Accessibility at neighbourhood scale

There are many tools for measuring environmental sustainability features in the built environment. But measuring access for all, is based on legislation and cost rather than user-based. Indeed, building standards for disability access have filled this knowledge gap but in the process, held back learning at the same time. That’s because you learn how to complete checklists but you don’t gain understanding of the issues this way. This is one reason that architect Mary Ann Jackson says built environment practitioners do not understand disability.

Neighbourhood scale accessibility measurement tools show how improvements can be determined in a planned way rather than ad hoc reactions.

A Melbourne street scene showing pedestrians and a tram.

Built environment knowledge and the lived experience of people with disability need connection. We need a tool that measures the overall accessibility of the built environment by incorporating the lived experiences of people with disability.

Increasingly, assessment of the built environment is becoming interdiciplinary. However, despite all the many built environment performance tools, input from people with disability are often left out of the equation. The move to co-design methods for new work is helpful, but does little to deal with existing built environments.

The title of Jackson’s 2019 article is, Accessing the Neighbourhood: Built Environment Performance for People with Disability. It explains the rationale behind the the development of the Universal Mobility Index. The key aim is to address the fragmented nature of current access across all areas of the built environment.

From the abstract

The existing built environment still fails to meet the needs of people with disability. This is despite rapid urbanisation, population ageing, failing infrastructure, and evidence that the built environment affects health and well-being,

In a parallel universe, improving built environment ‘sustainability’ performance, via measurement, receives much attention. Analysing the built environment at micro-scale (buildings), meso-scale (neighbourhood) and macro-scale (city-wide) is undertaken from various multidisciplinary perspectives.

Built environment performance is measured in many ways, but accessibility performance for people with disability, at neighbourhood scale, is rarely considered.

People with disability continue to experience lack of meaningful involvement in research, participation in decision-making, partnership equality, and direct influence over policy, with the built environment arena increasingly becoming a private-sector activity.

The actors involved, however, have little understanding of either the accessibility needs of people with disability, or the inaccessibility, particularly at neighbourhood scale, of the existing built environment.

This paper explores the design, planning and politics of an inaccessible built environment. Assessing the accessibility of the built environment for people with disability, at neighbourhood scale, is an essential component in the process of built environment accessibility improvement. As a result of collaboration between the domains of the built environment and disability, a new tool, Universal Mobility Index, has emerged and is undergoing further development.

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