Accessibility and built environment

October 9, 2021 2PM (Rome time – UTC 16) | Webinar
Watch again the Webinar on YouTube

Webinar report
by Herman Wouters and Maria Cynthia Funk

This issue of the AEIS (Accessible Environment and Inclusive Society) featured the technical side of the conversation with an architect, Stefano Maurizio, and an engineer, Renzo Andrich, who wonderfully shared their accounts on various aspects of their work which greatly contribute to creating accessible, inclusive spaces.

Stefano Maurizio (Venice Italy) gave some examples of an enabling and accessible environment in the urban planning in the city of Venice, in public transportation and in an adaptation of a private construction. He pointed out 4 important principles:

  1. Disability is a situation rather than a intrinsic characteristic of the person : a situation that arises when my personal limit meets a barrier created by society.
  2. Good design enables, bad design disables.
  3. Accessibility, when it’s well designed, improves the quality not only for the disabled people bur for all.
  4. Assistive products are essential to support autonomy. Any one who needs them must have the opportunity to know them and to have them. There exists an international network of information with a website:

Cidinha Siqueira (Brazil) talked about her work on the legislation about accessibility in her region. She concluded that the size of democracy and citizenship is proportional the size of a city’s accessibility offered to its citizens.

A discussion followed, raising the following main points.

Herman Wouters (Belgium): Adjustments to buildings often have financial consequences and are therefore not so easy to implement. Sometimes adjustments causes other problems. He gave an example of a situation in the facility for intellectual disabled persons in which he worked. Some persons, who live there have wheelchairs, but to create a ramp next to the stairs of the entrance , several parking places had to disappear and there were already too few parking spaces. So this work was not done.

Choie Funk (Philippines): There is a law in my country that says that everything that is still being built must be accessible. That is the start of making the environment more accessible. But actually it shouldn’t be necessary to legislate for that. This should be embedded in the construction of all structures. But I have to say that personally I would feel embarrassed when a friend with a disability would ask me if he could use my bathroom and it wouldn’t be accessible to him.

Renzo Andrich (Italy): It is often said that it is the fault of politicians that the environment is not accessible enough. But most of them are of good will and ensure good legislation, but the problem are the architects of buildings who do not have sufficient competence. They don’t consider the accessibility from the start of a project, which means that a lot of adjustments have to be made afterwards (retrofitting). We should create a culture of accessibility and not only among engineers, architects or politicians. This concept must grow in the minds of everyone.

Roselle Rebello (India): As a person with a motor disability, I was struck by that phrase “Good design enables, bad design disables”. An environment that has been made accessible means for me that I feel accepted. I have this feeling already in various situations in my country, for example with the trains that gives a signal to reach the wagon that is accessible or when I encounter places where there are indeed ramps. They give me the message that I belong to the society . But I met for instance also regularly bathrooms that are not accessible. Also the song “A million dreams”*sung at a meeting of the WHO, that you sent us, indicates that people with disabilities are included in the society.

The “Shalva Band” was cited, performing ‘A million dreams’ at the 71st WHO Regional Committee for Europe

Gerald Craddock (Ireland): There is a European standard BS EN17210: “Accessibility and usability of the built environment”*. Functional requirements are classified in these ICS categories. Such a standard is the result of a process in which people with disabilities also participated. The big problem is that most things are already built without this standard being taken into account. This document (quite expensive when you would like to buy it) describes basic, minimum functional requirements and recommendations for an accessible and usable built environment, following “Design for All”/”Universal Design” principles which will facilitate equitable and safe use for a wide range of users, including persons with disabilities. The requirements and recommendations given in this document are applicable across the full spectrum of the built environment.

Other remarks written in the discussion padlet:

  • When I was in college there was this film making contest called ‘Rolyo ng Malaya’. We were tasked to show in a film documentary young architecture for the blind persons. We went to the Mind Museum and were blindfolded. There we realized, much more than the usual, what it means being handicapped and not able to navigate through a space because you can’t see it. It reminds me that everything is not inclusive for all.
  • To make our designs to be really inclusive, we have to consider also the disabilities that may not be physical, or the disabilities that may not be seen immediately.
  • People who build should also take into account disabilities that are not visible. Also in your own environment, the accommodation can exclude someone because they are not accessible.
  • As builders, we carry that responsibility to ensure that the spaces we create embraces all kinds of ABILITIES and MOBILITIES.

This webinar was the second in a series of four webinars to reflect on the culture of accessibility, to share experiences on how to build a world without any architectural, technological, cultural, or social barriers that may exclude many people from fully participating in society. We will look at the theme from various viewpoints with an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach.

Download the flyer >> PDF DOCX

Download the transcript of R.Andrich’s and S.Maurizio’s speech >> PDF DOCX
Download the transcript of C.Siqueira’s speech >> PDF DOCX