Inquiry hears how built environment affects disabled people

Inquiry hears how built environment affects disabled people

Disability theory 101: The social model states the impact on day-to-day activities is caused by the environment around the person (houses, shops, buses, social attitudes) rather than the physical or mental characteristics of the person.

This means that if we want to live in an inclusive society, the built environment has to change. Most of the buildings around us are brick and concrete eyesores built between the 1950s and the 1990s, and they weren’t designed with accessibility in mind.

There are two forces at work in the house-building industry:
– Viability. How much money can the developers make? Shareholders always want more.
– Planning rules. Comply with the legislation or accept the consequences.

The problem is the lack of solid data underpinning decisions made by councils in their Local Plans. It’s difficult to collect data at the local level, and so developers can demand better terms on the basis of viability. “You can’t prove that this is what your town needs,” they say. “So why should we lose money building like that? It’s not viable.”

The result is the accessible housing crisis continues. The Women and Equalities Committee is currently holding an inquiry into Disability and the Built environment, and heard this week from Deputy Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, Sue Bott, and Chair of Inclusion London, Zara Todd. The Committee heard how the decline of access groups had led to buildings being completed without meeting access standards; how the lack of affordable accessible housing affects finding a house and day-to-day life; and how the high time, energy and knowledge threshold for legal action limits the number of cases which are taken forward.

We’ll have to wait for a while for the results of the inquiry, but the conclusions will be bleak reading. However, getting a clear picture is the first starting point for change.

By Fleur Perry

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