THE Government must lead the charge in improving access and inclusion in the built environment, says the Women and Equalities Committee, with the Department for Communities and Local Government held responsible for making this happen.
The committee’s new report highlights the challenges disabled people face in accessing homes, buildings and public spaces.
Many workplaces are inaccessible, there is very little choice of where to live, and the public spaces through which people need to move can be prohibitively excluding, says the report.
Disabling features of the built environment do not only pose problems for people with physical impairments, but also for people who have less visible disabilities including mental health and neurological conditions, or who are neuro diverse (such as people with autism).
The report proposes a range of practical policy solutions. Above all, the committee calls for improved engagement with disabled people to ensure that they have a meaningful input – both nationally and locally – to the creation of inclusive buildings and environments.
Committee chair Maria Miller MP said: “Poor accessibility affects us all. Even if not disabled ourselves, most people are related to, work with or are friends with someone who is.
“Increases in life expectancy will mean that over time, an ever greater proportion of us will be living with disability, and our understanding of ‘disability’ has developed to recognise that those with mental health problems, autism or other less visible impairment types also face disabling barriers.
“Yet the burden of ensuring that an accessible environment is achieved falls too heavily at present on individual disabled people – an approach which is neither morally nor practically sustainable.
“Instead, we need a proactive, concerted effort by ‘mainstream’ systems and structures – including national and local government and built environment professionals – to take on the challenge of creating an inclusive environment.
“The Government must be more ambitious. Our current environment was not created overnight and will not be mended overnight – but those with the influence to do so have had over 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 first set out the standards expected of them.
“Disabled people have the right to participate in all parts of life under the law; this is undermined if the built environment locks them out. Our report sets out a realistic but challenging agenda that, if adopted, can give this issue a priority and deliver the changes that we all need.”
Lord Holmes of Richmond, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said: “The impact on people’s lives when public spaces are not accessible is devastating. Inclusive design must be the golden thread that runs through all new buildings and works in the public realm.”
Responding to the report, Neil Heslop, Leonard Cheshire Disability CEO, said:
“The Committee’s findings echo many from our own research, as well as what disabled people regularly tell us. All too often they are living in homes that have not been properly adapted or are unsuitable in other ways. This can have serious consequences for their health, independence and full participation in community life.
“Our last research on this issue found more than half (52%) of people with a mobility problem say that they do not have doors or hallways wide enough for a wheelchair. With life expectancy going up, more people will potentially face life changing disabilities in their later years.
“Around 1 in 10 people in Great Britain report some kind of mobility problem.
“House builders, local authorities and political parties all need to commit to making sure the next generation of homes and our towns and cities are fit for purpose for disabled people wherever they live.”