International Seminar on Environmental Accessibility, Beirut, 1999
II. SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION
C. Norms and standards
The discussion began by recalling that an international policy framework for environmental accessibility is contained in the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and the "Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Disabled Persons" (General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex). The World Programme addresses accessibility with reference to its "equalisation of opportunities" objective, in which the focus is on means by which the general systems of society can become accessible to all. Rule 5 of the "Standard Rules" deals with accessibility with reference to (a) the physical environment and (b) information and communication services.
It was noted that environmental factors obtain limited treatment in version two of the "International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH-2)" of the World Health Organisation. The ICIDH-2 classification framework does provide a means to discern the principal elements of accessibility, particular since handicap is conceptualised as a social phenomenon. The ICIDH-2 also considers demographic and socio-cultural factors, which serves to move the unit of analysis from exclusively on the individual to the family and the larger community.
In his brief remarks, Prof. James Harrison raised the question of goals for environmental accessibility in the built environment: how barriers in the environmental affect participation, and the role of barrier-free designs and assistive devices. Prof. Harrison also raised a question related to the demographic aspects of environmental accessibility, for instance accessibility requirements of older persons and the young.
Prof. Harrison noted that the existence of codes did not immediately lead to accessible environments. There is a need for public awareness and involvement of civil society in furthering accessible environments. Codes provided benchmarks - or technical templates - for barrier-free plans. Accessible environments raised important questions about priorities in the planning and design of barrier-free urban development.
Prof. Harrison added that in some countries - for instance in Malaysia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland- the access officer serves an important role in promoting implementation of accessibility codes and legislation. A major issue in his view is where to start in the development of codes on barrier-free development, since interpretation of legislative compliance often is done by legal professionals and enforcement is an administrative function.
In his brief remarks Prof. Vincenzo Polsinelli noted the important role of curriculum development in promoting norms and standards related to environmental accessibility and added that the topic is not solely the concern of planning and environmental design curricula.
Prof. Polsinelli stated that policy guidance on environmental accessibility in the United States is provided by the "Americans with Disabilities Act" (ADA), which also places code compliance as a matter of law. In his experience, accessibility is best achieved at the post compliance stage in which codes are recognised as benchmarks and not constraints on the design process. The ADA has contributed to accessibility in the built environment in that the architecture professional has embraced its technical guidelines as templates and not constraints on the design process. Moreover, one now can obtain "ADA plug-ins" as part of computer-assisted drafting programs.
Some participants noted the country specific nature of codes; codes are a function of social behaviour and the respective development setting of countries. There was, however, a need for a sense of priorities when drafting codes as well as studies examining why some codes are successful in achieving their intent while other codes were less so.
One participant noted that in his country revisions of codes on accessibility had led to standardised designs for barrier-free development. While accessible environments is a first phase, one next needs to examine the impact on people's well being and livelihoods. Constraints on promoting environmental accessibility include lack of skilled people, resources and institutions. This would suggest a need for codes that set basic minimum requirements for accessibility. Some may observe that this could represent a compromise, but the approach has the advantage of being part of a process of rapid prototyping and development of appropriate templates for accessible environments.
Another participant remarked on the way in which codes for social housing in his country allowed solutions to make the housing accessible to accommodate a wide range of personal accessibility needs: for persons with disabilities, for older persons and for families with young children.
A third participant reported on work initiated on drafting codes on accessible shelter and physical environments as a joint effort between a national non-governmental organisation of persons with disabilities and the national university. Another participant added that the experience reinforced the importance of user input in promoting environmental accessibility.