Accessibility is one of the most trending terms in architecture these days. Every newspaper and news channel keeps flashing some news or story about accessibility. The central government initiative “Accessible India” has further popularized it among the masses (we shall evaluate whether this campaign has actually accomplished anything sometime in future). We are beginning a series on accessibility to understand what it actually means, and what is the significance of a term everybody seems so curious about.
Meaning of accessibility
If we go by the dictionary definition, accessibility may be explained as:
The quality of being able to be reached or entered’;
The quality of being easy to obtain or use;
The quality of being easily understood or appreciated;
Extent to which a consumer or user can obtain a good or service at the time it is needed.
However, all these definitions offer only a limited understanding of the term accessibility. A more comprehensive definition is provided by Wikipedia
Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities.
The concept of accessibility primarily focuses on enabling a universal access, especially to people with disabilities or special needs. This access may have two aspects: direct or unassisted access, and indirect access (compatibility through some assistance or assistive technology. We shall be discussing these aspects in detail in our next posts of this series.
The million dollar question here is whether accessibility is really as significant in today’s world as it’s made out to be, or whether it’s just another fad of some intellectual minds who didn’t perhaps had anything else to engage them with at the time. Let us first talk about some important figures to actually understand the significance of providing access to persons with disabilities to products, devices, services and environments; figures that can actually shock you. According to a recent report by World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 15% of the world’s population is suffering from some disability that will correspond to almost 1 billion people, really a staggering figure. Almost 200 million have a severe form of disability that badly restricts their functioning. Census 2011 says nearly 2.2% of Indian population suffers from some kind of disability, but experts feel this figure is grossly under-calculated.
Level playing field
For thousands of years, disabled were considered as a burden on earth, people who would need some physical and financial assistance throughout their lives. Some civilizations still believe disability to be a result of the sins committed in one’s previous birth, the wrath of God. This perception still persists to a large extent, but some people gradually realized that even the disabled could live an independent life and also earn something if given an enabling environment. And then there was a humane aspect too, everybody enjoyed a right to access the facilities and amenities that were being provided to the society at large. This gave rise to the concept of accessibility. Some extraordinary disabled people like social activist Helen Keller who had multiple disabilities (she had visual and hearing impairments) and paraplegic scientist Stephen Hawking (called the modern Einstein) strengthened the belief that even the disabled could be equal, and sometimes even better than normal people. They just needed some special assistance, an enabling environment where they could move and access facilities without any obstacles, any hazards.
The concept of universal design
Accessibility, in a nutshell, is the ability to access and benefit from some system or entity. It should not be confused with usability, the extent to which a devise, service or environment etc could be used by specified users effectively and efficiently without facing any problems or hazards. Gradually the concept of “universal design” came into existence, which talks about developing products that can be used by people with widest range of abilities, preferably under widest range of circumstances. It was noticed that if an amenity was designed for people with disabilities, it could actually be used by all sections of the society, including the elderly and injured persons.
We shall elaborate on these issues and concepts in our future posts to know more about “accessibility” and “universal design”. The feedback and suggestions of the readers are welcome to make these posts more interesting and more inclusive.
About the author
Sandeep Singh is an architect from IIT Roorkee. He is a prolific writer and a sensitive poet. His professional posts mostly cover the future in Architecture. His books are chiefly devoted to the inner and outer battles that a disabled person in India faces every day.