Creating inclusive environments is not just about wheelchair access. Less than 8% of disabled people use wheelchairs, yet there are estimated to be 12.9M people in the UK with limiting long-term illnesses, impairments or disabilities. Some 45% of those are over the state pension age. By 2030 there are expected to be 20M people over the age of 65 and 6M over 80. The built environment needs to be created or adapted for people with a range of needs, including hearing or sight loss and/or a cognitive disability, as well as general physical issues that affect older members of society.
This ‘disabled’ demographic is economically powerful. Including their families, they have an annual spending power of about £200bn. There is a huge missed economic opportunity if the benefits of providing an inclusive environment are not realised.
Currently, 20% of 12.9M people with disabilities have difficulty accessing transport; 54% shops; 35% hospitals, 21% GP surgeries; and 21% theatres and cinemas. And the front doors of 84% of new homes are not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
Where to start? The four most important features for designers to consider are:
- Level access to the entrances to buildings and transport vehicles.
- Wide doors to allow wheelchair access.
- Adequate space to allow wheelchairs to turn and not restrict access.
- Accessible lavatories and changing places.
Of course, you shouldn’t need the potential £200bn economic prize to convince you that inclusive design is the right thing to do. It’s sobering that 12.9M people is equal to one in five Britons. Inclusion defines the morality of a society and should be the primary consideration.
But whatever the motivation, there’s a lot of difference to make and the technical design information is readily available.
Let’s get on with it!