Sense And Sense-ability



This week i have been given the opportunity to reflect on how we see the world and in particular, the degree to which our professional and personal experience influences this.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was in the privileged position of facilitating a number of focus groups for Design Council CABE.  The purpose of which was to obtain feedback, insights and suggestions about an ‘Inclusive Environments’ training package. that CABE is in the process of developing.


What became crystal clear to me throughout the discussion, is that the concept of planning, designing, constructing and managing buildings and spaces to enable everyone in society to use them and not exclude anyone from participating in whatever activity they host, makes intuitive  sense. 


So my conundrum is, that if, at a human level, its intuitively the right thing to do, why is it that the professionals responsible for providing the buildings and spaces we all want and need to use, appear to find it so difficult?


Is there something about their formal professional education that effectively changes how they see the world.  Do the processes, techniques, model technical solutions, professional lexicons and culture they acquire, also bring a professionally partial perspective.  In other words, once you learn to see the world as a ‘Planner, Architect, Engineer or Facilities Manager for example,  do you lose your ability to notice how buildings and spaces enable or inhibit people in all their diversity? 


I think this question is most graphically illustrated by the popularity of lifts, travelators and wide ticket barriers, with people carrying luggage, buggies and prams.  through the UK transport network.  Travellers have been wrestling  heavy luggage through the transport system in the UK for as long as their has been one.  They  have also struggled to use it with pushchairs an prams in all that time.  But it’s only when we see the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, that the concept of step-free access to the transport network rises to prominence in the minds of those responsible for it’s planning, design and management.  So what was it about how these professionals perceived the network that apparently rendered them blind to the access needs of travellers,   until they were forced to, by disability equality legislation?  


The CABE Inclusive Environments hub and future training package  offer us a precious opportunity to reopen this debate.  Posing questions about  the ability of those responsible for our built environment at all levels, to truly see the needs and aspirations of all of us who want to participate and contribute in society. As a starting point.  Not an inconvenient after thought.


Andy Shipley

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