You might think that newer buildings would be better for disabled people than older buildings. Better access. Easier movement inside. More ramps and fewer steps, and so on. So why, increasingly, does it not feel like that when you actually visit a new building?
The devil is in the detail
The details of building design are controlled by the Building Regulations, through a process called Building Control. This process is different to Planning Permission, which looks at the outside design and how it looks to passers-by, the impact of parking on neighbours, and so on. The Building Regulations control what goes on inside. For example, making sure that the electricity sockets are safely away from any water taps, or that the bannisters are close enough together so that a toddler cannot fall downstairs through a gap.
Computer says OK
A few years ago the Government at the time gave into pressure from businesses for less red tape, less regulation, less burden on business as they claimed. Up to then, Building Control was something that the local council did, usually on the same corridor as Planning Permission. Well, said business, let us do our own Building Control. Don’t worry, they said, we will hire independent professionals, so we are not marking our own homework. And the Government let it happen.
Two bad changes then followed, one cultural and one technical. The cultural change is that the independent professionals challenge less often than a council official would, because they need the work, the next contract. It is a world of hire and fire. And the technical change is, to save money, that building designers use computer programs more often. So the computer counts up the turning circles and the accessible toilets, checks the ramp gradients and gives the design a green light. Even if it makes no sense to humans.
The result too often is, for disabled people, new buildings that are increasingly chaotic and hostile.