Ableism in planning

Attempts to avoid catching COVID caused people to change their behaviour in many ways. Working from home and not being able to travel meant more people walked in their local neighbourhood. Open space was at a premium. This led to pop up cafes and parklets and a few more planter boxes to make places more appealing. Planners said “we can’t go back to the way things were”. In that case says Lisa Stafford, we have to discuss ableism in planning.

“Pop-up cafes and parklets used tape barriers and step-up platforms, while planter boxes or pallet seating were positioned to create what seemed like another obstacle course in getting about.”

A group of people, some wearing face masks, are crossing the road. They are walking a safe distance apart.

Lisa Safford says that ableism is an insidious, unspoken prejudice that favours an idealistic view of an “able body”. It is not just having negative views of people with disability, it is a way of thinking about bodies that rejects difference. It’s thinking that “normal” is a real thing.

Ableism is entrenched in walkability metrics such as walking speed, our ideas of liveability, and approaches to older people. Stafford claims that ableism is rampant in planning and design decisions. The misinformed catch cry is that it’s only for a small portion of the population.

“Time and again I have heard universal design omitted in the provision of social infrastructure, due to budget shortfalls or inclusivity being too hard…”

A child wearing a pink jacket sits on a stone wall. A pair of crutches are propped up next to her. They have red and blue handles. Footpaths are key for children.

Let’s talk about ableism

First, we do not lack literature, guides and other tools on the topics of disability, diversity, equity and inclusion. Planners need to talk about the issues with each other, welcome disabled planners and connect with disability communities and their expertise. Do some real co-design processes.

Ableism is just one lens and individual experience ableism and discrimination in different ways. Embracing diversity is critical for people with disability who are Indigenous, female, low income and LGBTIQA+

Planning can make social change – in shapes lives and livelihoods. If we want real change we must confront ableism and the idea of “normal” or “average”. The Australian Bureau of Statistics counts people with disability (18%) separately from people with a long term health condition that limits their daily activities (22%). It’s not a small portion of the population.

The title of Stafford’s book chapter is, Planners, We Need to Talk about Ableism. The chapter is open access in Disability Justice and Urban Planning.

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