Inclusion Extends to Accessibility: “Me & We”

Is the progress of inclusion slowed by overlooking the obvious?

Inclusive workplaces, organizations, communities, and other cultures of belonging cannot be sustained in spaces, buildings, and environments which are not “inclusive” for everyone—fully accessible and barrier-free in their access, design, and construction.

Accessibility to public and private spaces and buildings should be an inclusive, universal design goal—“Me & We”—that extends intention to remove social and cultural prejudice and bias to include everyone determined to remove physical limitations and barriers.

The point is we say we welcome diversity and inclusion and that we want the full spectrum of people to come together socially, culturally, and without prejudice—inclusively. This push for inclusion means little if interior and building design and construction deliberately favor able-bodied adults and present a varying degree of obstruction to everyone, including even that privileged group.

“Accessible” is a concept directed at those with disabilities and not inclusive of the able-bodied.

Is it time to disrupt “accessibility?”

Instead of this concept concentrating on dictating disability-specific concessions to interior and building design, isn’t it time to begin with design that intends, from the beginning, to ensure everything is accessible to everyone—every age, size, ability, capacity…?

The ubiquitous barriers are there: stairs, insufficient or unreliable elevators, poor lighting, heavy doors, slippery flooring, lack of railings, threshold steps, badly-designed bathrooms, lack of seating….

The point is it’s easier for able-bodied adults to overcome, ignore, or avoid these and other access interruptions, but they are still barriers that don’t need to be designed into buildings undergoing renovations or new buildings in the first place.

This is the same “stuck in the past” thinking which gives strength to prejudice and bias which the inclusive movement must dispel. Technology continues to give us the false impression that digital capacity alone modernizes thinking and automatically overwrites destructive elements from the past.

Electrical wall outlet

Electrical wall outlet

For instance, many aspects of non-accessible building design have historic roots that are not in sync with today’s standards or norms. The height of electrical outlets is a good example. That height off the floor was not set by user needs, but the height of a hammer handle. This was the widespread measurement standard used by construction workers to quickly, easily, and consistently place electrical outlets. No tape measure needed; no reading or math knowledge required.

Trace back why hammer handles were a standard length and you’ll discover how far back and to what degree of current irrelevancy the foundation of inaccessible buildings and spaces was laid. Easy to install, but not ideal for users of any age or physical state today:

  • Small children are at comfort level with these dangerous outlets, so sticking fingers and metal objects in is tempting
  • Adults on hands and knees digging behind the couch to plug in anything, complain loudly about the inconvenience. Those with disabilities may be completely shut out.
  • Easy for workers, but perpetuated barriers for everyone else.

How do we end up with buildings that present barriers to many people, children included? Is it the definition of “people” that needs work? Is it the non-inclusive definition of “people” that causes buildings and spaces to be non-inclusive?

automatic ADA door opener

Automatic ADA door opener

Have you noticed how many people push the automatic ADA door opener buttons to have a heavy door effortlessly open for them? In most buildings I frequent, the majority of people push the button instead of struggling with heavy or germ-laden doors. This means apparently-able adults, whether or not they are carrying small children, pets, or packages, use the accessibility devise. In a number of cases, landlords and business owners have discovered that the automatic door mechanism, intended for low-volume, disabled-only use, breaks down or wears out from almost constant use. Does this mean we’re all ready for barrier-free access?

Accessibility is part of “Me & We” inclusion and vice versa. We can’t bring one into the twenty-first century without moving the other forward, too:

  • In that transformative process, there’s room for many trend-setting start-ups, applications, social media communities…. Can you see a starting point?
  • What’s next? Rename it? Brand it? Crowd source it?
  • Will the expansion of the Inclusive Accessibility Movement create the next disruption frontier?
  • Could this mark a new dividing line between the past and the truly-modern future?

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