Christopher and I recently stayed at a rather swish hotel in the Sydney CBD. Upon arrival in a taxi, we encountered this rather imposing concrete kerb.
Granted, the Concierge provided a portable ramp so we could gain access; but this was a cumbersome and unsafe solution (we had to sit and wait, holding up vehicles in the driveway while the ramp was positioned); an inadequate after-thought.
Here is the kerb bordering the driveway of another hotel I visited recently. As you can see, it is fully, gently ramped, and I’m guessing cost no more to install than the old-style stepped ones.
To me, these 2 kerbs are a metaphor for a larger issue – design, and the thinking that lies behind it.
Design that excludes, disempowers or endangers is poor design. And a shift in thinking – usually occasioned by painful experience – always precedes good design.
Consider the shift in thinking illustrated in this cartoon:
The young person in the wheelchair has noted a fact that many of us tend to overlook – inclusive (or universal) design is good for everybody! The fully-ramped kerb includes everyone.
I recently read a great article about Jack H. Fisher, a veteran of WW2, whose injuries left him permanently disabled. After the war, as a thinker, community leader and advocate for veterans, he instigated the first trial of ‘curb cuts’ in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1945. So great was the success of this trial that we now expect to see ramped kerbs everywhere. They are, to paraphrase Gerald Baptiste, Associate Director of Berkeley, California’s Center for Independent Living in 1997: “…the slab of concrete heard round the world.”
In our family, we have lived with all manner of what is called ‘assistive technology’ and, where it actually assists, we are grateful for it. But, let’s face it, it is usually expensive, clunky, often unreliable and something of an ‘afterthought’ to be bolted onto a mainstream device or technology. A bit like this:
Fine, as far as it goes; better than nothing; but still an afterthought, an add-on, and not very elegant. Certainly not discreet or ‘inclusive’. There is an obvious differentiation between one point of access to the building (the step) and another (the ramp). If you think this doesn’t matter, consider the child in the classroom required to access some kind of bulky, ugly assistive technology, and standing out as a result; compared to the child who is able to use the same mainstream devices and solutions as everyone else. I know which I would have preferred in school!
So the Kalamazoo Curb Cuts were quite revolutionary; and what has been done with the concept since 1945 – the full ramped kerb, for example; has increased inclusivity, fairness and safety for everyone. Inclusive Design is Good Design.
We are big fans of Apple Accessibility. An example of thoughtful, inclusive design. Good design. Features built into mainstream products – Macs and touch-screen devices, useable, ‘out-of-the-box’ at no extra expense and baked deeply into the heart of the device.
Thanks to Stephen Brown, writing for the Disability Studies Quarterly , in 1999. [http://www.independentliving.org/docs3/brown99a.html]