I was recently over in Melbourne for a most enjoyable stay – I love Melbourne for its vibrancy, open spaces, use of art work, reclamation of the docklands area, and more recently, its alleyways. There was a fascinating insight into this reuse of alleyways on Andreas Dalgaard’s documentary ‘The Human Scale’ which showed how urban environments impact and enhance human life and happiness. He highlights much of the work of Jann Geld, the architect who visited Christchurch at the beginning of the rebuild planning with a view to introducing some of his ideas into the new city.
But what impressed me also was the ease of access into most buildings and on the pavements. There was frequent change of pavement surfaces so that those with limited vision were aware of where they were stepping off a curb or at a traffic intersection. All public buildings visited had easily accessible ramped access and automatic doors were in many of the shops. The Botanic Gardens also had fantastic paths for anyone pushing a child’s buggy or a wheelchair, though it would take a more athletic person to push an adult around the gardens in certain areas!
Why, you might ask, is this so important. The reason is that some 20% of the population lives with a disability of some kind. Add the ageing population, families with young children, anyone with a temporary injury or illness and you have many people requiring easy access into public places. That’s a lot of people. We haven’t always seen that many people in wheelchairs out and about, simply because access hasn’t been great in many areas. And this is only one type of disability which restricts access. Others include vision and hearing impairment, language barriers, difficulty with reading and understanding things. Looking at these areas, makes you realise that we all have access needs at some point in our lives.
The number of people visible in wheelchairs and mobility scooters was a noticeable feature of this visit to Melbourne, and the reason once again, is that is a city which is easy to get around.
So, when you are planning changes with a home or workplace, make sure you consider accessibility, if not now, then for the future. It’s much easier to build accessibility into a building rather than make a change once built. You never know when it will be needed.