DivAirCity H2020

Independence In The City: Creating Accessible Urban Spaces

This virtual event brought together an exceptional panel who provided a wide array of perspectives and experiences in engaging with accessible design within the built environment. The overarching message was that accessibility should be a fundamental consideration at every stage of the design process in order to create truly inclusive spaces.

Architect and Registered Access Consultant Jane Simpson, chaired the event which focused on making cities truly accessible for all.

As well as his vast professional career, David Burdus drew upon his own personal experience of being a wheelchair user, as he highlighted successful projects where collaboration between disabled users and design professionals led to more effective solutions. His message was clear: put people at the heart of the design process and involve the end users from the beginning. Bring disabled people to the design team and you’re going to get you’re going to get a better outcome. David also challenged the notion of relying solely on existing access standards, urging for continual development and adaptation based on real-world user feedback.

Nick Tyler introduced PEARL, a huge testing facility which studies human beings to create new ways of designing safe, accessible, aesthetic, effective and energy-beneficial environments that work for both people and planet. This talk focused on creating and controlling environments to study and improve various aspects of neurodiversity and the importance of understanding and accommodating neurodiverse individuals within their environments. Pearl enables the creation of real-world scenarios at scale, such as bus stops, pedestrian crossings, and supermarkets, allowing researchers to observe interactions and identify areas for improvement. The ultimate goal is to enhance inclusivity and accessibility for everyone.

‘Freedom is something that people take for granted until they become disabled’ was the opening thought which kicked off Fiona Jarvis‘ presentation. She shared personal experiences, including instances of inaccessible venues and the daily challenges faced by wheelchair users. The Blue Badge Access Awards were born as a means of recognising and rewarding hospitality venues that prioritise accessibility, aiming to inspire positive change rather than enforcement. Fiona took us through some of the inspiring winners and leading examples of things done well as well some of the downright ridiculous and inadequate ones, emphasising the need for thoughtful and inclusive design practices.

Key takeaways from the event:

  1. Begin with it: integrate accessibility and inclusivity into design processes from the outset, rather than as an afterthought.
  2. Consult and involve the end users: consider diverse perspectives and needs throughout the design process, ultimately leading to more cost-effective and inclusive solutions.
  3. One size does not fit all: prioritise user needs and experiences over simply adhering to the baseline standards. 
  4. Accessible design does not need to be expensive: small, cost-effective design choices can have a significant impact on accessibility.

  5. Clever thinking and common sense goes a long way: Simple and inexpensive changes can making existing venues accessible such as small businesses on a high street sharing a removeable ramp.

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