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Exploring the relationship between disability and architecture

IO: inside out

Discursive Spaces

Background and aims

In September 2002 a Centre for Education in the Built Environment (CEBE) Special Interest Group (SIG) reported on existing ‘inclusive design’ teaching in schools of architecture and interior design. The results showed relatively few instances of disability issues being explicitly incorporated into projects or into course curricula. The final report of the SIG also proposed a framework for teaching inclusive design within built environment courses in the UK (http://www.cebe.heacademy.ac.uk/learning/sig/inclusive/report.php). It’s good practice guidelines will inform this project throughout. Conventional methods of consultation with deaf and disabled people on building and public space design, offer a limited model for effective collaboration. Participation in access groups, often only gives potential ‘building users’ the opportunity to speak for and about their individual impairment issues. What is more, this model is based on deaf and disabled people only being asked to react to existing case-by-case examples, usually as an ‘afterthought’. This precludes any involvement in design philosophy or the whole design process, more generally. The assumption that designers ‘only design for themselves’ can blur the complexity of the process. To counteract this means that designers have to embrace a very wide range of different users for each specific building project. At the same time, it is difficult, if not impossible, for designers to know the needs and preferences of all ‘real’ users. Yet, they are usually offered ‘disability’ as a homogeneous category whose ‘problems’ can be met merely with pre-given technical solutions. These are focussed on accessibility (platform lifts, ramps, etc.) and prevent rather than enhance understanding of the desires and concerns of people with a wide range of life experiences as well as impairments. Inside Out is as much about ‘problem-seeking’ as ‘problem-solving.’ Jos Boys believes that bringing deaf and disabled artists together with interior architecture students in a collaborative space will: “enable richer descriptions of material space and disability. Dialogue will open up interpretations of the built environment from different ‘positions’. This will allow for conflict and complexity within a creative and constructive review of the processes involved.”

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