The evolution of universally accessible building design

An amazing article for the Lancet….

“As far as I’m concerned it’s neither public nor convenient”, declares a male wheelchair user denied stair-free access to a lavatory in a public awareness poster issued in 1979–82 by The Spastics Society (now renamed Scope). Currently, the poster is displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK), as part of Without Walls: Disability and Innovation in Building Design, an exhibition charting the evolution of architectural practice from designing for disabled people without consulting them, to designing with their input.

The disabled architect Selwyn Goldsmith spoke out against the kind of institutional discrimination highlighted in the poster, and published the first guide to accessible architectural design, Designing for the Disabled in 1963.

Without Walls charts early examples of purpose-built facilities such as a 19th century hospital for people with learning disabilities, a 1920s church for deaf worshippers, and a 1970s public housing project for disabled people through to modern examples including the headquarters of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (San Francisco, CA, USA), a private house in France for a wheelchair user in which a central platform rises or descends between levels, and a Dutch residential facility for people with advanced dementia.

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