What do disabilities and the environment have in common? Quite a bit actually. As a person who uses a wheelchair to navigate through the world, I naturally play close attention to accessible pathways from point A to point B. I’m often disappointed in the lack of consideration environmental designers pay to wheelers. Like many in the disabled community, I had high hopes for change when the Americans with Disability Act was passed in 1990. But, while the legislation has produced many changes, it has not created a barrier-free world. Far from it in fact.
Sure, rules and regulations have been put in place to increase access in the man-made world, but, that access lags far behind what most of us experience in the natural world. Even without ‘accommodations’ most of us navigate outdoors much easier than we can indoors. One has to ask why that still is the case over twenty years after ‘accessibility’ legislation was enacted.
To give you an example, yesterday I went to check out the place that my brother and his fiancée are getting married in July. What I found was both pleasurable and disappointing at the same time. Outdoors, where the main part of the celebration will occur, was lovely and well thought out, with paths that made rolling around easy. Indoors, where the ceremony itself would take place, was a problem. The bathroom required a bit of gymnastics to get into the stall.
Unfortunately I have often found this to be the case. Architects either don’t know what the accessibility regulations are, which doesn’t require much research to learn, or think they can do them ‘better’ and they fail. Wouldn’t it be nice if architects paid as much attention to designing indoor accommodations as grounds keepers do in designing outdoor environments?
I’ve been writing about disability issues for over twenty years now so my interest in accessibility is not limited to my own disability. In my Blind Traveler mystery novels, for example, the protagonist is a blind man who uses auditory cues, through his navigator device, to interact with his world. Though my stories take place in a not too distant future, such a device is just now entering the market place. Wouldn’t it be nice if today’s architects and environmental planners took better advantage of visual, auditory and touch-sensitive cues to make both natural and man-made environments more accessible to those in the disabled community?