, in an instant. And short-sighted it is when you consider the aging population, who are living longer, and progressively more prone to disability.
This is therefore very much a mainstream issue, which suggests a rethink of our Building Standards could be in order, and consideration of how Universal Design could help us build more appropriate facilities which complement, rather than exacerbate our inevitable future.